James Burrill Angell



JAMES BURRILL ANGELL was born at Scituate, Rhode Island, January 7, 1829, in direct descent from Thomas Angell, who accompanied Roger Williams on his expulsion from the Massachusetts Colony in 1636. He was prepared for college at the University Grammar School, Providence, entered Brown University in 1845, and was graduated with the highest honors in 1849. The first year after graduation he was engaged as assistant librarian in the college library and as a private tutor; and then, for the sake of his health, which showed signs of impairment, he travelled extensively on horseback through the South. Still looking for outdoor occupation, he took up civil engineering for a time, and then went to Europe for travel and study. While abroad he was appointed professor of the Modern Languages and Literatures at Brown University, a position which he did not return to fill until 1853. In addition to the duties of his professorship, he contributed leading articles to "The Providence Journal" from time to time; and when Henry B. Anthony was elected United States Senator in 1860, Professor Angell succeeded him as editor of that paper and resigned his chair at Brown. After six years of arduous editorial work covering the whole period of the Civil War, he accepted the presidency of the University of Vermont. In 1871 he resigned that position to become President of the University of Michigan. For a detailed account of his services in this position, the reader is referred to the chapter devoted to his administration (pages 62-76). In 1880 he was appointed United States Minister to China, where he was also the head of a special commission charged with the negotiation of two treaties with that nation. The treaties procured through his negotiations effected a settlement of some annoying commercial questions and also the regulation of Chinese immigration. Later, in 1887, he was appointed a plenipotentiary on the part of the United States on the commission which negotiated the North Atlantic Fisheries Treaty with Great Britain. In 1895-1896 he was chairman of the United States Commission on Deep Waterways, and presided at the joint meetings with the Canadian commissioners. The year 1897-1898 was spent at Constantinople as United States Minister to Turkey. He is a recognized leader in the Congregational Church, and at the second International Congregational Council which met in Boston, September, 1899, he presided over the deliberations of that body, composed of delegates from all parts of the world and representing the scholarship and the ecclesiastical organization of that Church in the persons of its most distinguished members. He is an accomplished speaker and writer. A considerable number of his public addresses have been published, and he has contributed numerous articles to the leading journals and reviews. He has received many academic honors. The degree of Doctor of Laws has been conferred upon him by the following institutions: Brown University, 1868; Columbia University, 1887; Rutgers College, 1896; Princeton University, 1896; Yale University, 1901; Johns Hopkins University, 1902; University of Wisconsin, 1904; and Harvard University, 1905. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society, of Philadelphia; the American Antiquarian Society, of Worcester; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of Boston; and the American Historical Association, of which last he was president in 1893; also, a charter member of the American Academy at Rome, and of the Society of International Law; also, a corresponding member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. He has been for many years a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution. On November 26, 1855, he was married to Sarah Swoope Caswell, daughter of the Reverend Doctor Alexis Caswell, then a professor in Brown University, afterwards president of that institution. There are three children: Alexis Caswell (A.B. 1878, LL.B. 1880), a member of the Detroit Bar; Lois Thompson, now Mrs. Andrew C. McLaughlin, of Chicago; and James Rowland (A.B. 1890, A.M. 1891), Professor of Psychology in Chicago University. Mrs. Angell died at Ann Arbor, December 17, 1903.  

Burke A. Hinsdale and Isaac Newton Demmon, History of the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1906) pp. 219-220.


By Wilfred B. Shaw, ‘04

The Michigan Alumnus, April 1916, Page 326

The administration of James Burrill Angell, President of the University of Michigan for thirty-eight years, covered a significant period in the history of American education. It was also a critical time in the life of the University. In the years between 1871 and 1909 the University of Michigan made a practical and successful demonstration of a new experiment in education, the popularization of education, and the maintenance of a school system and a university by the state.

While the University of Michigan might have developed much as it has without the guidance of President Angell, it may be questioned whether it would have been as effective as a leader in the new movement. The principles, which underlie the state university system, were stated well by the founders who incorporated the fundamental idea of popular education in the first constitution of the State. Michigan's first great President, Chancellor Henry Philip Tappan, tried his best to make them practical. But he was ahead of his time, and it was not until President Angell came to Michigan from Vermont, in 1871, that there was progress towards a true University. When he came Michigan was still a college. It was the work of Dr. Angell to build, and to build well, upon foundations already laid, to harmonize, with practical idealism and diplomacy, the advanced ideals of the University with the slower progress of the Commonwealth. While it has come to be no reproach upon the fame of Dr. Tappan that he failed in just this particular, it is the great achievement of Dr. Angell that he succeeded. He made Michigan the model for all succeeding state universities.

Dr. Angell came to Michigan fresh from his work in the East as Professor of Modern Languages at Brown University, wartime editor of the Providence Journal and President of the University of Vermont in June 1871, eight years after the resignation of Chancellor Tappan. The seven years from 1863 to 1870 had been filled with success by the Reverend Erastus 0. Haven, a man of much more conservative temper, who devoted himself to caring for the material affairs of the University rather than the problems of future development.  Professor Henry S. Frieze, one of the most striking figures in the history of the University, followed as Acting President for one year. He found opportunity in his short administration to further Dr. Tappan's ideas in many ways. Two steps were taken at that time, which have had a far-reaching effect in American education, the admission of women and the final establishment of organic relations with the high schools of the State. In fact, the first two women were graduated at the end of the same year that saw President Angell assume his new duties as Dr. Frieze's successor.

The company, which greeted him in 1871 was a brilliant one, though in numbers the Faculty was small, less than forty all told, compared with over ten times that number when he resigned his office. The Catalogue of 1871 shows 1,110 students enrolled, in contrast to the 5,223 in 1909.

