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Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut), Early Presidents' Files

Identifier: Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut)-Early Presidents' Files

Scope and Contents

The Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut), Early Presidents' Files consist of correspondence (personal and official), publications, lectures, newspapers, ephemera, and realia, related to twelve of the first 13 Presidents of Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut), nearly inclusive of the first 100 years of Trinity College's existence (1823-1920). Highlights include a mounted and bound volume (82 pages; 44 cm.) of first President Thomas C. Brownell's correspondence; the Phi Beta Kappa key of acting President John Brocklesby (1866-1867); and extensive lecture notes and correspondence of President Flavel S. Luther. Materials for acting President Henry Augustus Perkins (1915-1916) have not yet been located.


  • Creation: 1824-1968

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the John M.K. Davis Reading Room of the Watkinson Library, Trinity College Library, Hartford, Connecticut. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws when using this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with the duplication policy of the Watkinson Library.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

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Biographical / Historical

Thomas Church Brownell, President (May 6, 1824-December 16, 1831).

Born in 1779 in Westport, Massachusetts, Thomas Church Brownell taught Latin, Greek, Belles Letres, Moral Philosophy, Chemistry, and Mineralogy, at Union College between 1805 and 1811. At some time before 1815, he left the Congregational Church. Becoming a priest in the Episcopal Church in 1816, he accepted unanimous election as Bishop of Connecticut by the Episcopal Church three years later.

Starting in late 1822, Brownell played a major role in the writing of the petition which led to the chartering of a college by the Connecticut state legislature on May 16, 1823. Rather than a Church-controlled academy, Trinity College began under the rule of a Board of Trustees whose members were not required to pass a religious test. Still, Bishop Brownell publicly saw the creation of Washington (later Trinity) College as a bulwark against what he called "a spurious liberality." The lack of an Episcopal school had long prevented Episcopal parents in Connecticut from sending their boys to colleges whose professors espoused their faith. Indeed, in September 1823, a letter "to the Bishops, Clergy, and Laity of the Church of England," which Brownell signed simultaneously as Bishop and "President" of the nascent college, became part of a campaign pleading for donations to support the newly chartered college on the basis of its religious affinities to the state-supported Church of England. Thirty thousand dollars was needed to be raised for the college's state charter to take effect.

By May 6, 1824, Thomas Brownell was formally elected as President of Washington College by the Board of Trustees. Serving until December 1831, Brownell's presidency involved selection of the site for the college, planning the course of study, creating a plan of governance, and codifying student discipline. In several areas, Brownell proposed radical ideas. For instance, he included practical and scientific studies alongside the traditional fare of classics. He also devised a curricula separated into eight categories -- Political Economy, Belles Lettres, Science, Politics, Metaphysics, Mathematics, Morals, and History. Though Brownell's curricula was not implemented along these lines, there was a strong emphasis at Washington College on the natural sciences.

Brownell was so committed to furthering the college that he was criticized by fellow members of the Episcopal Diocese for neglecting his oversight of the rest of Connecticut's Episcopal churches. He did have time to serve as President of the African Mission School Society in Hartford, which began in 1828. After resigning from Washington College in 1831, he remained actively supportive of the college. For example, Brownell solicited donations for the endowment of the Hobart Professorship, first awarded in 1837. To a certain extent, Brownell became a more powerful presence over governance of the college's trustees during the 1840s than he had been as the college's president. He was named Chancellor and Visitor of Trinity College. In 1852, Brownell became the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of America. Brownell died in January 1865. Four years later, a statue of Brownell was erected in Bushnell Park in Hartford.

Nathaniel Sheldon Wheaton, President (December 1831-February 1837).

Born in 1792 in Washington, Connecticut, Nathaniel Sheldon Wheaton graduated from Yale College and was ordained as an Episocopal priest in 1818. Elected as assistant rector of Christ Church in Hartford and secretary of the Trustees of the newly chartered college, Wheaton was sent in 1823 by the trustees to England to obtain for Washington College financial support and book donations. Between October 1823 and November 1824, he remained in England long enough to raise about $2000, some of which he spent to purchase scientific equipment and about a thousand books for what became Washington (later Trinity) College's library. He published an extensive account of his travels in the Episocopal Watchman in 1827-1829.

