Andrew Dickson White
More than any other person, Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918) is a notable physical, as well as spiritual, presence in the room that bears his name. As one of the founders of the University, he guided the University’s intellectual development, bringing important faculty and collections to Ithaca, and establishing the university as a significant influence in higher education. As a historian (and the first president of the American Historical Association), White was also very conscious of his own place in history. He was only 32 when, as a member of the New York State Legislature, he helped convince Gov. Fenton to sign the charter for Cornell University on April 27, 1865, as New York’s land grant institution. In addition to his years officiating as University President (1866-85), he taught history and was also a distinguished diplomat (once while serving as president of Cornell!), president of the American delegation to The Hague Peace Conference in 1899, a member of the Smithsonian Board of Regents, and the author of a number of historical works. He donated the proceeds from his most famous book, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (NY: Appleton, 1896), to the care and upkeep of the President White Library. It is clear that he saw the A. D. White Library as the living embodiment of his intellectual legacy to Cornell.
White commissioned this pair of marble busts of himself and his first wife, Mary Outwater White (1836-1887), from the American sculptor, Franklin Simmons (1839-1913) in 1888, while he was touring Rome shortly after Mary's sudden death.
This portrait of White painted by Truman Fassett (Class of 1909), depicts the elder statesman toward the end of his life. Although the highest degree he earned was a Master’s degree in History from Yale University, he was awarded numerous honorary degrees and is shown wearing Oxford’s doctoral robes in honor of the Doctor of Common Law degree Oxford University awarded him in 1902 at the time of the Bodleian Library’s tercentenary.
Although her portrait does not appear in the reading room, White’s second wife, Helen Magill (1853-1944), did earn a doctoral degree. She was, in fact, the first American woman to earn a PhD. She studied Classics at Boston University, and was not only the first woman at Boston, she was in BU's first doctoral cohort, earning a PhD in Greek in 1877.
Just after the opening of the University Library (renamed Uris Library in 1961), A. D. White was named “Minister Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” –or Ambassador—to Russia, a post he served from 1892-94, with his second wife, Helen Magill. It was there that he wrote much of his book, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, and where their daughter, Karin Andreevna White (1893-1971) was born.
Resources about Andrew Dickson White and his collections:
- "Founding Collections: Andrew Dickson White," In the Founders Footsteps: Builders of the Cornell University Library (online exhibition)
- E. Engst and M. Dimunation. A Legacy of Ideas: Andrew Dickson White and the Founding of the Cornell Library, 1996 (exhibition catalog)
- E. Engst. Andrew Dickson White's Presidency. Legacy of Leadership: Cornell's Twelve Presidents (online exhibition)
- E. Earle, E. Engst, and L. Heidig. "Andrew Dickson White" 150 Ways to Say Cornell (online exhibition)