At the time of his death Dr. Angell was eighty-seven years old. He was born in Scituate, R. I., January 7, 1829, of good New England stock, and lived the simple life of a country boy. He attended the village school, the academy of one Isaac Fiske, a Quaker pedagogue, of Scituate, - until he was ready for more advanced studies at the academies of Seekonk, Mass., and North Scituate.

This early training, in his later estimation, furnished him the best possible instruction, because it involved personal attention from special instructors, a good old fashioned method, which the rapid development of this country has made almost impossible, yet a practice for which he stood consistently as far as possible throughout his whole career as an educator.  In speaking of his early schooling he said that "no plan had been marked out for me; being fond of study and almost equally fond of all branches, I took nearly everything that was taught, merely because it was taught."

His health as a boy, however, was delicate, giving small promise of his hale and hearty four score years, and he spent perforce two years, from fourteen to sixteen, on a farm. As to the value of this experience, far from uncommon in the lives of many men eminent in the history of this country, he said, "I prize very highly the education I received then. I learned how much backache a dollar earned in the field represents." He prepared for Brown University at a grammar school in Providence where he studied under Henry S. Frieze, destined to become his immediate predecessor in the Presidency of Michigan. He was graduated from Brown, with highest honors, in 1849.

This early New England training was particularly fortunate for one who was to come into such close relationship with the pioneer settlers of Michigan, - New Englanders to a very large extent. Equally fortunate was his later training. His first residence abroad, where he acquired the familiarity with modern languages which fitted him for his first professorship, had been preceded by a year as assistant in the library at Brown University; then he became tutor, and later a student of civil engineering in the office of the city engineer of Boston. In fact, he spent this period to such advantage that later, upon his return from Europe, he was given the choice of a professorship either in civil engineering or modern languages, an evidence of the wide range of his interests. He finally chose modern languages as his subject, and entered upon his career as a teacher, where he developed the highest qualifications. He remained at Brown for seven years.

Many articles and reviews published in the Providence Journal justified his selection in 1860 as the editor of that paper, a position that he held throughout the Civil War with singular distinction.

In 1866, Dr. Angell was offered the Presidency of the University of Vermont, and he accepted it. He took charge of the University when its fortunes were at a low, and the future was not bright. It was due to the administrative ability of the new President as well as to his ripe experience and culture that the day was saved and Vermont prospered, intellectually and financially, during the five years of his administration.

After the resignation of President Haven in 1869, the Regents of the University of Michigan invited Dr. Angell to the vacant chair, but he felt constrained to decline; his work at Vermont was not completed. Two years later the call was again extended and this time it was accepted. Speaking of his decision to come to Michigan, Dr. Angell said twenty-five years later: "While, with much embarrassment, I was debating the question in my own mind whether I should come here, I fell in with a friend who had very large business interests, and he made this very suggestive remark to me: 'Given the long lever, it is no harder to lift a big load than it is with a shorter one to lift a smaller load.' I decided to try the end of the longer lever."  (President Angell’s Quarter Centennial; Addresses, p. 34.)

James Burrill Angell was inaugurated President of the University of Michigan in June 1871. From that time his life was the life of the University except for interludes of diplomatic service in China, Turkey, and upon various commissions. His diplomatic career, though only incidental to his life work as an educator, showed that he possessed the necessary qualifications for what might well have been a very distinguished career in other fields. At the time of his appointment to China as Minister Plenipotentiary, diplomatic relations in the East was decidedly indirect and characteristically Oriental. It had just taken Germany two years to conclude a rather unimportant commercial treaty, and upon his arrival at Peking his colleagues in the diplomatic service laughed at him for supposing that his one-year's leave of absence would suffice for his far more important mission. Yet the revision of the Burlingame treaty, restricting the importation of cheap coolie labor into this country, which he sought, was accomplished within two months. Another important commercial treaty relative to the importation of opium had likewise been completed in the same time. He was also successful in his mission to Turkey in 1898 and as a member of the Alaska Fisheries and other international commissions.

But his heart was in his work at Ann Arbor, and thither he always returned despite flattering temptations to enter diplomatic life. A great opportunity lay before him when he took up his new duties and he recognized it. It was his task to bring the State, exemplified in particular by a not always sympathetic Legislature, and by a Board of Regents of continually varying complexion, to a realization of the true function of a university supported by the state. He must arouse the enthusiasm for education and learning which he knew lay deep in the hearts of the people of Michigan. As Professor Charles Kendall Adams, later President of Cornell and Wisconsin said: "What was called for first of all was the creation and dissemination of an appreciative public opinion that would produce in some way or other the means necessary for the adequate support of the University." So well did Dr. Angell accomplish this purpose that of late years he loved to dwell, in his speeches before the alumni, upon what he chose to call the "passion for education" on the part of the people of the State, forgetting utterly the yeoman service he performed all his life toward bringing about that same regard for popular education.

It is true that the foundation and declaration of the educational ideals of the West cannot be ascribed to him. Nevertheless he must be regarded, more than any other one man, as the successful pilot who avoided the difficulties, which the very novelty of the situation presented. The comparative freedom from precedent offered an unrivalled opportunity to try new theories in education, and was a continual temptation to try policies, which must have proved too advanced.

A survey of the educational system in the West at the time he came to Michigan may be of interest. As regards the number of students, quality of work, and the eminence of the men upon her Faculties, Michigan stood far in advance of other state institutions. This very pre-eminence, however, threw a greater responsibility upon the new President. Lacking precedents, he had to make them for himself, so that the place of the state University in the educational world today is in great degree the measure of success he had in dealing with the practical problems, which confronted him throughout his extraordinarily long term of office. When he came to Michigan there was only one other state university of any size, Wisconsin, although several others had already been established. If the report of the United States Commissioner of Education for 1871 is to be relied upon, none of them except Michigan, and possibly Wisconsin, were in anything like a flourishing condition. While Michigan had, all told, 1,110 students, of whom 483 were in the Literary Department, Wisconsin had only 355, omitting a preparatory department of 131 students. Minnesota had but 167 students with 144 in the preparatory department, while Kansas enrolled 313. No figures were given for Illinois, which was then the Illinois Industrial University, and Nebraska, both of which had been established for several years.