As a Trustee of Washington College, Wheaton sat on a committee to plan a course of study and discipline for the students. He also published what historian Glenn Weaver deemed "the first catalogue of the College". At a period of difficult finances for the college, in April 1826 Wheaton was appointed to a committee of the Trustees charged with increasing the funds for the college. Two years later, amidst these duties to the college, Wheaton became the first rector of Hartford's African Mission School, an Episcopal instutition devoted to training African-American clergy to become missionaries or teachers in Africa.

In October 1831, Wheaton was unanimously elected as President of Washington College at a salary of $1200. He occupied the post until his resignation six years later. During these years, Wheaton continued many of the college structures and policies which President Brownell had helped nurture. The number of library books increased on campus, mainly through the temporary deposit of 5,000 recently-published books of history and literature by the Reverend Samuel F. Jarvis, who was given a professorship in exchange, even though Jarvis lived in absentia and did not teach until his return to Hartford in 1835. Wheaton may have disapproved of Jarvis's unusual relationship to the college. In February 1837, Wheaton resigned from Washington College in order to take the rectorship of Christ Church in New Orleans.

Wheaton's move to New Orleans may have increased his connections to slavery and its defense. According to the 1840 U.S. Census, Wheaton owned a male slave between the ages of 36 and 50. Two years later, he was appointed Chairman of the Louisiana State Colonization Society. In his overtly pro-slavery discourse on St. Paul's epistle, delivered in December 1850 at Christ Church in Hartford, Reverend Wheaton asked, "Is not obedience in the slave, according to the apostolic standard, made a duty as sacred as any other duty, social or moral? (p. 12)"

On March 18, 1862, Wheaton died at Marbledale, Connecticut, leaving $20,000 for Trinity College in his will. One half of that amount was allotted for the construction of a new chapel on campus.

Silas Totten, President (May 4, 1837-August 2, 1848).

Born in 1804, Silas Totten became Washington College's third President by an unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees on May 4, 1837. For the preceding four years, Totten had been not only Professor of Natural Philosophy at the college, but an ordained minister in the Episocopal Church. During his tenure, Totten attempted to balance the college's budgets by calling on the church clergy and laity to support the college by sending their sons or their money.

With extra funds flowing into Washington College, President Totten oversaw work on the third college building, the multipurpose Brownell Hall, which mostly housed student sleeping quarters. In 1844, he participated in the start of fundraising for the endowment of the Brownell Professorship, a task completed in the following decade. In 1845, the college changed its name from Washington to Trinity College, to distinguish itself from other similarly-named colleges.

Totten was embroiled in the High Church-Low Church disagreements which affected the Episocopal Church and its believers more broadly. He seemingly fought the trend towards English forms of Episcopalianism, which including the creation of an Academic Senate and a Chancellor of the college. Totten suffered a physical breakdown during a vacation in the spring of 1846. Though he became increasingly unable to satisfy the forces aligned against him, Totten did not resign from Trinity College until August 2, 1848.

Totten went on to teach at William and Mary and serve as the second President of the University of Iowa, though he was chased out of the latter institution by pro-Union supporters unhappy with his publicly pro-Confederate stance. Never giving up preaching, Totten died in Kentucky on October 7, 1873.

John Williams, President (1848-1853).

Born in Deerfield, Massachusetts, on August 30, 1817, John Williams was the first graduate of Washington College to become its president (serving between 1848 and 1853). After his graduation from the college in 1835, Williams then studied theology informally on campus with Reverend Samuel F. Jarvis, a High Church Episcopalian, who had loaned his personal library to the college in 1826.

The young Williams was ordained deacon and later priest by former first President of Washington College, Thomas C. Brownell. Between 1837 and 1840, Williams tutored students in Ancient Languages. But he also served as a back channel, communicating about the "Low Church Party" at Washington College, to Reverend Jarvis, who had left in 1837 for Middletown, Connecticut, taking his library from Trinity with him. Williams furthered the cause of High Churchmen with his presidency in 1839-1841 of the Associate Alumni of Washington College. He became a member of the House of Convocation, which placed Bishop Brownell into the newly-created position of Chancellor of Washington College, as well as President of the Board of Trustees.

Williams had been serving for six years as Rector of St. George's Church in Schenectady, New York, at the time of election as President of Trinity College in 1848. He strongly influenced the college's direction towards the teaching of theology. Theological students soon attended Trinity in greater numbers, which led to the adoption of a full course of theology by the Trinity Board of Trustees in 1851. President Williams even fulfilled the increasingly important role of professor of the Bible and Theology. Publishing several books on biblical topics, by 1851 he was named Hobart Professor of History and Literature. He thought History was a subject that ought to be required for undergraduates at Trinity, though he believed it should be taught "with a constant reference to the Holy Scriptures."

