William Rainey Harper is considered one of the greatest America’s pioneers in education, mostly due to the help he provided to establish the University of Chicago. Being the first president of this college, Harper was a leading figure in the development of the modern university in the United States…
He was considered an academic prodigy, since he was only fourteen when he enrolled at Yale and it took him only three years to earn a Ph.D. Image 1.- William Rainey Harper Image 2.- Logo of the University of Chicago William Rainey Harper became a full professor of divinity in 1880, after accepting an instructorship in Hebrew Theology at the original University of Chicago, and soon after, in 1886, which was also the university’s final year, he was named president. When the university closed, he went back to Yale, started teaching Semitic languages (Hebrew, Assyrian, Arabic, Aramaic, and Syrian) to graduates, and became an instructor in the divinity school. Harper was the first one to recruit a woman, Alice Palmer Freeman for a dean at the University of Chicago. “Chicago in its early years was renowned for the opportunities it offered to women as students, faculty and staff. This commitment, however, was exceptional.” (Thelin, 2004. p.143) As a genius when it comes to organization and an innovative leader, Harper brought American higher education to a higher level, in cooperation with civic leaders and donors in Chicago. William Rainey Harper- An Introduction Harper was born on July 26, 1865 and he died on January 10, 1906. He lived a short life, only 41 year, but he accomplished more that many people do in a much longer life. Always ahead of other people, even in his early life, he was considered a prodigy. He was so advanced that he began with his college preparations at the age of eight. When he was ten, he enrolled in Muskingum College, in New Concord, Ohio. There he studied languages and music. Four years later, after graduating from this college, Harper enrolled in Yale University and completed his postgraduate studies in 1876; it took him only three years to earn his Ph.D. in philology. He worked at various positions at Yale University and Denison University. He became the first president of the University of Chicago and a great contributor to the development of the modern university in the United States. A most interesting and inspiring personality, Harper wrote various textbooks and advocated lifelong learning. According to Thelin (2004. p.120), “Understanding his biography is essential for understanding the modern American university.” William Rainey Harper married Ella Paul Harper in 1875, and soon became a parent of four, three sons and one daughter. The president of the University of Chicago Shortly after being selected to help with the organization in the University of Chicago, at the age of thirty-five (in 1891), Harper was selected as the university’s first president. He took this job very seriously and set standards quite high. Elevating the salaries of the faculty members and, Harper attracted the best scholars to the university. As he was an expert in every area of education, he expected high level of education of his employees. “Chicago’s William Rainey Harper stands out even in an era of heroic leaders. He became a local hero of sorts, dubbed Chicago’s “young man in a hurry”” (Thelin, 2004. p.120) Harper was so well known, locally and nationally, and his influence was so great that the University of Chicago became known as “Harper’s Bazaar”. William Rainey Harper and the University of Chicago William Rainey Harper was also giving public courses on the Bible, besides lecturing and overseeing journals, a corresponding school, and the printing office. His reputation as a prodigy attracted the attention of John D. Rockefeller who wanted to found a university and was ready to donate generous amounts of money for the cause. Rockefeller, whose aim was to create and endow a ...
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