Yet Michigan, although she was well in the lead in point of numbers as well as in the strength of her professional schools, was far from realizing her possibilities. It would, of course, be a rash assertion to say that she has realized them now. But it is safe to say that no state has maintained more truly the type of the well rounded university, a large college of liberal arts, with traditions of culture and scholarship which began with its very foundation, surrounded by a ring of effective professional schools.

Soon after he came the present system of revenue from the state was first made operative in 1873. This was in the shape of an annual proportion of the state taxes, fixed at first at one-twentieth of a mill on every dollar of taxable property. This proportion continued for twenty years. Since then it has been increased several times until it is now three-eighths of a mill on every dollar and netted the University in 1909 $65o,ooo instead of the $15,000 of 1873. The total income of the University for the last year of Dr. Angell's administration was $1,290,000 as against $76,702.52 received during his first year. In fact, when President Angell came to Michigan it had just become in reality a state institution, as the first appropriation of money for its support, aside from the sale of certain public lands, which went for a song, was made in 1867-69. Before that time, the State had never given any financial proof that the University was a state institution, beyond loaning the original $100,000 when it was first founded. The idea was there, but it had never been made vital.

It was perhaps in the more strictly academic side of the development of the University that Dr. Angell's peculiar genius as an administrative officer was most apparent. When he came, he was forty-two years of age, and in Professor Hinsdale's words: "brought to his new and responsible post extended scholarship, familiar acquaintance with society and the world, administrative experience, a persuasive eloquence, and a cultivated personality." This urbanity and extraordinary ability as a speaker won for him from the first a place in the hearts and in the imaginations of the people of the State. His birth and training gave him a sympathetic appreciation of their point of view, which apparently was the one thing which his predecessor, Dr. Tappan, lacked. President Angell felt that the people only needed to be shown and they would stand ready to help the University.

But there were other and even more vital administrative problems, which faced him. In the first place, he had to make Michigan a true university as distinguished from a college. He had to correlate and concentrate the various departments and make them complete by adding a school for effective graduate work. His immediate predecessors had instituted certain revolutionary steps, such as the admission of women, the first tentative steps toward free election of studies, the introduction of a scientific course, it became his duty to make them a success.

Almost contemporaneous with Dr. Angell's inauguration as President was the introduction of the seminar system of teaching, in effect a further application of the German methods: not only should the teacher be an investigator and searcher after truth, but the student as well; and more important still, the student should be taught how to carry on original investigation himself by means of seminar classes where student and teacher worked together on original problems. According to Professor Hinsdale "there is good reason to think that Michigan was the first American university to naturalize this product of German soil."

With all these innovations under way, Dr. Angell found many other opportunities for the introduction of new ideas in education - some of them as startling and as revolutionary as certain of the earlier experiments. These included a modification of that traditional course of classical studies, which can be traced back directly to the Middle Ages. The establishment of the Latin course, which dropped the requirement of Greek, was the first step; this was further modified in 1877 by the establishment of an English course in which no classics were required. The scientific course also underwent further modifications during this year (1877-78), which was characterized by many radical changes, though they do not strike one so now a days. A still more revolutionary step was taken by throwing open more than half the courses to free election, permitting some students to shorten their college course, and enabling others to enrich their course with other than these prescribed studies, heretofore compulsory and admitting of almost no variation.

All these changes resulted in an immediate increase in attendance, almost 20% the first year they went into force. As a direct result of Dr. Angell's recommendation the first chair in the Science and the Art of Teaching in any American university was established in 1880, coming as a necessary corollary to the intimate relation maintained and encouraged by the University between itself and the high schools of the State. In 1891 this department was empowered to grant certificates permitting any student possessing one to teach in any high school in the State.

The Graduate School practically came into being during his administration, as there was really nothing worthy of the name of graduate work before, in spite of the heroic efforts of President Tappan. It was during Dr. Angell's administration also that the professional schools assumed the prominent place they now occupy. When he first became President both the Law and Medical Schools consisted of two courses of lectures of six months duration, with no severe examination required for admittance. Now they require three and four years of nine months each, as well as two years of work in the Literary College.

Neither position, public honors, nor improvement in the equipment and personnel of the University represents rightly, however, the real work of President Angell.  His greatest influence lay in his dealings with the students, and through them, upon the educational ideals of the West. And it is precisely this influence, quietly acquired and characteristically wielded, which represents what is perhaps his greatest claim upon the consideration of the future. No one who had the privilege of hearing him speak failed to respond to the quiet persuasiveness of his presence and the charm of his personality. There are some persons in who is inherent a certain magnetic mastery over numbers. He had this to an extraordinary degree. Merely by rising he could bring absolute stillness upon a cheering throng of students or alumni, and with a few words, quiet but remarkably distinct, he could rouse to a remarkable pitch that sentiment known as college spirit. His whole figure was expressive of a benign goodness, illuminated most humanly by the worldly wisdom of an old diplomat.

