Hillsdale College 100 years ago.

Past Presidents

Daniel McBride Graham, 1844-48 (First Term)

Daniel McBride GrahamAn Oberlin College graduate, Graham was the first president of Michigan Central College (later to become Hillsdale College). The school opened with only five students in a small, deserted, two-room store. He resigned the presidency in 1848 to become a pastor in Saco, Maine.

Edmund Burke Fairfield, 1848-69

Edmund Burke FairfieldWith Ransom Dunn, Fairfield was a primary leader in making the new college at Hillsdale successful. His major theme was a ringing endorsement of freedom. An active Republican, he was elected Lieutenant-Governor of Michigan in 1858.

James Calder, 1869-71

James CalderFairfield’s successor was James Calder, and in his short administration the commercial school was opened, and the theological department was established. During the first year of his presidency, Hillsdale had 724 students. Calder resigned in 1871 to become president of what is now Pennsylvania State University.

Daniel McBride Graham, 1871-74 (Second Term)

Daniel McBride GrahamFacing almost total destruction of the campus by fire, Graham led the rebuilding of the campus during the 1873 financial panic.

DeWitt Clinton Durgin, 1874-84

DeWitt Clinton DurginDurgin, a native of New Hampshire, headed the College just after the disastrous fire of 1874. A large and somewhat alarming sign greeted his arrival: “Welcome to the toil which ends with a crown.” However, three new buildings were soon built, academic progress continued at a rapid rate, and Hillsdale’s fame continued to rise.

George F. Mosher, 1886-1901

George F MosherA native of Maine, Mosher had been a nurse caring for wounded soldiers in the Civil War. Mosher’s years as president were a period of particularly high academic achievement. Hillsdale was widely known as one of the strongest small colleges in the Midwest. Mosher was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Bowdoin College. After serving in a German consulate, he accepted the Hillsdale presidency in September, 1886. He was the first Hillsdale president who was not an ordained minister. His most pressing problem was to keep enlarging the endowment.

Joseph William Mauck, 1902-22

Joseph William MauckMauck graduated from Hillsdale in 1875, served six years as president of the University of South Dakota, and became treasurer of the Chicago & Milwaukee Electric Railway. He returned to his alma mater as one of its most beloved presidents in 1902 and served for two decades. Even his business skills, however, could not prevent Hillsdale from facing more and more serious financial problems.

William Gear Spencer, 1922-32

William Gear SpencerIn contrast to the Mauck years, Hillsdale during the Spencer era was relatively prosperous. Prior to coming to Hillsdale at only 35 years of age, Spencer had already received two degrees from Denison and had taught at Colgate and Franklin. Slayton Arboretum was given to the College in 1922. The Oxford debating team met the home team at Hillsdale College in 1924. Contracts for building Mauck Hall dormitory and a field house were signed in 1926.

Willfred Otto Mauck, 1933-42

Willfred Otto MauckMauck was the son of Joseph William Mauck, former Hillsdale president. A graduate of Hillsdale, graduate student at Columbia University, and professor of history at the University of Ohio, he became one of the youngest college presidents in the United States. The mood of the college under Willfred Otto Mauck was often gloomy because of harsh financial conditions partially related to the Great Depression. Mauck was forced to cancel all construction projects, and a Detroit newspaper printed the misleading headline, “Hillsdale for Sale for $11,000.” The average faculty member received a salary of less than $2,000 a year.

Harvey L. Turner, 1942-52

Harvey TurnerDr. Turner’s formal inaugural was the first in Hillsdale’s history. Financial pressures caused by World War II were severe, and in 1950 Turner gave a gloomy report that the current year would end with a $5,000 deficit, and that the 1950-1951 fiscal budget would end with an imbalance four times as large. On a more positive note, the Wilbur J. Carr Memorial Library was completed in May 1950. Turner characterized his presidency as a “decade of difficulties and developments.”

J. Donald Phillips, 1952-71

J Donald PhillipsPhillips strongly emphasized human relations as the primary characteristic of Hillsdale College. Largely removing the possibility of financial collapse which characterized the Turner years, Phillips oversaw the construction of a number of new campus buildings. However, his administration ended with the College still facing numerous financial weaknesses.

George Roche, 1971-99

George RocheRoche made the raising of an endowment sufficient to ensure the College’s long-term survival one of his first priorities. A series of new programs such as the Center for Constructive Alternatives brought hundreds of prominent national speakers to campus. Imprimis, a free national speech digest started in 1972, now reaches over 3.4 million readers. Academic progress proceeded rapidly, as did the construction of many new buildings. Hillsdale College’s reputation became national in scope.