About Andrew Dickson White
Andrew Dickson White (November 7, 1832 – November 4, 1918) was a U.S. diplomat, historian, and educator, who was the co-founder of Cornell University.
Family and personal life
Andrew Dickson White was born on November 7, 1832 in Homer, New York to Clara (née Dickson) and Horace White. Clara was the daughter of Andrew Dickson, a New York State Assemblyman, and Horace was the son of Asa White, a farmer from Massachusetts whose once successful farm was ruined by a fire when Horace was 13. Horace, despite little formal education and an impoverished background, became a wealthy merchant and, in 1839, opened a successful bank in Syracuse. Andrew Dickson White thus entered the world, never to experience the poverty his father and grandfather had. He was baptized in 1835 at the Calvary Episcopal Church on the town green in Homer.
White married twice. He first married Mary Amanda Outwater (February 10, 1836 - June 8, 1887) on September 27, 1857 and they remained married until her death in 1887. Together, they had three children: Frederick Davies White, who committed suicide in 1901 after a prolonged series of illnesses while A.D. White was in Germany, Clara (White) Newbury, whom Andrew also outlived, and Ruth (White) Ferry. Following Mary's death in 1887, White went on a lecture tour and traveled in Europe with his close friend, Cornell's librarian, Daniel Willard Fiske. In 1890, White married Helen Magill, the daughter of Swarthmore College's second president, Edward Magill. She holds the distinction of being the first female Ph.D. recipient in the United States. Like her husband, Helen was a social scientist and educator and the two met at a conference where she was presenting. Together, Helen and Andrew had one daughter, Karin White.
His cousin was Edwin White, an artist of the Luminism/Hudson River schools, and his nephew was Horace White, governor of New York.
Beginning in the fall of 1849, White spent his first year of college at Geneva College (known today as Hobart and William Smith College) at the insistence of his father. He was inducted as member of Sigma Phi. In his autobiography, he recalled that he had felt that his time at Geneva was "wasted" by being at the small Episcopalian school, instead of at "one of the larger New England universities". Rather than continue "wasting" his time, White dropped out in 1850. After a resulting period of estrangement from his father, White successfully convinced his father to allow him to transfer to Yale University.
At Yale, he was a classmate of Daniel Coit Gilman, who would later serve as first president of Johns Hopkins University. The two were members of the Skull and Bones secret society and would remain close friends, traveling together in Europe after graduation and serving together on the Venezuela Boundary Commission (1895–96). His roommate was Thomas Frederick Davies, third bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, 1889–1905. Other members of White's graduating year included Edmund Clarence Stedman, the poet and essayist, Wayne MacVeagh, Attorney General of the United States and U.S. Ambassador to Italy, and Hiram Bingham II, the missionary, collectively comprising the so-called "famous class of '53". According to White, a great influence on his academic career was Professor Noah Porter (later, Yale's president), who personally instructed him in rhetoric and remained a close personal friend until Porter's death.
Alpha Sigma Phi inducted White as a member in 1850 and he served as editor of the fraternity's publication, The Tomahawk. White remained active in the fraternity for the rest of his life, founding the Cornell chapter and serving as the national president from 1913 to 1915. He also served as an editor of The Lit., known today as the Yale Literary Magazine and belonged to Linonia, a literary and debating society. As a junior, White won the Yale literary prize for the best essay, writing on the topic "The Greater Distinctions in Statesmanship", a great shock to the campus as a senior traditionally wrote the winning essay. Also as a junior, he joined the junior society Psi Upsilon. In his senior year, White won the Clark Prize for English disputation and the De Forest prize for public oratory, speaking on the topic "The Diplomatic History of Modern Times". A medal valued at $100, the De Forest prize was, at the time, the largest prize of its kind at any educational institution American or otherwise. In White's honor, an anonymous donor later gave money endowing a prize for the best senior essay in American, European, or Third World history to be awarded in his name annually. In addition to academic pursuits, White was on the Yale crew team and competed in the first running of the Harvard–Yale Regatta in 1852.
After graduation, White left with his classmate Daniel Coit Gilman to travel and study further in Europe. Between 1853 and 1854, he studied at the Sorbonne, the Collège de France, and the University of Berlin and served as the translator for Thomas H. Seymour, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, following Gilman's term as translator, despite not having studied French (the language of diplomacy and the Russian royal court) prior to his studies in Europe. After he returned the United States, White re-enrolled at Yale to earn an M.A. in History and be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in 1856.