Many -honors came to Dr. Angell in the course of his long life, as was inevitable. His scholarship was universally recognized. He received the degree of LL.D. from Brown University in 1868, Columbia University in 1887, Rutgers College in 1896, Princeton University in 1896, Yale University in 1901, Johns Hopkins University in 1902, University of Wisconsin in 1904, Harvard University in 1905 and the University of Michigan in 1912. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, the American Antiquarian Society of Worcester, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences of Boston and the American Historical Association, of which be was president in 1893. Dr. Angell was a charter member of the American Academy at Rome. For many years he was also regent of the Smithsonian Institution at Washington. He was always a leader in the Congregational Church and presided at the International Congregational Council, which met in Boston in September 1899. This body was composed of delegates from all parts of the world and represented the scholastical and ecclesiastical organization of the church in the persons of its most distinguished members.

All through his career, Dr. Angell gave evidence of certain characteristics, which had definite effects upon his policy as President. Professor Charles H. Cooley has characterized the especial qualities, which made for his success as "his faith and his adaptability.”  Dr. Angell always believed in the tendency of the right to prevail, and was willing to wait with a “masterly inactivity," avoiding too much injudicious assistance. He was always able to maintain a broad and comprehensive view, the attitude of the administrator, and was faithful in his belief in the Higher Power, which guides the destiny of men - and universities. His diplomatic genius, the combination of teacher and man of the world, enabled him to keep in close and sympathetic touch, not only with the student life about him, but also with the difficulty problems of an ever-growing Faculty.  He always showed himself surprisingly shrewd, yet withal charitable, in the judgment of men and of their character, a qualification, which enabled him to follow a laissez-faire policy until the proper time. Often his penetration and insight in analyses of recent current problems and questions, which might be supposed not to interest so particularly a man of his years, have surprised his young associates and have given evidence of the wonderful vitality, the spirit of youth, which lived within him.

Ann Arbor was long accustomed to his familiar figure on his invariable morning constitutional, walking with an elastic, springy step and a ruddy freshness in his complexion, which almost belied his gray hairs and his well-known age. He passed few blocks without a word to some one, for a simple, kindly interest in those about him was one of his chief characteristics. It was this essential democracy, which kept him for so many years in personal relations with his students, an interest, which never flagged until the last, and which was shown by the close track, which he always kept of the alumni of the University. For the alumni, he has always born that simplest and most beloved of academic titles, "Prexy." No gentler tribute has ever been paid than the words of his former pupil, Professor Charles M. Gayley, '78, now of the University of California, in the Commemoration Ode, read at the Quarter Centennial of Dr. Angell's Presidency:

"For he recks of praises nothing, counts them fair nor fit:

He, who bears his honors lightly,

And whose age renews its zest - "

To James Burrill Angell must be given a pre-eminent place among those who have made advanced learning for the young people of the land a matter of course. More than any other one person he helped to give to this country, one of her proudest distinctions, the highest percentage in the world of college men and women.


James Burrill Angell – An Appreciation

(From the Michigan Daily for April 2, 1916)

The Michigan Alumnus, April 1916, Page 334

By R. M. Wenley

Although the sad event had been anticipated, the bare announcement of President Angell's death must prove of peculiar significance to every educated American, poignantly significant to Michigan alumni the world over. A chasm yawns between the present and the past of our education and of our University; an entire order of associations departs. The commanding figure of President Eliot is still spared to us, indeed. But, even so, the children of all American state universities will feel that they have lost their most venerable and venerated chief. It is the end of a complete life, rarely ordered, dignified yet touched with the veritable savor of democracy, simple albeit stately - an embodiment of the sterling qualities native to old New England. And, for the thousands who owe allegiance to the great institution at Ann Arbor - Dr. Angell's monument - something has gone from the order of the universe, never to be replaced. With them the 1st of April 1916, will always remain a day of sorrowful but elevating memories. Moreover, the loss cannot fail to remind us that the generation of men, who made the political and educational history of the United States illustrious from 1860 till the close of the nineteenth century, is nigh blotted out. Only those who are in middle life and, even more, those farther advanced in years, are able to recall Dr. Angell in his prime. For the patriarchal period of sixty-three years, he held a high place in the academic and diplomatic annals of the country. General Grant, the dominant force of the Civil War, was but seven years senior to him; President Garfield, dead these thirty-five years, was his junior, like General Gordon, a friend in Chinese days, the martyr of Khartum, who belongs to the distant past the undergraduate reckons it now; John Hay was his pupil; Mark Twain, W. D. Howells, Bret Harte and, Henry James were babies when he was a boy; George Meredith, D. G. Rossetti, Anton Rubenstein, Ibsen, Taine and Kekule, among other Europeans of distinction, were born within a few months of him. In short, he represents the group whose achievements rendered the last century of profound historical significance. To stand in the ranks of these leaders, as Dr. Angell did, is no light matter; they were an extraordinary band, whose peers our unstable age cannot breed.

The ampler sweep of his public career began when, at the age of thirty-one, he assumed the editorship of the Providence Journal, one of several newspapers which exerted decisive influence over political opinion during the course of the Civil War. At thirty-seven, he passed from the editorial to the presidential chair, in the University of Vermont. In 1869, he was called to the presidency of the University of Michigan, but felt it his duty to decline. "In 1871," he tells us, "the invitation to Michigan was renewed with much earnestness * * *  I had some hesitation about undertaking so, large a responsibility. * * *  After careful consideration I decided to accept." On June 28, 1871, he was inaugurated, and came into residence at Ann Arbor in September. From this time till his resignation, a period of thirty-eight years, he devoted himself to strengthening the ties that bound the State to the University. His principles were simple, and practical in the highest degree. "In considering the relation of the University to the State, I have always had two great ends in view. First: I have endeavored to induce every citizen to regard himself as a stockholder in the institution, who had a real interest in helping make it of the greatest service to his children and those of his neighbors. Secondly: I have sought to make all the schools and teachers in the State understand that they and the University are parts of one united system and that therefore the young pupil in the most secluded school-house in the State should be encouraged to see that the path was open from his home up to and through the University." Nothing sensational occurred, there was no advertising, no "playing to the gallery." But slowly, and therefore, all the more surely, the State grew conscious of its University. It came to cherish the relationship, thanks mainly to the unlimited trust reposed in the President. Thus, little by little, despite miscalculations always incident to human affairs, and discouragements always incident to human combinations, the unconquerable faith in human nature, and the unfailing optimism of the man were instrumental in building one of the chief institutions in the English-speaking world amid the unpromising environment of a rural village in southeastern Michigan. It is an enthralling story; romantic, if you will. The remarkable issues are patent to all now; but the difficulties of the day of small things very few are in any position to realize.