Williams' ordination as Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Connecticut on October 26, 1851, made his continued role as Trinity's President somewhat difficult. Unlike President Brownell, who served as Bishop during his entire term as college president, there was some pressure for Williams to resign as Trinity's President. Though he was highly popular at Trinity and within the Church, in 1853 Williams resigned from the presidency. Immediately after leaving that post, he was elected as Trinity's Vice-Chancellor, where he oversaw college affairs (including decisions over future presidents) alongside his High Church mentor, Bishop and Chancellor Brownell. Both Vice-Chancellor and Chancellor were ex-officio positions held for life.

Between Williams' departure and 1888, the seven men who presided over Trinity College in the position of President would contend with the problem of divided leadership. As historian Glenn Weaver has suggested, the tension in authority was even noticed by Trinity students writing for the literary magazine The Trinity Tablet, which noted in December 1888 that "the bishop is practically president." Amazingly, even in 1888, that Bishop-Chancellor was still John Williams, former president (1848-1853).

Daniel Raynes Goodwin, President (1853-June 3, 1860).

Born in North Berwick, Maine, in 1811, Daniel Raynes Goodwin graduated from Bowdoin College in 1832, where he became a tutor and later professor of modern languages. He was ordained deacon in 1847 and became an Episocopal priest in 1848.

Highly esteemed as a linguist, Goodwin started at Trinity in 1853 both as its President (the first who had no prior previous experience with the college) and as the Hobart Professor (first of Modern Languages and Literature, then as professor of Ethics and Evidences of Christianity). In his German class, he apparently assigned the entirety of Goethe's Faust. He also taught half of the History courses while President. During his time in Hartford, he helped to establish the Society for the Increase of the Ministry. Sometime between 1854 and 1856, he chided undergraduate Maitland Armstrong (class of 1857) for immorality by Armstrong's attempt to paint a copy "Venus Rising from the Sea" from a lithograph.

Just four years into his Presidency, on February 5, 1857, Goodwin tendered his resignation to the Board of Trustees. Yet they insisted he stay on, in part because of a fundraising drive. Even after he presented the Board with his resignation letter a second time in May 1860, the Trustees still were strangely hesitant to let him go. But in June of that year, after Trinity's Baccalaureate ceremony, Goodwin quit Trinity College for good. He was quickly named Provost and Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, a post he occupied for eight years.

Samuel Eliot, President (April 8, 1861-June 29, 1864).

Born on December 22, 1821, in Boston, Samuel Eliot was the first individual to attain the Presidency of Trinity College who was not a minister, though he was by contemporary accounts, a devout lay Episocopalian. Eliot was first in the Harvard class of 1839. For about ten years, he wrote books of history and literature, including several volumes about the early history of Rome. He came to Trinity College in 1856 to teach English literature and American History, though he also lectured on wide-ranging subjects such as Political Science, "Dante and His Times," and the sculptor Thomas Crawford. A splendid orator, Eliot was soon given a new Chair in History and Literature. He was also a member of the Society for the Increase of the Ministry. A wealthy man, Eliot was increasingly charitable, participating in groups like the Missionary Society of Christ Church (Hartford).

Upon the departure of President Goodwin, Eliot was selected by a non-unanimous vote of a rump session of the Board of Trustees. He first declined, then was coaxed to accept the Presidency of the college. Eliot had the misfortune, however, of ascending at the time of the Civil War, when Trinity's southern students departed in droves. A fracas also broke out among patriotic citizens and Trinity students who wished that the American flag fly over the college buildings. Eliot refused to approve any irreverence to buildings "consecrated to the worship of Almighty God," notably original Seabury Hall because it contained the Chapel at that time. He eventually consented to a flagpole over Brownell Hall. Still, student discipline continued to vex Eliot during his term.

Not long into the war, Eliot faced the troubling state of Trinity College's finances. On February 16, 1863, he presented his resignation, but for the second time in a row, the Board of Trustees refused to accept a President's resignation. Only after his son died tragically, and he took a leave of absence to Europe, was his resignation accepted on June 29, 1864.

