Oren B. Cheney, Bates College

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Oren Burbank Cheney

Birthdate: (87)
Death: 1903 (87)
Immediate Family:

Son of Moses Cheney and Abigail Cheney
Husband of Caroline Cheney; Nancy St. Clair Cheney and Emmaline Cheney
Brother of Person Cheney, Governor, U.S. Senator; Moses Cheney; Elias H. Cheney and Sarah Burbank Abbott

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About Oren B. Cheney, Bates College


Oren Burbank Cheney (December 10, 1816 – December 22, 1903) was a Free Will Baptist clergyman, an abolitionist and the founder of Bates College.

Early life

Oren Cheney was born in Holderness, New Hampshire, to Abigail and Moses Cheney, who were prominent abolitionists. His father was a paper manufacturer and also a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Young Cheney was educated at the Parsonsfield Seminary (a Free Will Baptist prep school). He attended college at Brown University, and Dartmouth College, where he graduated with the Class of 1839. Cheney had transferred from Brown to Dartmouth after seeing mob violence on campus against abolitionists. The college had many economic ties with slave trade shipping. Cheney believed that Dartmouth was more tolerant of abolitionism.

In 1844 Cheney was ordained as a Free Will Baptist minister. He later attended the Free Will Baptist Bible School in Whitestown, New York to study theology but had to leave following his wife's death in 1846. (This was later called the Cobb Divinity School).

Marriage and family

In 1840 he married Caroline A. Rundlett and they had one child, Horace Rundlett Cheney. Caroline died in 1846, while he was studying at Whitestown.

The following year, the widower Cheney married Nancy S. Perkins. They had two children, Caroline and Emmeline. Nancy died in 1886.

In 1892 Cheney married Emeline S. (Aldrich) Burlingame, a widow, who survived him.

Abolitionism and temperance

Influenced particularly by his mother, Cheney developed core beliefs in the causes of abolitionism and temperance. He supported these causes throughout his life as an abolitionist, teacher, Freewill Baptist minister, state legislator, editor of The Morning Star, an abolitionist paper; and as founder and president of Bates College. Cheney's father Moses was the original printer for The Morning Star newspaper, and he was a friend of Frederick Douglass, the noted abolitionist. Cheney's brother Person became a U.S. Senator from New Hampshire.

Oren Cheney was the principal at Parsonsfield Seminary, a stop on the Underground Railroad, for several years in the 1840s. He founded the Lebanon Academy in Lebanon, Maine in 1850. In 1851 Cheney was elected to the Maine House of Representatives as a Free Soil Party candidate, and was a strong supporter of the Maine law in favor of prohibition.

Founder and President of Bates College

In 1855, Cheney founded the Maine State Seminary, the school that would become Bates College. He served as president until 1894. The school reflected his personal values: it was open to all students regardless of race, gender, wealth or religion. In 1863, Cheney petitioned the Maine Legislature for a change in the charter to permit a collegiate course of study. He changed the school's name to Bates College in honor of Benjamin E. Bates, the industrialist and philanthropist who made substantial early gifts to Cheney's school.

In 1891, Cheney amended the charter to Bates to require that its president and a majority of the trustees be members of the Free Will Baptist denomination. After he retired, this amendment was revoked by the legislature in 1907 at the request of Chase and the Board, which allowed the college to qualify for Carnegie Foundation funding for professor pensions.

Founding other institutions

Cheney also played a major role in founding several other Free Baptist institutions such as Storer College, a school for freed slaves in West Virginia founded in 1867; and the Maine Central Institute (MCI), founded in 1866. Cheney founded and was the first president of the Free Will Baptist Church at Ocean Park, Maine, a seaside retreat on Old Orchard Beach.


Cheney served as Bates' president for 39 years, retiring at age 79 in 1894. Cheney died in 1903 and was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Lewiston.

Legacy and honors

In 1907 his third wife, Emeline, wrote a biography of his life, using his diaries and autobiographical articles he had published in the Morning Star.
The Cheney House, built in 1875 when Cheney was president, was acquired in 1905 by Bates College. Today it is used as a dormitory, a "quiet house" for 32 students.


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Oren B. Cheney, Bates College's Timeline

Age 87