The achievement was the life work of a distinctive personality, great in qualities that wear rather than scintillate. Large experience of affairs, unfailing good humor, reserve force always under control, ability to abide consequences till they began to declare themselves and confidence in the ultimate good sense of the constituency, - a confidence reciprocated by them, - were the potent factors in this notable service. A certain sweet reasonableness governed Dr. Angell in his relations with all. He permitted problems to evolve solutions, Gordian knots were loosened, never cut. The tale of it came to be noised abroad, and the Federal Government, sensing the measure of the man, enlisted him on no less than four important missions. New opportunities to acquire knowledge of the world thus presented themselves. The personality expanded insensibly and, ripened by contact with international questions, became more and more formative in academic leadership. Without and within the University, people recognized that a large and complete manhood was guiding complex destinies, tempering steady expansion with wise caution. No undue demands were thrust upon the State, the safety of sagacity received notable illustration. Thus, unlike some of its neighbors, the University was not vexed by needless interference from without, its natural growth proceeded with sober regularity, nay, with a species of inevitableness. So, thanks to Dr. Angell, a large part of the unique spirit of Michigan, acknowledged, as it is, alike by the sister state universities and by the "private" foundations of the East, was brought to influential birth.

What was his secret? Not intellectual adroitness, with its restless experimenting; not "energy," with its bane of "new" departures; emphatically not ambition, with its itch for "results" and conspicuousness. Rather it reposed in a character that served as a sounding-board for moral acoustics;  hence the power to let the right men alone, never harrying them in their work; hence the judgment that set the insignificant in its place and let it take its own meaningless course. Dr. Angell knew that the human mind can face actual issues, even if they be hostile; but he also knew that, to provoke this courage, the issue must be real and definite; and he permitted it to shape itself ere he met it. He could use prompt decision when necessary; but he had learned, what so few ever learn, that quick or drastic decisions are proper in exceptional cases only; while for the rest, he was well aware that even sorry blunderers may be counted upon to correct themselves under kindly persuasion. The charm of his public speech was an index of the man here. It bespoke his temperament. His tranquil, unaltered humanity was the clew to much that others did not fathom or even misinterpreted. For, his ripe wisdom lent him insight to see that great results come very gradually, and thanks only to the co-operation of many whose gifts, as is inevitable, are most various. He could abide the defects of qualities with marvelous forbearance. His charm of address was thus indicative of that rarest of all faculties in an executive, the power to wait on "glances that stand agreed." By this, principally, he won to his unique place. Now that he is gone, many of us must think of him as of one who sowed the harvest we shall reap--and was content to have sown.

Keenly as we must feel the absence of his accustomed gracious presence, we cannot grieve as for a career cut short in its prime, with promise half fulfilled. Nay, remembering his mature performance, which so evades our feeble words, we would rather say, with Madame de Stael, "When a noble life has prepared old age, it is not the decline that it reveals, but the first days of immortality."


By Wm. H. Hobbs

The Michigan Technic, May 1916, Page 85-87

The University and the State of Michigan, not to speak of the country as a whole have been profoundly moved in the passing of their great figure – the President-Emeritus of the University. It seems to be generally accepted that the true measure of a man is character rather then a surpassing brilliancy of intellect if unaccompanied by this high moral quality.  The personality of President Angell was something ennobling, and went out like a grateful benediction to all within his sphere of influence.  About it there was nothing cold or formal, but a wealth of geniality and humor, which radiated from him like flashes of sunshine.  The stooped figure which until quite recently moved morning and afternoon with halting gait along the campus walks, is one that will be keenly missed by the entire community.

James Burrill Angell was born in Scituate, R.I., January 17, 1829.  After preparing for college at the University Grammar School in Providence, he entered Brown University and was graduated with the highest honors in 1849.  After a year of work in the library, he undertook with one companion an extended horseback trip through the southern states, mainly for the purpose of regaining his health, which had become seriously impaired.  His ambition had been to enter the ministry, but the affection of his throat continued obstinate and he accepted instead a position as civil engineer in the office o the city engineer of Boston.  In the early fifties of the last century engineering training bore but little resemblance to that of the present day, but it is interesting to remember that young Angell undertook the preparation of an elaborate map of the Boston Common with all paths and trees represented.  The greater part of his work, however, had to do with the Cochituate Water Supply of the city.  He was the only member of the staff who had any knowledge of calculus, most engineers of the time having begun as rodmen and having acquired rule of thumb methods in practice, with but little conception of their meaning.  In his autobiography Dr. Angell says, “As one recalls how slender where the opportunities in those days for training studies and observes the large number of excellent engineering schools in our country, one may say that in no branch of education has there been more rapid or more helpful development that in that of engineering in all its applications.”

In his capacity of engineering, Mr. Angell assisted in preparing an immense may to be stretched in a tent erected on Boston Common in connection with the celebration of the opening of the Grand Trunk Railroad from Montreal to Boston.  While engaged in preparing his map of the Common, the work was interrupted by the unexpected opportunity for European study and travel, which he decided to avail himself of.  With his companion of the southern horseback journey, Mr. Hazard, he now visited Europe and enjoyed opportunities for study in the different countries.

