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Franklyn Snyder
July 26, 1884
Middletown, Connecticut
May 11, 1958
Evanston, Illinois
1939 - 1949
A.B., Beloit College (1905);
A.M., Harvard (1907);
Ph.D., Harvard (1909);
Hon. LL.D., Beloit (1935), Colby College (1939), University of Pittsburgh (1940), University of Southern California (1945), Knox College (1948), Lake Forest College (1950); Hon. L.H.D., Northwestern (1939); Hon. Litt.D., Illinois Wesleyan University (1940); Hon. D.C.L., Rippon College (1948)
"President Snyder's effort has been in the direction of building a more distinguished University. In this he has achieved no small degree of success. During his administration Northwestern's assets have doubled. Research activities have increased. The economic condition of the faculty has been improved. In every department, academic standards have been raised. For these accomplishments we honor and thank him."
– George W. Teuscher, President Northwestern Alumni Association, 1949
Franklyn Snyder

On January 18, 1939, announcement was made of the request by President Walter Dill Scott that a successor be chosen in order to permit his retirement from active administrative duties on the following first of September. On April 6, the Trustees elected as new Northwestern president the Educational Vice-President and Dean of Faculties, Franklyn Bliss Snyder.

Of the President-Elect, President Scott said, "I need say little as to Dean Snyder's qualifications for the work. He has been known to the students of this University for the past thirty years as a delightful lecturer and an inspiring teacher; he is known to admirers of Robert Burns as a scholarly and discerning biographer; he is known to members of your Board as a charming personality as well as an efficient administrator. He will be a graceful as well as an inspiring and effective leader."

Snyder was born in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1884, later earning his undergraduate degree at Beloit College in 1905 and his Masters and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard over the subsequent four years.  He joined the Northwestern faculty in 1909 as an instructor in English. Snyder took a particular interest in the Scottish poet Robert Burns, publishing in 1932 The Life of Robert Burns and, later, Robert Burns: His Personality, His Reputation and His Art. Along with Northwestern's Professor Robert Grant Martin, Snyder was also responsible for A Book of English Literature, which excerpted great authors and went through seven reprints. Other efforts included A Book of American Literature, compiled with Haverford Professor E.D. Snyder, and The English of Business with Ronald S. Crane.

Snyder rose through the ranks of the English department, becoming an assistant professor in 1911, an associate professor in 1913, and a full professor in 1918. In 1934, he was promoted to Dean of the Graduate School, taking over the role from James A. James. Snyder spent only three years overseeing the Graduate School until 1937, when he was placed by Walter Dill Scott into the newly created role of Vice President and Dean of Faculties.

The day upon which President Snyder took office of president saw the outbreak of war in Europe. President Snyder set as the pole star of his administrative course "to do everything in our power to bring all our schools and departments up to the high level of educational distinction already attained by the best." At the same time, he inaugurated early steps toward preparing the University for its possible role in the national defense.

Abbot HallIn the summer of 1940, a committee was appointed to study all facilities which the University could place at the disposal of the government in case of war. The University furnished the Navy Department with quarters in the recently constructed Abbott Hall and Wieboldt Hall for the newly instituted Reserve Midshipman's Training Unit (video at link). The Medical School, at the request of the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army, completed plans for organizing and staffing at short notice a complete army base hospital unit. In the fall of 1940, the facilities of the University were opened for the first selective service registration, members of the staff volunteering as registrars. They registered 785 students from the Evanston Campus and 715 from the Chicago Campus.

The shadow of international events did not deter the University from proceeding with normal developments during this first year of President Snyder's administration. In September, 1939, the first freshman class of the Technological Institute was admitted. The Century Plan for the development of the University was published, emphasizing the need for qualitative rather than quantitative growth. Three large new buildings were completed: Scott Hall, new Patten Gymnasium, and Abbot Hall. The new gymnasium was necessitated by the removal of the former one to make way for the construction of the Technological Institute. Old Willard Hall was remodeled to give spacious quarters to the School of Music. In May, 1940, cornerstone laying was held for Wesley Memorial Hospital on the Chicago Campus. Lutkin Hall, a recital auditorium for the School of Music, was completed in 1941 and dedicated on November 4 that year.

The academic year 1941-42 soon saw the United States fully involved in the war. The University faced the situation with a three-fold problem: "How can the University contribute in every possible way to winning the war, at the same time preserve the fundamentals of its many-sided educational program unimpaired, and also get itself in readiness to take full advantage of the opportunities and obligations which the return of peace will present?" The main energies of President Snyder's administration were devoted to meeting this difficult question in an effective manner.