Early professional life
In October 1858, White accepted a position as a Professor of History and English literature at the University of Michigan, where he remained on faculty until 1863. White made his lasting mark on the grounds of the university by enrolling students to plant elms along the walkways on The Diag. Between 1862 and 1863, he traveled to Europe to lobby France and England to assist the United States in the American Civil War or, at least, not come to the aid of The Confederacy.
In 1863, White returned to reside in Syracuse for business reasons and, in November, was elected to the New York State Senate running on the Union Party ticket. In the senate, White made the acquaintance of fellow upstate senator Ezra Cornell, a self-taught Quaker farmer from Ithaca who had made a modest fortune in the telegraph industry. Around this time, the task came upon the senators to decide how to best use the higher education funding provided by the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act, which allocated money in the form of timber land in the midwest that could be sold as states saw fit. Through effective management by Cornell, New York generated about $2.5 million (~$43 million in 2008 dollars) from its allotted scrip, a greater yield per acre than any state, except, perhaps, California. The initial push in the senate was to divvy the funds amongst the numerous, small state colleges. White fervently opposed this proposal, arguing that the money would be more effectively used if it endowed only one university. Ezra Cornell agreed, telling White "I have about half a million dollars more than my family will need: what is the best thing I can do with it for the State?" To which, White immediately replied "The best thing you can do with it is to establish or strengthen some institution of higher learning." The two thus combined their efforts to form a new university.
White pressed that the university should be located on the hill in Syracuse (the current location of Syracuse University) due to the city's attractive transportation hub, which would ease the recruitment of faculty, students, and other persons of note. However, as a young carpenter working in Syracuse, Cornell had been robbed of his wages, and thereafter considered Syracuse a Sodom and Gomorrah and insisted that the university be located in Ithaca on his large farm on East Hill, overlooking the town and Cayuga Lake. White ultimately relented and convinced Cornell to give his name to the university "in accordance with [the] time-honored American usage" of naming universities after their largest initial benefactors. On February 7, 1865, White introduced a bill "to establish the Cornell University" and, on April 27, 1865, after a many month long debate, Governor Reuben E. Fenton signed into law the bill endowing Cornell University as the state's Land-Grant institution.
White became the school's first president and served as a professor in the Department of History. He commissioned Cornell's first architecture student William Henry Miller to build his mansion on campus.
In 1891, Leland and Jane Stanford asked White to serve as the first president of the university they had founded in Palo Alto, California, Stanford University. Although he refused their offer, he did recommend his former student David Starr Jordan.
Diplomatic career and later work
While at Cornell, in 1871, White took leave to serve as a Commissioner to Santo Domingo along with Benjamin Wade and Samuel Howe at the request of President Grant in order to determine the feasibility of an American annexation of the Dominican Republic. Though their report (available here) supported the annexation, Grant failed to gain political support to take further action. Later, White was the U.S. Ambassador to Germany (1879–1881), and first president of the American Historical Association (1884–1886). Upstate New York Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to nominate him for governor in 1876 and for congress in 1886. Following his resignation as Cornell's President in 1885, White served as Minister to Russia (1892–1894), President of the American delegation to The Hague Peace Conference (1899), and again as Ambassador to Germany (1897–1902). Cornell's third president, Jacob Gould Schurman, would also hold this same position in Germany from 1925 to 1929.
In 1904, White published his Autobiography, which he had authored during a period of time relaxing in Italy following his retirement from the U.S. Foreign Service.
At the onset of World War I, White, an ethnic German-American with strong professional and emotional ties to Germany, vocally supported the German cause, but, by the summer of 1915, he retreated from this position, refraining from offering support, publicly or privately. In the fall of 1916, President Woodrow Wilson appointed White to a peace commission to author a treaty with China. As of December 1916, White had resigned from the Smithsonian Board of Regents and the Carnegie Institution trustees.