While in Vienna Mr. Angell received a litter form President Weyland of Brown University, offering him as he might prefer, either the Chair of Civil Engineering or that of Modern Languages and Literatures in his Alma Mater.  It was the last mentioned Chair which he decided to accept, and with it ended his brief career as an engineer, through he always retained a lively interest in engineering subjects.

Under him as professor and friend were a number of men who have since distinguished themselves, notably Richard Olney and John Hay, both of whom became Secretary of State of the United States.  Hay’s biographer says, “Professor James B. Angell, - subsequently, President of the University of Michigan, - both stirred Hay’s enthusiasm and recognized his ability.  They read together several of the great German and French masterpieces, and Hay proved the best translator Dr. Angell ever had in his classes.”

Two years after entering upon his professorship, Mr. Angell married Sarah Swoope Caswell, daughter of Professor Alexis Caswell, D. D., who afterwards became President of Brown University.  Mrs. Angell was a woman of great force of character, and an ideal helpmate to Mr. Angell, after it is after her that Sarah Caswell Hall has been named.

They had three children:  for Judge Alexis C. Angell, of Detroit; Professor James R. Angell, of the University of Chicago; and Lois Thompson McLaughlin, wife of Professor Andrew C. McLaughlin, of the University of Chicago.

From the plan to enter the ministry Mr. Angell had been forced by circumstances to turn his attention first toward civil engineering, and later toward the teaching of modern languages.  In 1860 another complete change in his career occurred when he resigned his professorship to accept the position of editor of the Providence Journal, a strong abolition newspaper, which he ably edited throughout the period of the Civil War, but resigned in 1866 to accept the presidency of the University of Vermont.  Except for two interruptions to undertake important diplomatic missions, this field of university education was to absorb all his attention until, burdened with years, he retired from active service in 1909 as President-Emeritus of the University of Michigan.

Of his editorial career Dr. Angell wrote, “My experience of newspaper life has been of great service to me in all my subsequent career.  Editorial work trains one to both readiness and accuracy in writing…One who has a responsible charge in the conduct of a newspaper has large opportunities to understand men and to test his courage in standing by what is right and conducive to the public good, especially when in his opinions he differs from some of his friends.”

In 1971 Dr. Angell having already once declined a call to the Presidency of the University of Michigan, was on further solicitation induced to accept, thus entering upon the service, which continued, with two short interruptions, for no less than thirty-eight years.  During this period the University grew from a small institution of 1,110 students, thirty-five instructors and three departments, to one of the largest and most influential in the country with between five and six thousand students and seven separate departments. There was introduced during this period the diploma system of admission to the university from secondary schools, the mill tax provision for supporting the university, a system of unusual freedom of election of studies, and graduate and summer schools.  Other state universities adopted several of these policies.  The Schools of Dental Surgery and of Pharmacy were organized, the medical courses were greatly strengthened and extended, and the medical hospitals were founded.

His notable success in molding the future of the University of Michigan, and through its example other universities as well, President angel ascribed chiefly to two policies, which he maintained throughout.  His aim was to make the people feel that they were in a sense stockholders in the institution, and to make all secondary schools and their teachers regard themselves as parts of one system of state education culminating in the university.

Among honors, which came to President Angell, may be mentioned the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws conferred in turn by Brown University, Columbia University, Rutgers College, Princeton University, Yale University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Wisconsin.  President Angell’s career in the diplomatic service included his appointment as United States Minister to China in 1880-81, and as United States Minister to Turkey in 1897-98.  In 1887 he was appointed a member of The International Commission on Canadian Fisheries, and in 1896 he was made the chairman of the Canadian-American Commission on Deep Waterways from the Lakes to the Sea, a commission consisting largely of prominent civil engineers.  He was long one of the trustees of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.  A brilliant conversationalist, his genial personality attracted to him distinguished men in all walks of life, and many were the appeals to him for his wise counsel.  In this capacity of counselor he was largely instrumental in molding the destinies of two important eastern universities through a happy selection of their presidents, - Wellesley College in the choice of Alice Freeman, and the Johns Hopkins University, which by the wise policy of President Daniel Coit Gilman introduced a new and much needed element into American university training.

Among the qualities, which President Angell possessed in quite unusual degree, was the gift of public speaking.  Despite a voice, which was never strong, and a manner of speech, which borrowed little from oratory, his well-chosen words and his strong personal magnetism rendered his speeches wonderfully impressive.  Few men have in so high a measure had the wisdom to say just the right word at the right time and never a word too much.  The writer well recalls a banquet at a southern university where a long program of speeches proved dull and apparently almost interminable.  The banqueters were tired out when at 1:3- A.M. the venerable President Angell was called upon to respond to a toast.  Through cleverly recalling an incident of his horseback journey, which supplied a bit of local color, he soon had everyone awake and made a speech, which brought a veritable storm of applause.

The thousands of students who came under the influence of President Angell, and in whom he had a strong personal interest, are now scattered to the four corners of the earth carrying with them the legacy of a noble example of the Christian scholar and gentleman.



The Michigan Alumnus, April 1916, Page 318

James Burrill Angell, President of the University of Michigan from 1871 to 1909, died at his home on the Campus on Saturday, April 1, 1916. The end came as the result of a long period of decline, which culminated in a serious illness in January from which he never recovered.