After serving as President of Trinity College, Samuel Eliot did not leave Hartford, as the school made him Lecturer on Political Science and Constitutional Law, though his output was minimal. He did donate $2,000 to the college's endowment.

John Barrett Kerfoot, President (1864-November 1865).

Born in Dublin, Ireland, on March 1, 1816, John Barrett Kerfoot was the first President of Trinity born outside of the United States. Emigrating to Pennsylvania in 1819, the Scotch-Irish Kerfoot was schooled in Lancaster by Reverend William Augustus Muhlenberg, whom Kerfoot followed to attend the Flushing Institute (later St. John's College) in Flushing, New York. After his confirmation in the Episcopal Church in 1832, Kerfoot studied to become a deacon, which he accomplished five years later. In 1841, he became Rector of St. James College in Hagerstown, Maryland, which he helped establish. A part of the Episocopal Diocese of Maryland, St. James attracted nearly 175 students, including many from the southern states, on the eve of the Civil War.

After three years made difficult by war, Kerfoot was open to taking the Presidency of Trinity College because of the large drop in the student population at St. James, the several Confederate raids on the campus, and the generous offer by his friend Dr. George C. Shattuck, the founder of St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire. Even after agreeing to his election as Trinity's President in July 1864, however, Kerfoot was captured by Confederate raiders under Jubal Early, though he was quickly paroled and released.

At Trinity, President Kerfoot began to revitalize its student body, in part by bringing with him eight or ten students from St. James. Some of these transfers rejuvenated the Phi Kappa fraternity at Trinity. Still, Kerfoot faced the unruliness of students who were largely unsupervised and who had freedom to roam the rapidly urbanizing city of Hartford. During his official inauguration as Trinity's President on June 28, 1865, Kerfoot delivered an address on The Christian College, indicating that he was prepared to regard the discipline of students as a question of Christian morality. He may have secretly pined for the well-behaved boys of St. James, as he convened each Sunday with the St. James' transfer students to sing St. James' songs while his wife played the melodeon. He introduced choral singing to the college.

Yet, his term seems to have been all for naught, as he was elected Bishop of the newly created Diocese of Pittsburgh in October 1865. Though former President and Bishop John Williams, along with some 120 clergymen in Connecticut, urged him to turn down the new position, Kerfoot formally resigned in late November 1865. Six years later, he was elected to the Trinity Board of Visitors.

For the third time in five years, Professor John Brocklesby, a layman, took over as Acting President, as various candidates turned down the newly vacant position.

Abner Jackson, President (October 1867-April 19, 1874).

Born in Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1811, Abner Jackson graduated from Trinity College (Hartford, CT) in 1837, when he was appointed Tutor and Librarian of the college. In 1840, he took the dual post of Professor of Intellectual Philosophy and Lecturer in Chemistry and Mineralogy. Jackson taught theological courses at Trinity College as well as teaching popular courses about philosophy, chemistry, and mineralogy.

In 1858, he moved to Geneva, New York, to become the President of Hobart College. During the Civil War, he helped with the raising of St. John's Chapel at Hobart, where he remained until February 1867, when the Board of Trustees decided to woo him back to Trinity College. In that year, Jackson returned to Trinity College (Hartford, CT) to assume the role of President.

During his time as President of Trinity College, which lasted from 1867 until his death in 1874, Jackson publicly contradicted a controversy that erupted over the number of Trinity students who were supporters of the Democratic Party. Jackson argued that even though the percentage of Democratic students had risen from the minority that might have been on campus during the Civil War, it was no where near the five-sixths figure that had been reported in the Hartford Courant.

When in March 1872 the Trinity College Board of Trustees approved, by a 12 to 4 vote, to accept the City of Hartford's offer to purchase the campus for $600,000, President Jackson was initially opposed. Yet, he finally came to approve the opportunity to expand the campus from its three buildings and construct new facilities. At the request of the Trustees, Jackson toured England and Scotland in 1872 in order to hire an architect to draw up a plan for the new campus. It was Jackson who found and engaged the services of William Burges, an architect with a London office. Unexpectedly, Abner Jackson died from pneumonia on April 19, 1874, as the ground for the current Trinity College campus was about to be broken.

Once again, Professor Brocklesby stepped in once again as Trinity President for a few months in 1874. It was his fourth time serving as Acting President.

Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, President (November 1874-June 30, 1883).

