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The Presidents of
the University of Chicago

A Centennial View
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Harper telegram to Burton

William Rainey Harper to Ernest D. Burton, telegram, March 4, 1892. Harper first approached Burton in the spring of 1891 about coming to Chicago. Burton was reluctant to leave a very good position at Newton and wanted specific commitments about responsibilities and salary before agreeing to move. Harper would not relent, and Burton finally accepted on March 24.



Carter H. Harrison and Ernest D. Burton at the Chicago-Illinois football game. November 8, 1924.

Carter H. Harrison and Ernest D. Burton at the Chicago-Illinois football game, November 8, 1924.

Although Burton knew little about athletics before becoming president, he soon realized the importance of football to the University's image. Shortly before this game, plans were announced to build a new football stadium with double the existing seating capacity of 32,000.

Ernest DeWitt Burton


Professor and Head of the Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature 1892-1925
Director of the University Libraries 1910-1925
Acting President 1923
President 1923-1925

Ernest DeWitt Burton was born six months before William Rainey Harper, and their careers paralleled each other in several ways. They met while Harper was teaching Old Testament Hebrew at Yale and Burton was teaching New Testament Greek nearby at the Baptist seminary in Newton Center, Massachusetts. Sharing respect for both conservative values and the new techniques of "higher criticism" in Biblical scholarship, it seemed natural that Burton should join Harper's faculty when the University of Chicago opened.

Son of a Baptist preacher, Burton grew up in Ohio, Michigan, and Iowa, and attended college at Denison University, graduating in 1876. After teaching for several years he decided to enter Rochester Theological Seminary, where his brother served on the faculty. Uncertain about his career goals, he thought first of a foreign mission, but his health would not permit it. He taught Greek for a year while his professor was on sabbatical, then sought ordination and a position in the ministry. Before he located a parish he was offered a professorship at Newton Theological Institution.

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