Shortly after his death, his physician, Dr. James F. Breakey, issued the following statement:

"'President-Emeritus Angell's last serious illness was on January 24: This was a slight apoplectic attack affecting his vision, and was brought on in part by Dr. Angell answering a great number of congratulatory notes on his birthday, which proved too much of a strain for him. From that time on a gradually increasing weakness due to the infirmities of his age was evident. This was more or less progressive up to last Wednesday, when terminal pneumonia appeared, accompanied by fever and difficulty in taking any form of nourishment. Since that time his life was a question only of his resistance to death. The fact that he was able to continue the fight for the last two days was due entirely to his remarkable vitality. He died very peacefully at 11:50 A. M."

Five years ago Dr. Angell suffered an apoplectic stroke following a trip in Russia with Professor and Mrs. M. L. D'Ooge. He was at once taken to Berlin, where under the care of an excellent specialist he recovered sufficiently to return home. He again became a familiar figure on the streets of Ann Arbor, and maintained his interest in the University and his friends, but there was a perceptible weakening of his powers and a drag in his step, which showed how serious the blow, had been. A subsequent attack of pneumonia in 1913 further weakened him, though until this last attack he suffered no further serious illness.

Dr. Angell is survived by his two sons, Alexis C. Angell, '78, ‘80l, formerly United States Circuit judge in Detroit, and James R. Angell, '90, A.M. ’91, Dean of the Faculties of the University of Chicago, and Lois Angell McLaughlin, wife of Professor Andrew C. McLaughlin, '82, '85l, A.M. '96, of the Department of History in the University of Chicago. During his last illness, his brother, William Angell was with him; his sister, Mrs. Cogggeshall, of Providence, R. I., was also present at the funeral. The last services were held at the home at 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday, April 3; the burial was private, only members of the family, relatives, President Hutchins, representatives of the Board of Regents, the Deans of the various Schools and Colleges, and their wives, were present.

Particularly impressive was the share of the student body in honoring, the memory of Dr. Angell. At the end of the services, the Glee Club, standing in the yard just outside the door, sang "Laudes Atque Carmina," the most beautiful feature of the simple ceremonies, while, as the funeral procession turned towards Forest Hill Cemetery, the whole way down State Street and up North University, Washtenaw and Geddes Avenues was lined with a double row of students, standing in close order with bared heads to pay their last tribute to Michigan's great President.


By Henry M. Bates, ’90

Dean of the Law School

The Michigan Alumnus, April 1916, Page 324

Historical perspective, which comes only with the lapse of time will increase, not diminish, the estimate of the greatness of James Burrill Angell. He came here nearly a half century ago, and his presidency, especially the earlier part of it, covered a critical period in the development of the University. It had been wisely planned and upon broad lines, but it was young and crude in 1871, only partially organized, with its character still to be largely determined, its spirit yet to be created. There were then few universities of strength west of the Hudson River, and so it was that Michigan served in a large measure the entire Mississippi and Missouri valleys and the Pacific Coast. The great empire charged with vitality, surging with the blood of youth and rich in resources just beginning to be realized was ready to support the great democratic educational dream which wise pioneers had planned, in the little pioneer city of Ann Arbor if only it were clear that early dream was being wisely and vigorously realized. It is difficult to believe that any other man could have brought to the great task thus indicated, so fortunate and so rare a combination of great qualities. His rich culture, his breadth of vision, his sanity, wisdom and philosophic poise, and the charm and simple dignity of his personality, the purity of his character would have made him a marked man anywhere and under any conditions.

Coming as he did to our young and potentially great institution in 1871, he found a golden opportunity, a great and heavy responsibility, a responsibility, however, for the assumption of which his unusual equipment made him qualified. How wisely and ably he labored, how nobly he succeeded, is told in the greatness of the institution with which his memory will always be associated. He was a great educator, a great publicist and scholar, but he was an even greater man.


By Mortimer E. Cooley

Dean of the College of Engineering and Architecture

The Michigan Alumnus, April 1916, Page 322

Dr. Angell was known to everyone for certain qualities - those that he wore upon his sleeve. He was even-tempered, self-possessed, gentle and moderate of speech, even when most earnest, and punctilious in official and social matters. He never forgot or neglected the amenities however disagreeable the occasion.

To his intimates he was known in other, and most attractive, ways. As a companion by the fireside or when traveling there was none better. He enjoyed telling a good story and his hearty laugh on hearing one was most contagious. He was simple in his tastes and equally at home in the country tavern or palatial city hotel. To conform to the conventionalities while traveling was his habit.

He was a wise disciplinarian as go many young men can testify. While insisting on decorum he did not overlook the future of the student in the penalty inflicted for misconduct. The young man was far more important than any rule of conduct. While he questioned at one time the expediency of establishing military discipline on the Campus, he did remark once that he thought it would be a good thing for the Faculty. The Faculty, he said, bothered him more than the students.

He was a fine judge of character and read faces like a book. He loved uprightness and straightforwardness as much as he detested crookedness and underhandedness. His word of quiet praise for seemly action under trying circumstances was like an anchor to windward. Though he might not fight another's battles for him he was none the less interested, and pleased when right won.

Our greatest debt to Dr. Angell is for his philosophy of life. He taught us to look into the future with confidence, and a serene faith in the eternal fitness of things.


By John R. Effinger, ’91

Dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts

The Michigan Alumnus, April 1916, Page 321

While each professional school and college of the University, with the exception of the College of Engineering, was early provided with its own administrative head, the organization of the University was such, until a comparatively recent time, that Dr. Angell, in addition to his duties as President, was also for many years, the head of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. During all that period it was the privilege of many generations of literary students to come into close contact with him and carry away the unforgettable benefits of such association. It was before Dr. Angell that the line of freshmen had to pass on entering, and he it was who wrote their names in the University register and gave them a friendly and personal welcome to the institution over which he presided. His sincere personal interest in the students and his wonderful gift in remembering their names and faces, not only upon the Campus, but wherever and whenever he might meet them in after years, gave him an abiding place in their affections. The sympathy of the man was so genuine that his was ever a loved presence.

