Carleton's First President

May 17, 2016 at 4:30 pm

In 1870, Northfield College appointed its first president: James Woodward Strong, then the minister of the Congregational Church in Faribault. The presidency of the school had been turned down, because of the institution's poor financial health and seemingly poor prospects, by several men before Strong accepted. It was not a job to tempt many able and ambitious men; as one early historian put it, it might "prove a burial rather than a resurrection at which he would be called to preside." But strong declared that "a Christian man had no right to decline work for the Kingdom merely because it was hard and disagreeable."

Strong was convinced that Carleton had a division mission to fertilize both the spiritual and intellectual soil of the Northwest—"to raise up on the ground the ministry, the intelligent merchants, farmers and mechanics that the new country needed." Two days after his inauguration he had succeeded in gaining pledges of $10,000 for the near-bankrupt college; over the years he proved a master at communicating his zeal to donors, parents, professors, and students.

In addition to being chief fundraiser, President Strong was also an administrator and faculty member. As late as 1890, Carleton's administration consisted only of president, treasurer, and "preceptress of ladies hall." Strong was responsible for recruiting faculty members, led the faculty in recruiting students, carried on most of the College's official correspondence, oversaw the compiling and printing of circulars and catalogs, and more. He also taught classes in Mental and Moral Philosophy for 20 years. Strong led the faculty meetings which formed the curriculum, set examination dates, judged disciplinary cases, and personally oversaw the religious life of the campus—leading services, encouraging revivals, and imbuing the entire institution with a "throughly Christian and earnestly evangelical" spirit.

He was as successful in these endeavors as he was in fundraising. His teachers proved uniformly loyal and self-sacrificing, and nearly as uniformly able. Strong emphasized the college's science facilities and curriculum, and it was the observatory especially which first brought the school a measure of national renown. If discipline was strict, still there were no student riots as at other campuses. When Strong retired in 1903, Carleton was financially secure, had achieve some national attention for the work of its observatory, and was firmly established as the leading college in Minnesota.

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