Born January 19, 1823, in New Haven, Thomas Ruggles Pynchon was educated at Boston Latin School, after which he entered Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut) in 1837. Graduating in 1841, Pynchon tutored students in Classics and lectured on Chemistry until 1847. In 1848, he became a deacon, and then priest in the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1849. In October 1854, Pynchon took a teaching position at Trinity College as the inaugural Scovill Professorship of Chemistry, named after the Scovill brothers.

While teaching chemistry and natural sciences at Trinity, he took one of America's first sabbatical leaves, which allowed him the time to study at Paris and Cambridge, England. He brought some chemical equipment back with him to Hartford from France, leading to a major remodel of the Chemistry Laboratory at Trinity College.

During much of the American Civil War, Pynchon served as Acting Chaplain of the college. He led the scheduled daily prayers in the morning and evening, as well as offering the Sunday service. He also served as chaplain of the college's student Missionary Society. He obtained a Doctorate in Divinity from St. Stephen's College.

After Abner Jackson died, Pynchon was himself elected President of the college in November 1874. Encouraging a policy of incremental building of the Burges architectural plan, he helped to break ground at the new Summit Campus on July 1, 1875. Still, President Pynchon faced the uneviable challenge of guiding the construction of the new campus buildings along Summit Street, as well as overseeing the last few semesters of classes taught at the "Old Campus" in downtown Hartford. Known as by some of the students as "Old Pynch", Pynchon appears not to have been a favorite among students. Members of several classes took to setting large bonfires, while other students called meetings and took votes to express their opinions contrary to the administration's views. He held out hope that the troublemakers on campus were largely composed of students who had started classes at the old campus and would soon graduate. He was made the Chair of Moral Philosophy in 1877.

But it was relationships between Pynchon, the faculty, and the alumni that would ultimately lead him to end his term. In October 1882, he resigned from the Presidency of Trinity, amid demands from some quarters that he resign. Yet, Pynchon stayed on at Trinity as Professor of Moral Philosophy, a post he kept until 1902. Beginning in 1888, he also held the Brownell Professorship. In 1902, his title switched to Professor Emeritus. On October 6, 1904, former professor and president Pynchon died and was buried in New Haven, Connecticut.

George Williamson Smith, President (July 1, 1883-1904).

Born November 21, 1836, in New York state, George Williamson Smith had a varied career, beginning with his graduation from Hobart College in 1857. He became an Episcopal deacon in 1860. Between 1861 and his inauguration as Trinity's President, he served as clerk in the United States Navy, Professor of Mathematics at the Naval War College in Newport, chaplain at the United States Naval Academy, chaplain on the U.S.S. Franklin, and rector of Grace Church on Long Island. On May 17, 1883, when he accepted the presidential position at Trinity, Smith had been rector of the Church of the Redeemer in Brooklyn, New York for about three years.

Arriving in 1883, President Smith had become so popular in just two years that students and trustees begged him to remain at Trinity, rather than take the Bishopric of Easton, Maryland, when he was offered that post in November 1885. He graciously compiled. In staying on, he was able to oversee a modernization of administration that saw advances in curriculum, student societies, rising standards in masters degrees, the hiring of a full-time librarian, and alumni enthusiasm. Electric lights and a large flagpole were installed. By 1888, the undergraduates numbered over one hundred, a new record high. While he was not alone responsible for all these changes, Smith's warmth contributed to the general good feeling. In particular, Smith was successful at giving weight to funding new building projects on campus through annual donations and targeted giving by the alumni. Bringing back Sunday church services, he was confident that religion should not be diminished in its influence at the college.

Also, Smith's tenure as President of Trinity College coincided with the end of the era in which the leadership of the college was divided between the Office of the President and the presiding Chancellor, then long-serving Bishop (and former Trinity President) John Williams. In November 1888, Smith was elected Bishop-Coadjutor of the Diocese of Northern Ohio. Rather than declining quickly, he waited until he could effect (or negotiate) two changes to the college's charter, thereby eliminating the office of the Chancellor and making the President of the college simultaneously President of the Board of Trustees of Trinity. Both proposals were approved by the state legislature on February 20, 1889. Additionally, he was adamant about removing Trinity's President from the Board of Trustees of the Berkeley Divinity School, a seminary in New Haven, Connecticut. By 1896, he had forced the charter of the Berkeley school to be modified. He was elected one of the vice presidents of the Association for Promoting the Interest of the Protestant Episcopal Schools, Colleges, and Seminaries, an indication that his desire to separate the college and church was not tied to a desire to downplay religious instruction.

