Rev. Dr. Elisha Benjamin Andrews

Inducted: 2010
Born: 1844 - Died:

Although E. Benjamin Andrews had only one eye – the result of a Civil War wound during the siege of Peterburg in August 1864 – some say he was the most visionary president of Brown University. During his nine-year tenure as the eighth chief executive of Brown, he moved it from its status of a college to that of a university, drove it toward a research institution, and opened opportunities for women by establishing Pembroke College in 1891. In addition. Andrews was an inspiring figure in the classroom and the pulpit as a Baptist minister.

 Andrews had been born on January 10, 1844, to a family of Baptist ministers in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. During the Civil War, he served in Connecticut regiments as a private and was later promoted through ranks to 2nd lieutenant. After graduating from Brown University in 1870 and the Newton Theological Institution in 1874, he preached for one year and was president of Denison University from 1875 to 1879. He was a professor of homiletics (preaching) at Newton Theological Institution from 1879 to 1882, a professor of history and political economy at Brown University from 1882 to 1888, and a professor of political economy and finance at Cornell University from 1888 to 1889. He returned to Brown as its president in 1889.

“Benny,” as he was called, developed a widespread camaraderie with the students as a classroom teacher, which continued into his presidency. Andrews became acquainted to his student body to an extraordinary degree. His abiding interest in his students of all backgrounds was a model for any college president. He took an interest in a young but impoverished student named James H. Higgins, who had missed the cut for financial aid. Higgins was admitted as a freshman after a student loan miraculously appeared. Later, after beginning a successful career as a Rhode Island attorney, Higgins returned to Brown to repay the loan. Then he discovered the loan had not come from the university but had been underwritten by Andrews. Higgins went on to become the first Catholic governor of Rhode Island in 1907. The “Andrews effect” extended to those of greater means, such as John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Mary Woolley, a Pembroke graduate who became president of Mount Holyoke College. Another student assisted by Andrews was John Hope, a Black, who became president of Morehouse College and Atlanta University.

All of these warm recollections and associations flooded back in the form of letters and petitions to the Brown Corporation during the so-called “Andrews Controversy.” Fearing the loss of alumni financial support, some conservative members of the Corporation took Andrews to task for his support of the monetary system proposed by William Jennings Bryan. It would have elevated silver to the same status as gold to back the currency of the United States. Andrews took this rebuke as abrogating his right to free speech and resigned. With the outpouring of support on his behalf, the Corporation retracted its rebuke, and Andrews withdrew his resignation. During his productive presidency of Brown, he became a charter member and president of the Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the Revolution in 1890.

After his nine-year tenure as president ended, Andrews became superintendent of the Chicago public schools for two years. He came to Nebraska after a national search for George MacLean’s successor, during which Charles Bessey served again as interim chancellor. Andrews, who was then serving as the superintendent of schools for the city of Chicago, had administered distinguished institutions before.

While the university had plateaued somewhat during MacLean’s tenure after its ascendance under James Canfield, it was still a formidable institution of national stature and grew under Andrews’ leadership. In 1900, when he assumed the chancellorship, Nebraska’s enrollment stood at 2,200 students – a large university for the time. Under his watch, the university grew to nearly 4,000 students. Andrews assembled a remarkably talented, inquisitive, and accomplished community of scholars driven to compete on the field and in the classroom with other great universities. They were determined to make the University of Nebraska equal to some of the widely revered institutions of the time and largely accomplished the feat in this Golden Age.

 It was during Andrews’ time that the university’s athletic teams, known variously as the fearsome “Bugeaters” and “Rattlesnake Boys” and the more traditional “Old Gold Knights” in prior years, adopted a name suggested by a local sportswriter, Charlie “Cy” Sherman – the Cornhuskers. Academically, a culture of debate rose at the university, in which the highest undergraduate academic calling was to be a member of the team led by Miller M. Fogg. The Innocent’s Society was organized in 1921 to counter Theta Nu Epsilon, an antiauthoritarian “drinking fraternity.” All-male, it was joined by the women’s Black Masque a few years later. Both were dedicated to advancing the individual and the institution, and membership was highly sought after.

Andrews sought and obtained funding from John D. Rockefeller for the university’s first student activities building, matched at a 2:1 ratio with state funds after Andrews defeated the famously loquacious William Jennings Bryan in the court of public opinion. Bryan had objected to accepting the charity of a robber baron, but the Temple Building was erected anyway. During his years at the helm, Andrews’ leadership constructed nine new buildings. Andrews re-ignited the restless ferment that had previously reached its zenith under Canfield. The university grew considerably during his tenure, and by the end of his chancellorship, the University of Nebraska was the nation’s fifth-largest public institution.

According to the historian Robert Knoll, in his “Prairie University,” “Some persons think Andrews is the greatest chancellor the University of Nebraska has ever had and one of the noblest men who have passed this way.” Never in the best of health, Andrews spent the remainder of his life in Interlachen, Florida, where he died on October 30, 1917. His body was sent back to Denison University in Ohio, where he rests in the campus cemetery. At his funeral, Alexander Meiklejohn, the philosopher, free-speech crusader, university leader, and member of The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame (2015), eulogized him:

“Dear, gallant, stalwart, splendid Bennie Andrews. The zest of life was in him to the brim. He loved the things a man might be. What a gallant fight he made, and what a hard one! I cannot mourn that he is gone; I am too glad that he has been and is. He was a man. Yes, take him all in all, we shall not see his like again.”

  Dr. Benjamin Andrews was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2010.

 For additional reading:

Andrews published many college textbooks on history and economics, including:

•        An Honest Dollar (1989).

•        Wealth and Moral Law (1984).

•        History of the United States (two volumes (1903).

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