Over the course of his career, White amassed a sizable book collection. His library was probably best known for its extensive section on architecture, which comprised, at the time, the largest architecture library in the United States. He donated all 4,000 of these books to the Cornell University Library for the purpose of teaching architecture, as well as the remainder of his 30,000 book collection. In 1879, White enlisted George Lincoln Burr, a former undergraduate grader for a seminar White had taught, to manage the rare books collection. Though Burr would later hold other positions at the university, such as Professor of History, he remained White's collaborator and head of this collection until 1922—traveling Europe: locating and amassing books that White wanted. In particular, he built the collections on the Reformation, witchcraft, and the French Revolution. Today, White's collection is housed primarily in the Cornell Archives and in the Andrew Dickson White Reading Room (formally known as the "President White Library of History and Political Science") at Uris Library on the Ithaca Campus. The A.D. White Reading Room was designed by William Henry Miller, who had also designed White's mansion on campus.
While serving in Russia, White made the acquaintance of author Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy's fascination with Mormonism sparked a similar interest in White, who had previously regarded the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) as a dangerous, deviant cult. Upon his return to the United States, White took advantage of Cornell's proximity to the original Mormon heartland near Rochester to amass a collection of LDS memorabilia (including many original copies of the Book of Mormon) unmatched by any other institution save the church itself and its university, Brigham Young University.
White's sarcophagus features important institutions in his life including nations where he had been an ambassador and universities where he had studiedOn October 26, 1918, White suffered a slight paralytic stroke following a severe illness of several days. On the morning of Monday, November 4, White died at home in Ithaca. Three days later, on November 7, on what would have been White's 86th birthday, White was interred at Sage Chapel on the Cornell campus. The chapel was filled to capacity by faculty, trustees, and other well-wishers. White's body resides in the Memorial Room with other people deemed influential in the founding and early years of the university, including co-founder Ezra Cornell and benefactor Jennie McGraw-Fiske. The Art Nouveau marble sarcophagus that holds his body features crests of countries and institutions that played important roles in White's life. For example, the picture on the right shows the crests of the two countries where White was an ambassador; the coat of arms of Imperial Germany is on left and Saint George, a variation on the coat of arms of Moscow, representing Russia, is on the right.
The sarcophagus was completed in 1926 by sculptor Lee Oskar Lawrie (1877–1963) who also created sculptures adorning Myron Taylor Hall at Cornell. Lawrie is perhaps best known for his creation of the Atlas at Rockefeller Center.
In his will, White left $500,000 (over $7 million in 2008 dollars) to Cornell University. White had already donated considerable sums to Cornell earlier in his life.
At the time of Cornell's founding, White announced that it would be "an asylum for Science—where truth shall be sought for truth's sake, not stretched or cut exactly to fit Revealed Religion". Up to that time, America's private universities were exclusively religious institutions, and generally focused on the liberal arts and religious training (though they were not explicitly antagonistic to science).
In 1869 White gave a lecture on "The Battle-Fields of Science", arguing that history showed the negative outcomes resulting from any attempt on the part of religion to interfere with the progress of science. Over the next 30 years he refined his analysis, expanding his case studies to include nearly every field of science over the entire history of Christianity, but also narrowing his target from "religion" through "ecclesiasticism" to "dogmatic theology."
The final result was the two-volume History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), whose primary contention was the conflict thesis. Initially less popular than John William Draper's History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874), White's book became an extremely influential text on the relationship between religion and science. In this book, White argued that "the great majority of the early fathers of the Church, and especially Lactantius, had sought to crush it beneath the utterances attributed to Isaiah, David, and St. Paul" White's conflict thesis has, however, been discredited by contemporary historians of science. The warfare depiction nevertheless remains a popular view among the general public.
“During my life, which is now extending beyond the allotted span of threescore and ten, I have been engaged after the manner of my countrymen, in many sorts of work, have become interested in many conditions of men have joined in many efforts which I hope have been of use; but, most of all, I have been interested in the founding and maintaining of Cornell University, and by the part I have taken in that, more than by any other work of my life I hope to be judged. ”
—Andrew Dickson White, The Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White (1904)
Until at least the mid-20th century, Cornell undergraduates with the surname 'White' were traditionally given the nickname 'Andy,' in reference to Andrew Dickson White. Notably, E.B. White, author of the world-famous children's book Charlotte's Web, continued to go by the nickname 'Andy' for the rest of his life after his undergraduate years at Cornell.