Unfortunately, Smith's inability to recruit new students and the problem of declining academic quality among the undergraduates led to his undoing as President. He had to dial back his aspirations, restating "the old idea...[to] never want more than 100 students" in attendance at Trinity. The finances of the college were in shambles by 1901, when a deficit of over $60,000 was owed. In response, Smith talked about winning state support for the college, or offering free student scholarships. In response to these unfathomable ideas, the Trinity Board of Fellows asked for Smith's removal.

The Board of Trustees did afford President Smith the chance to resign with dignity, which he did on June 5, 1903. The Trustees even allowed him to remain "on leave" until June 30, 1904, when his resignation would take effect. They also voted him (at age 67) an annual lifetime pension of $3,000 and honored him with the title "President and Professor of Metphysics Emeritus."

Flavel Sweeten Luther, Acting President (June 1903-October 25, 1904); President (October 26, 1904-June 21, 1915; Spring 1916-December 1916; April 6, 1917-July 1, 1919); President Emeritus (July 1, 1919-January 4, 1928).

Born March 26, 1850, in Brooklyn, Connecticut, Flavel Sweeten Luther matriculated at Trinity College as a sophomore in his 17th year. Excelling in mathematics, he took first prize in that subject during his very first year on campus. Graduating at age nineteen, Luther taught at a parish school before becoming a deacon in the Episcopal Church on November 2, 1871. Two years later, he took over as rector of a church school in Wisconsin. By 1876, he was professor of mathematics at Racine College.

In 1883, Luther returned to Trinity College to become professor of mathematics. He received a Ph.D. "in course," perhaps the only Ph.D. given by the college. At the same time, he contributed to innovations in bicycle engineering (notably the chainless bevel gear) as a consultant to the Pope Manufacturing Company, which had made its mark in the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford. He sought to organize and educate craft workers through the creation of a local Workingmen's Club. A hard worker himself, Luther taught for seventeen years in a row before taking a sabbatical year abroad in England in 1900. He avidly attended athletic events and was a member of the Trinity Bicycle Club. He gave chapel services at Trinity, though he never became a priest and discouraged affiliation with High Church Episcopalianism. Luther was well-known in the city of Hartford, including at his home at 1 Columbia Street.

Upon the resignation of President Smith in 1903, Luther was designated Dean of the College and then Acting President by the Trinity Board of Trustees, because of his seniority among the faculty. On April 30, 1904, he was elected President of Trinity College unanimously and feted with a rousing impromptu celebration and later a lengthy public inauguration on October 26, 1904.

Luther was the only President of Trinity to serve in the Connecticut state legislature while serving as president. Between 1906 and 1908, he served in the Connecticut Senate as a progressive Republican. Under Luther's progressive leadership, the Hartford Courant editorialized that "Trinity College is better equipped than ever for the work of contributing to American citizenship well-taught, well-mannered, healthy-minded, public-spirited Christian gentleman." His continued support of Chapel services, though Sunday Evening Service more so than the daily sermons, was met with enthusiasm by many members of the student body. Luther approved of the growing presence of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) on campus, even supporting the idea of hiring of YMCA Secretary, who could conduct the religious census of the students, sponsor Bible study, connect the students with service opportunities, and help less fortunate students obtain employment to pay their tuition. Yet no Secretary was hired. Still, Luther had asserted the connection between public service and a college education received at Trinity.

Increasing the student body at Trinity to between 200 and 250 throughout his tenure, President Luther recruited students from Hartford in larger-than-previous numbers, while making trips to prep and high schools throughout the midwestern states. He also helped plan and open a College Union (with pool and card tables and a reading room for undergraduates) in late 1914 in Seabury Hall. He encouraged the newly-created student Senate.

During Luther's stewardship of the college, the increase in students brought in additional revenue, but various fundraising campaigns and creative philanthropic ideas did not ultimately solve the deficits which plagued Trinity's bottom line. In 1910, a campaign for new funds was begun during Commencement Week. The most important gifts supported the construction of a new building, Williams Memorial, which would contain administrative offices and a splendid new library upon its opening in early 1915. In June of that year, Luther asked to retire from his position, effective July 1, 1916. But the Board of Trustees refused to grant his resignation, instead giving him a leave of absence and appointing Professor Henry Augustus Perkins as Acting President.

