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Joseph Cummings
March 3, 1817
Falmouth, Maine
May 7, 1890
Evanston, Illinois
1881 - 1890
Prepared at Maine Wesleyan Seminary;
B.A., Wesleyan University (1840);
LL.D., University of Chicago (1876)
"The influence of that great personality ever remains with me. How often I see that stalwart figure with his massive head, his flashing eye and genial, kindly smile ready to encourage a timid student!"
- Student, class of 1885 (Wilde 325)
Joseph Cummings

After graduating from Wesleyan University, where he studied moral science, mental science, and political economy, Joseph Cummings served as a pastor in various New England churches. His career in education began with his appointment as Chair of Theology at the Methodist General Biblical Institute in Concord, New Hampshire. He was president of Genesee College in Lima, New York, from 1854 to 1857, and of his alma mater, Wesleyan, from 1857 to 1875. Cummings resigned from Wesleyan in 1875 and resumed pastoral work. Then, in 1881, he accepted the presidency of Northwestern University.

Fayerweather HallBy all accounts, Cummings was a strong financial administrator at the institutions he presided over, leaving behind new buildings and flourishing endowments. He was also an influential teacher; former Northwestern president Charles Fowler had been his student at Genesee College, and a number of Northwestern professors—including Robert Cumnock and Herbert Fisk—had studied with him at Wesleyan. During his nine-year tenure his skill and experience, as well as the return of financial stability to the University in the 1870s, allowed Cummings to eliminate the University's longstanding debts, add new faculty and new buildings to the Evanston campus, and incorporate two additional professional schools into the University.

Dearborn ObservatoryConsequently, enrollment in the College of Liberal Arts increased from 303 in 1881 to 492 in 1890; total University enrollment more than doubled, from 802 in 1881 to 1,658 in 1890. For the first time since 1876, faculty salaries could be fully paid. Salaries also increased—from a maximum of $2000 to $2500—making employment at Northwestern more attractive. In 1881, the Fayerweather Hall of Science was built with funding from Daniel B. Fayerweather; it stood until 1954. Other construction during this period included Dearborn Observatory (1889) and Hatfield House, a dormitory for young men named for trustee Rev. Robert M. Hatfield (1890). Northwestern also benefitted during this time by the addition of six new faculty members to the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Medicine and the creation of the Schools of Pharmacy and Dentistry.

Cummings was staunchly progressive for his time; He was an abolitionist and favored women's suffrage as well as educational opportunities for women

He married Deborah Haskell of Litchfield, Maine, in 1842. Their daughter Alice married Northwestern professor and president Daniel Bonbright. After Cummings' death, Deborah Haskell Cummings served on the NU Board of trustees until her death in 1900.

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