Lafayette College

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Drawing again, in part, from Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia, we read today of a man who gave himself unselfishly to the establishment of a school.

Twenty Years the President of Lafayette College

cattellWmCWilliam Cassiday Cattell was born at Salem, New Jersey on August 30th, 1827, into the family of Thomas Ware Cattell and his wife Keziah Gilmore Catell. Raised with five other brothers and two sisters, William studied in local schools and later completed his preparatory studies in Virginia for two years, under a brother’s direction. He subsequently enrolled at New Jersey College and graduated in 1848. After teaching in Virginia for a year, he then began studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. Cattell completed the standard three year course and remained for an additional year to focus on what were then termed Oriental Studies. Graduating in 1852, he was employed as Associate Principal of the Edgehill Academy, located in Princeton, New Jersey, from 1853-1855. Thereafter he was ordained by the Presbytery of Newton in 1856.

From 1855 to 1869, he was Professor of the Greek and Latin languages in Lafayette College, and it was during these years that he forged some of his strongest friendships and alliances. Then from 1860 to 1863, he was pastor of the Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where his labors were crowned with success, and he was greatly beloved by his congregation. In 1863 he was elected to serve as President of Lafayette College, which position he accepted and occupied until June of 1883, when impaired health through over-work obliged him to tender his resignation.

The effects of the Civil War had been nearly fatal for Lafayette College. Enrollment plummeted as students left for battle, while finances dwindled from lack of both students and supporters. The College was nearly closed in 1863 when the Trustees turned to Dr. Cattell, asking him to return and take over as President of the school. His congregation in Harrisburg was devastated, but he saw the greater need and in July of 1864 was inaugurated as President of Lafayette College. During his administration of twenty years, and mostly by his own efforts, the school’s assets increased from $40,000 to almost $900,000. New and larger buildings were built, and furnishings and equipment were brought up to date, along with the improvement of the curriculum. The end result was that Lafayette now stood among the leading colleges of that day. During this period, besides contributing $10,000 from his own funds for the construction of McKeen Hall, Dr. Cattell worked through these years at a very modest and nominal salary, devoting himself unselfishly to the interests of the College, to the point that his physicians finally had to compel him to absolute rest and freedom from official responsibility. In accepting Dr. Cattell’s resignation, the Board of Trustees gave in to the obvious but painful necessity.

PHSFollowing his retirement, Dr. Cattell remained an active member of the College’s Board of Trustees, serving there until his death in 1898. But the College was not his only field of service. Staying active, he traveled to Europe in conjunction with the Presbyterian Alliance, and upon his return, took on new duties as Secretary of the Board of Ministerial Relief for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. He traveled throughout the United States, preaching to raise money for aged pastors, their widows and orphans. During twelve years with this Board, Dr. Cattell raised three million dollars. Again, his ceaseless labors forced him to retire, this time in 1896. Yet despite his declining health, he agreed to accept the call to serve as President of the Presbyterian Historical Society, in Philadelphia. In this work, he fixed his sights on two goals: relocating the Society’s collections into a larger fire-proof facility, and the establishment of a sufficient  endowment. Cattell lived to see the collections moved to a newer building, but died on February 11, 1898, before the other goal of an endowment could be realized.

Pictured above left, the original home of the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, described in 1880 as “a modest house on Race street near Thirteenth, in Philadelphia, which makes no pretensions and attracts little attention, gives but little idea of the treasures within.”

Dr. Cattell was a superior scholar, an accomplished and affable gentleman, of great energy of character, and an excellent preacher. He was vested with the confidence and regard of his brothers in Christ. Among the honors conferred upon him during his life, he received his degree of Doctor of Divinity from both Hanover College, Indiana, and New Jersey College, in 1864.

Words to Live By:
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10, KJV)

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. (Colossians 3:23, NASB)

For Further Study:
Memoir of William C. Cattell, D,.D., LL.D., 1827-1898 (1899)

Two archival collections were located for Dr. Cattell. Click the links to view the finding aids:
The Lafayette College Archives, which consists primarily of diaries kept by Dr. Cattell.
and
The Presbyterian Historical Society, which collection consists of Dr. Cattell’s sermons, lectures and addresses and incoming correspondence.

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coffinJamesHenry

Scientist, Educator, and Inventor.

James Henry Coffin was born in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, on September 6, 1806 and died on February 6, 1873, at the age of sixty-six. Orphaned as a young child, he was educated by his uncle, the Rev. Moses Hallock and later graduated from Amherst College in 1828. Exhibiting an independent, entrepreneurial character, he made a career of teaching and founded a successful manual labor school in Greenfield, MA. In 1837, he became principal of an academy in Ogdensburg, NY, and it was during this time that he began to develop an interest in meteorology, writing treatises on solar and lunar eclipses and on the moon. The Greylock Observatory on Saddle Mountain, at 3500 feet above sea level, was established under his guidance. For use at this observatory. Professor Coffin devised the first self-registering instrument ever constructed for determining the direction, force, velocity, and moisture of the winds. His life’s final work was was the manufacture of an improved instrument for this same purpose, for the National Astronomical Observatory at Buenos Ayres, Argentina.

Then in 1846, he was called as professor of mathematics and astronomy at Lafayette College, where he served for the remaining twenty-six years of his life. His greatest contributions to science culminated in these years. One biographer notes that “During more than thirty years Prof. Coffin was engaged in collecting from all quarters, either in printed documents, or by an extensive correspondence, the data necessary to determine the mean direction of the surface winds in all parts of the Northern Hemisphere, their rate of progress, their relative velocity when blowing from different points of the compass, and the modifications they undergo in all these respect in the various seasons of the year.” It was a meticulous work which ultimately proved to be of great use.

Not long after Professor Coffin died, a bronze tablet was erected in his honor on the campus of Lafayette College, in recognition of his place as one of Lafayette’s most distinguished instructors and as a scientist of world-wide reputation. His associate, Professor Francis A. March, prepared the inscription for the tablet, which in part read:

“He annexed the atmosphere to the realm of science and searched the highways of the winds and the paths of vagrant storms.”

Professor Coffin was for many years a ruling elder in the Brainerd Presbyterian Church in Easton, PA. Alfred Nevin’s Presbyterian Encyclopedia reports that Coffin “united with the Church at an early age, and lived a sincere and devout Christian. He was fitted for his work as an educator and an investigator by the best gifts of heart and head. A man of clear, strong and candid mind, of scrupulous integrity of character, of conscientious regard for accuracy, and above all, a lover of truth for its own sake.”

Words to Live By:
James H. Coffin exhibited in his life a love for his fellow man and a consistent Christian character. Taking the gifts and abilities that God gave him, he faithfully sought to serve both God and man. Every honorable calling in life can glorify God. As Martin Luther taught, “in making shoes, the cobbler serves God just as much as the preacher of the Word.” Regardless of your calling in life, seek to serve and honor the Lord in all your ways.

For Further Study:
Click here to read as archival assistant Caitlin Lowery writes of her experience processing some of the records compiled by Professor Coffin.
The James Henry Coffin Papers are preserved at Lafayette College. To learn more about that collection, click here.

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