When, on June 12, 1942, the building of the Northwestern University Technological Institute was dedicated, the facilities of the Institute were already geared to serve the national need. The University was engaged in throwing its full resources behind the war effort. The Medical School's new General Hospital No. 12 was ready for duty. The School was also devoting 80 per cent of its research work to problems related to national defense. Lunt Administration Building and Swift Hall of Engineering were remodeled to house and feed 1000 enlisted men in the navel radio school. Foster House was remodeled for a sick bay and dispensary for the school. Dormitories and fraternity houses were turned over to members of the Navy College Training Program. By the close of the war, nearly 50,000 men and women had come into contact with Northwestern University as a center of wartime training.

In addition to becoming one of the Navy's largest training centers for reserve officers and specialists, Northwestern cooperated with the Army in providing special programs in several areas and made an outstanding contribution through its schools for Military Government. The laboratories of the University were placed at the disposal of the government and almost overnight were classified as restricted areas. The University had 87 contracts with the government for special work.

Some 400 faculty members left the campus for government service, either in the armed forces or work on scientific problems under the National Defense Research Council. Over 15,000 alumni and former students served with the armed forces. Three hundred died in uniform. And two of the 428 Congressional Medals of Honor awarded during the war came to Northwestern men.

With so great a portion of Northwestern's facilities and personnel devoted to the war effort, much improvisation and personal sacrifice was necessary for the maintenance of Northwestern's educational standards. Faculty members assumed additional teaching loads in order to maintain the regular academic program. Not only was the University able to hold its own in most areas, but continued progress and innovation in many fields. A new program for the A.B. degree, initiated in 1944-45, was widely hailed as an important development toward the ideal of a liberal education. Throughout the war years, Northwestern resisted the temptation to dilute its regular curricula through abbreviated courses or to accept students prior to high school graduation. Probably the one unavoidable sacrifice to the war was the rationing of research unrelated to the immediate task of victory.

The year of 1945-46 was one of rapid transition from war to peace. A predominantly feminine undergraduate student body changed swiftly to one in which men largely outnumbered women. Laboratory equipment throughout the University, formerly devoted to government research, demanded repairs and replacements. Dormitories and fraternity houses that had been used by the Navy were turned back to the University to be thoroughly renovated before resuming their civilian roles.

The most overwhelming problem faced by the administration involved numbers of students. The year opened with 922 veterans enrolled. By the Spring Quarter their number had increased to 6,138. The academic year 1946-47 started with 10,350 veterans enrolled on the two campuses. The full enrollment picture showed 23,000 persons registered in the University, 10,000 of them full-time students.

Willard HallNorthwestern's enrollment had increased 40 per cent over the highest previous figure! Since these 3,000 additional students in no sense paid their own way, they placed a heavy burden upon the University's faculties, physical facilities and income from investment. However, the administration regarded restricting registration to a lower figure unthinkable in view of Northwestern's obligation to do all it fairly could for the returning veterans. With continuing demand for admissions over 28,000 application forms were sent out in response to requests and from this group 1,991 persons were admitted as freshmen. Temporary housing, in the form of metal villages, sprung up over the campus over a period of 120 days in order to accommodate these new students.

In 1948, President Snyder called attention to the fact that in accordance with the University's retirement policy, he should reach the end of his active service August 31, 1949. The Board of Trustees, in collaboration with the University Senate, studied the problems of a successor and on September 28, 1948, unanimously elected J. Roscoe Miller, Dean of the School of Medicine, to the Presidency of the University, to take office July 1, 1949. During Snyder's term, the school's budget had increased from $5.4 million to $15.6 million and assets totaled over $100 million.

Looking to Northwestern's Centennial in 1951, President Snyder concluded his administration with a statement of confidence that believers in private endeavor would continue to provide for the needs of a free institution of higher education. "Our first century," he said, "has written a notable page in the history of American education, and in the cultural development of the great Midwest for which the University was founded. The second will be better in every good way if, as Dante put it, we follow our star, and remain true to our destiny as a center of humane learning."

Following his retirement from the Presidency, Snyder served as president of the board of managers of Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago until 1956. His last two years were spent on private research and writing before succumbing to a heart attack on May 11, 1958.

(Adapted from "The Administration of Franklyn Bliss Snyder," Edward Stromberg, Director of Public Relations, Northwestern University (1950))

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