Returning as President in spring 1916, Luther was tasked with addressing the financial woes of the college, though he freely admitted his lack of success in this area of administration. While away from campus in late 1916, Professor Perkins assumed the position of Acting President. Between December 1916 through the declaration of war on Germany in April 1917, he succeeded in raising over $250,000, mainly from alumni in New York City. The entrance of the United States into the Great War emboldened Luther's desire to reform the students into good citizens. He helped usher in military training and separate Military Science courses at Trinity. Exhausted from the war effort, Luther resigned on December 7, 1918, with an effective date of July 1, 1919. This time the Board of Trustees accepted Luther's resignation on January 18. He was made President Emeritus and given a $3,400 pension by the Carnegie Foundation, which was augmented by $1,600 from the college coffers and added to from funds raised by alumni.

In 1922, he was elected to the Board of Trustees and moved to California, where he died in 1928. His widow, Isabel Ely Luther, received a reduced pension, though the College Trustees still paid her $1,600 annually until her death four years later. Alumni gave annually to a Luther Fund.

Henry Augustus Perkins, Acting President (June 21, 1915-spring 1916; December 1916-April 6, 1917; July 1, 1919-June 30, 1920).


9 Cubic Feet (7 archival storage boxes) : records center cartons

Language of Materials


Custodial History

The Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut), Early Presidents' Files is an artificial collection in that multiple accessions from different eras of the Trinity President's Office have been combined. Although the provenance and custodial history of some of the items is known or can be traced without too much difficulty, a great number of the materials may lack documentation of their origins.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Peter J. Knapp, Reference Librarian and College Archivist of Trinity College, collected many of these files during his tenure at Trinity from 1965 to 2014. Trinity Professor Glenn Weaver may have also collected some of these materials.

Related Materials

Archival Materials

Nathaniel S. Wheaton papers and realia, Gunn Historical Museum (Washington, CT).

Daniel Raynes Goodwin papers, University Archives of the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA), catalogued as UPT 50 G656.

Samuel Eliot papers, Boston Athenaeum (Boston, MA).

Rare Books

Related Materials

For a separate Watkinson Library collection of Wheaton materials, see the Nathaniel S. Wheaton papers, Watkinson Library, Trinity College (Hartford, CT) (

For a separate Watkinson Library collection of Abner Jackson materials, see the Abn er Jackson papers, Watkinson Library, Trinity College (Hartford, CT) (

A number of books in the personal collections of Abner Jackson (including while he served as Trinity's President) are available in the Watkinson Library, Trinity College (Hartford, CT).


The African Repository and Colonial Journal, Volume 18. Washington, DC: Alexander and Barnard, 1842.

An Historical Sketch of the African Mission of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. New York: Foreign Committee, 23 Bible House, 1884.

"Autobiography of Thomas Church Brownell, Third Bishop of Connecticut," ed. Rev. E. Edwards Beardsley. Hartford, CT: Church Missions Publishing Company, 1940.

Carey, Megan. "Nathaniel Sheldon Wheaton: Trinity College’s Second President," undergraduate class assignment prepared for Professor Manevitz, AMST 406: The History and Memory of Slavery at Trinity, published as part of "Trinity and Slavery Project" within the Trinity Digital Repository, Trinity College.

Hannan, Caryn. "Samuel Eliot," in Massachusetts Biographical Dictionary. Volume 1 (A-J). Hamburg, MI: State History Publications, LLC, 2008-2009.

Wheaton, Nathaniel S. A Discourse on St. Paul's Epistle to Philemon; exhibiting the duty of citizens of the Northern States in regard to the institution of slavery, Hartford: Case, Tiffany, and Co., 1851.

Processing Information

Duplicate or photocopied materials have been removed. Some of these materials were originally named and cited in Glenn Weaver's History of Trinity College, as the following: Brownell Papers, Pynchon Papers, John Williams Papers, Presidents' Papers, Luther Papers.

Guide to the Files of the Early Presidents of Trinity College (1824-1919)
College Archivist Eric C. Stoykovich
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Revision Statements

  • 2020-03-30: "Custodial History" added by Eric C. Stoykovich.

Repository Details

Part of the Trinity College Archives Repository

Watkinson Library
300 Summit St.
Hartford CT 06106 USA