A Look Back: A Brief History of Whitman College Presidential Inaugurations
Research and post by Bill Huntington, Whitman College and Northwest Archives
On the occasion of Kathleen Murray’s upcoming installation as the 14th president of Whitman College, it’s a good time to take a look back at inaugurations past.
Alexander J. Anderson, Whitman’s first president (1882-1891), apparently had no public celebration at the beginning of his term, which was also the birth of the college proper, although Whitman Seminary had existed (at least on paper) since 1859.
James Eaton arrived in November 1891 and was welcomed at the train by a few male students. He had taken three months to arrive from the east after being appointed. A formal reception was subsequently held in the college chapel where a few brief welcoming comments were given by Anderson and others. The Walla Walla Union-Journal of November 26, 1891 reported as follows: “. . . when they [Anderson and Eaton] clasped hands it seemed as though completing that tie which binds a great and good work well done, to a splendid administration just begun.” Not so splendid, as it turned out, as Eaton resigned in 1893, reconsidered, then resigned for good in 1894.
When Stephen B.L. Penrose arrived in 1894 from Hawaii, where he was pastoring a church, he was already a member of the Board of Trustees. He was not certain he wanted the job but was persuaded by enthusiastic students and faculty. He was formally inaugurated at the Walla Walla opera house on June 12, 1895, and remained in the position for forty years. At the time of his appointment, he was only thirty years old, thought to be the youngest college president in the United States.
Presidents Walter Bratton (1936-1942) and Chester Maxey (1948-1959; 1967-1968) both were long-standing faculty members and accepted the presidency on an interim basis, taking office with little fanfare. In Bratton’s case, the sudden resignation of Rudolf A. Clemen necessitated a quick replacement. Maxey took office following the death of Winslow S. Anderson in 1948.
Clemen was inaugurated at commencement on June 18, 1934 succeeding Penrose, who had served forty years. Clemens, however, resigned in controversy after only two years. Anderson, Whitman’s sixth president, was inaugurated at commencement on June 1, 1942. His first act as president was to confer on Bratton an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
Louis Perry was inaugurated on October 18, 1959, as Whitman’s eighth president. (See photo below.)
Donald Sheehan’s inauguration in 1968 was the first held in the brand-new Cordiner Hall. (See photo below.)
Sheehan died in 1974, and Dean Kenyon Knopf took over until Robert A. Skotheim assumed the presidency in 1975. He served 13 years, the longest tenure since Penrose.
Traditionally the inauguration of the president has been held in conjunction with the opening of the college year or commencement, as was the case for Thomas Cronin in 1993 and George Bridges in 2005.
David Maxwell, who took office in August 1989, broke with tradition by eschewing the traditional inauguration, instead holding a presidential symposium called the “Changing Face of the Socialist World,” which was held in the fall of 1990.