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The Presidents of
the University of Chicago

A Centennial View
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Harper speaking at Mandel Hall cornerstone laying

President Harper speaking at Mandel Hall cornerstone laying, June 18, 1901. Cornerstones were laid for six new buildings during the University's Decennial celebration. Photograph by Allen Ayrault Green.


Cartoon, Chicago Daily News, 1904

"Naturally there was panic," Chicago Daily News, December 9, 1904. Newspaper cartoonists frequently caricatured President Harper chasing John D. Rockefeller for money, tin cup in hand.

William Rainey Harper

After the University opened, Harper continued to develop new departments, and in subsequent years added professional schools for medicine, education, and law, primary and secondary institutions which merged to form the Laboratory Schools, and museums for paleontology, anthropology, and oriental studies. Pressing the urgency of needs for more facilities at the spring convocation in 1899, Harper said, "Patience sometimes ceases to be a virtue .... Some of us who ambitiously claimed to be young men when the University opened its doors must now acknowledge that old age is creeping rapidly on. We cannot afford to wait for time."

In 1901 Harper planned a Decennial celebration which included a week of conferences, sermons, and addresses, a thick ten-year report by the president and deans on every facet of the University's activities and programs, and a series of faculty publications which extended to 26 volumes. Cornerstones were laid for six buildings, and an addition to one of the women's dormitories was dedicated. Summing up the accomplishments of the University's first decade, Harper noted, "In these modern times ten years count for as much as one hundred years did formerly." Having seen foundations laid and "the superstructure erected in the rough," Harper looked forward to the next ten years which he hoped would bring "the development of the aesthetic side of life and thought."

Harper never completely recovered from an appendicitis attack in 1904, and early in 1905 his doctors told him they had found cancer. He continued to write, teach, and confer with colleagues until shortly before his death in January 1906. The University community mourned the passing of one who had in every sense shaped the spirit of the institution.


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