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Brochure, 1925

"A New Epoch at the University of Chicago," 1925. This small brochure laid out the Committee on Development's appeal for funds to construct new buildings, raise faculty salaries, and accommodate a student body which had grown to 13,359 students.

Ernest DeWitt Burton

1856-1925

I long ago decided that anything that could be finished in my lifetime was necessarily too small an affair to engross my full interest.

Ernest DeWitt Burton

Criticized by some for his modern approach to biblical scholarship, Burton nonetheless received strong support within his denomination and served it in many capacities. He was chairman of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, helped to found the Northern Baptist Convention, served on its Board of Education for many years, and in 1918 headed a commission to promote unity and coordination among the various missionary and educational efforts of the Baptists. At the same time, he was a teacher and superintendent in the Sunday School of the Hyde Park Baptist Church.

Burton planned to spend his last years completing several lengthy research projects, but his life took another abrupt turn in 1923 when he was asked to succeed Harry Pratt Judson as president of the University. Already 67, Burton asked the Board what it expected from him as acting president. After Board Chairman Martin A. Ryerson told him the word should be "active" rather that "acting," Harold Swift recalled that while Burton "made no answer at that time, his face lighted up and his eyes kindled, probably at the thought of some of his cherished dreams." Although Burton was president for only two years, he sparked a period of expansion and change that was rivaled only by the days of the University's founding.

Burton embarked on an ambitious development campaign to raise millions of dollars for endowment and an extensive building program. Plans for a new medical school and hospital which had been stalled by the war were revived. Burton called upon Franklin McLean, who had overseen the construction and establishment of Peking Union Medical College, to use his experience in China to develop a medical program in Chicago. Burton also initiated comprehensive studies of the colleges and graduate programs, with an eye to improving both their curriculum and administration.

Although he had been plagued with bouts of ill health throughout his life, the presidency seemed to bring Burton new stores of vigor. However, with little warning, an intestinal cancer was found in April 1925, and within a month he was dead. Burton did not live to see his plans completed, but he set the stage for an important new period of growth and experimentation at the University.


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