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Oliver Marcy
 
Born:
 
February 13, 1820
Coleraine, Maine
Died:
 
March 19, 1899
Evanston, Illinois
Acting
President:
 
1876 - 1881
1890
Education:
 
Prepared at Weselyan Academy, Wilbraham, MA;
B.A., Wesleyan University (1846);
LL.D., Chicago University (1876)
 
"In his long years of service Dr. Marcy has become the patriarch of the university, and wherever he appears, his presence is the signal for tokens of reverent affection and good will."
- Frances E. Willard, A Classic Town, The Story of Evanston
Oliver Marcy
 

The seventh of eleven children, Oliver Marcy worked his way through college as a teacher. After graduation, he taught mathematics and geology at Wilbraham Academy for sixteen years, with a brief interlude at Amenia Seminary in New York.  One of his students at Wilbraham was Herbert Fisk, who later became Principal of Northwestern's Preparatory School.
 
Marcy came to Northwestern in 1862 as professor of Natural History and Physics. Over the years, he taught natural theology, moral science, philosophy, logic, mathematics, chemistry, physics, botany, zoology, mineralogy, and geology. (When he began teaching natural theology in 1875, the student newspaper noted that "he is one of those hard-headed Christians whose theology is not shaken by the possible truth of Darwinism.") He was also Dean of the College of Technology from 1873 to 1876.

Northwestern's Natural History MuseumMarcy was above all a geologist and a botanist; a mountain and an oak were named for him. The US government engaged his services as a geologist twice: in 1849 he traveled overland to Puget Sound, studying the geography of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast; in 1866, he assisted in a survey for a road from Lewiston, Idaho to Virginia City, Montana. At Northwestern, Marcy established the Museum of Natural History (see also a museum report), which opened in 1870 in University Hall. He donated 1,000 specimens of fossils, minerals, and shells to the Museum's collection, and served as its curator from 1871 until his death. 

After Charles Fowler submitted his resignation, the Ways and Means Committee of the Board of Trustees (charged with balancing the University's budget) recommended that it would not be in the best financial interests of the institution to seek out a new president just yet, and Marcy was asked to serve as Acting President. Marcy remained in this role for five years.

Marcy took office during a difficult time. The University was undergoing a financial crisis (resulting from the national recession which began in 1873, along with heavy interest payments on loans taken out before the recession) which prevented improving the facilities, adding faculty, or raising salaries. Several members of the faculty had left; the College of Technology initiated by Fowler was unsustainable without faculty or equipment; and enrollment was dropping (from 342 in 1876 to 242 in 1877)—partially because Eastern schools were competing for Midwestern students. In addition, Marcy felt that it sent an unfavorable message to the world that no Northwestern president had served for longer than four years.

Despite these difficulties, Marcy managed the University well as Acting President--although he continually stressed to the Trustees that, without a permanent president, Northwestern would become a second-rate institution. Marcy's annual reports presented thorough analyses of the current situation and suggestions for future change, and reflected his belief that, with so few faculty members, the curriculum had been stretched with too many electives, and that the focus needed to be on solid preparation in the traditional fields of learning. In his 1880-81 President's Report, Marcy stated his position clearly: that "to teach the trades, to make artisans, engineers, book-keepers, merchants and farmers is not directly the purpose of the College." He believed that Northwestern's goal was to prepare its graduates for Christian leadership, in or out of the ministry. In accordance with his views, during his tenure the College of Literature and Science was renamed the College of Liberal Arts.

By the end of the 1870s, Northwestern's financial situation was improving. Evanston’s suit for back taxes had failed and the University’s tax-exempt status was confirmed (an event which NU students marked by bonfires of celebration, authorized by Marcy). A few donors, including founder John Evans, had stepped up with offers of funding to reduce the debt. In the spring of 1881, the University was finally able to hire a new president, Joseph Cummings, and Marcy returned to teaching.

Mrs. MarcyMarcy served once again as Acting President from May to September, 1890, after the sudden death of President Cummings and until Henry Wade Rogers was inaugurated. In 1890 Marcy was named Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. He held this title, an continued to teach, until shortly before his death on March 19, 1899.

Marcy married Elizabeth Eunice Smith (1821-1911), a teacher of French and botany at Wilbraham Academy, in 1847. Mrs. Marcy was very active in Evanston social welfare circles, joining the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Woman's Home Missionary Society, and the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1883 Mrs. Marcy's interest in the settlement movement prompted her to found the Elizabeth E. Marcy Home (now the Marcy-Newberry Center) in Chicago's Bohemian district.

Note: The Oliver and Elizabeth Marcy Papers are held in the University Archives.
 
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