To know Dr. Angell was to feel that he knew and understood you. His gracious manner and his simplicity inspired confidence, relieved embarrassment and lead many an awkward student to talk freely of himself, because he felt the outgoing sympathy of the man. Thousands of men and women everywhere will recall the kindly hospitality of the President's home where Dr. and Mrs. Angell for so many years were the very vital center of the life of the University. The alumni whom Dr. Angell met felt not only that he remembered them, but that he had followed them into the world and had a constant interest in their welfare.

Dr. Angell's wonderful personality and the indelible impression, which he made upon the minds of the students, play a large part, without question, in the loyalty of Michigan men during all that long period when the alumni were unorganized. His success as an administrator, the recognition accorded him in his various diplomatic appointments, and his wonderful ability as a public speaker, all these things made his students proud. They were proud of him and rejoiced in his success, they were proud of the University to which he gave distinction, they had felt the thrill, which his public addresses never failed to impart, they had sounded his wisdom and they were doubly proud that he was their President. He belonged to them as they belonged to him. He was so much the known friend of all, his relations with them so intimate and so personal, that his greatness seemed to become a part of their own lives.

Before Dr. Angell came to us he had left his mark upon many students, and men like Richard Olney and John Hay, who were his students at Brown, never ceased to acknowledge their debt of gratitude to him. We of Michigan who were blessed in having him with us for so many years will never forget what he has done for us and for our Alma Mater.


By President Harry Burns Hutchins, ‘71

The Michigan Alumnus, April 1916, Page 319

In the death of Doctor Angell the University lost its greatest leader, the State its first citizen. He was inaugurated as President in June 1871. Then the state university idea, although embodied in the organic law of the State and recognized in statutory enactment and developed to a degree that was attracting attention, was not, even here, safely beyond the experimental stage. It had only recently received for the first time recognition from the State in the form of a legislative appropriation. Elsewhere it was just beginning to take root. No one would have then predicted its remarkable development in recent years. Although Michigan had in constitution and statute a complete and comprehensive university plan that had been put in operation, the University itself had hardly as yet begun to conform to real university ideals and standards. The foundation of a great state-supported institution had been laid; the building of the superstructure was under way; but for the effective and harmonious development of the entire plan, a leader of versatility and constructive power was needed. In President Angell that leader was found. By training as well as by natural ability, he was admirably fitted for the great work to which he was called. As teacher, journalist and university president, his experience had already been large and varied. In each capacity he had proved himself a master. Moreover, he was still in the prime of life.

Fortunate indeed was it for education, not only in this State but throughout the entire country, and particularly in the Middle and Far West, that the responsibility of developing in a large way the first of the state universities was committed to this man. It was fortunate because he built wisely and hence in such a way as to furnish a model that could be safely followed. He had the good sense and judgment and the poise that saved him and those whom he served from the mistakes of irresponsible impulse. He met and solved the successive problems quietly, deliberately and effectively. In many ways he brought the University home to the people. Chiefly through his efforts it became a vital and uplifting influence in all of the schools of the State. In public address and in private conversation, he always insisted that it should be the people's university, thoroughly democratic in spirit and attitude. Throughout his long administration, the power of his personality, not only in building up the institution of which he was the head, but also, at the same time, in bringing the people to a realizing sense of the value to the state of educational opportunities of the highest order for rich and poor alike, was continuously apparent.

But the influence of his work was not circumscribed by state boundaries. He was a recognized power in an educational movement of great extent and importance. The people of other states looked to him for advice and guidance. That the state university idea has been so generally and generously developed along broad and liberal lines, has undoubtedly been due in no small degree to the fact that in Michigan, under our great President's leadership, its practical application was so thoroughly and successfully demonstrated.

But there was a personal side to Doctor Angell's work and influence that was of special significance. He never became so absorbed in university or public problems as to forget the persons who were to be affected by his acts and attitude. While developing the University and winning the people to its generous support, he kept in mind the individual teacher and the individual student. He believed in the personal touch, in the influence of personality. And so it was that his heart always went out to teacher and student alike. All felt this, for his very presence revealed it. Even to those who met him but casually it was apparent. It was this attitude that endeared him to all, this that made him a great teacher, and a great administrator. Verily his life was an example of what a full and well-rounded and sympathetic life should be. It was an ever-present inspiration to all who came within the circle of its influence.

Doctor Angell's principal work was in the field of higher education. He will go into history as a great university president, one of the greatest of his generation. And yet his success in other fields was marked. He was a great editor during a most exciting and interesting period of our national history, that of the Civil War. His diplomatic service was of the highest order. In this he proved himself equal to every emergency. The results that he accomplished called for the exercise of extraordinary skill and sound judgment. Indeed, for public service of any kind he was admirably fitted. As an orator he possessed rare grace and power. His ideals of what a public servant should be were of the highest. Although by nature -conservative, he was always open-minded and ready to be convinced. He had the ability to secure without apparent effort the loyalty and devotion and co-operation of those with whom he came in contact. And withal there was about him a sweet simplicity and reasonableness that was compelling in the highest degree.

Although no longer with us, Doctor Angell still lives and will continue to live in the great work that he did. In the hearts of thousands who admired and loved him, his memory will be kept green.  To have been associated with him in university work for many years, I count the greatest privilege and opportunity of my life.


By Dr. Victor C. Vaughan, ‘75

Dean of the Medical School

The Michigan Alumnus, April 1916, Page 324

As President of the University of Michigan Doctor Angell was highly appreciative of those professors and instructors who did their work intelligently and efficiently, but he was slow to condemn those who failed in these particulars. He preferred to see the good in all with whom he associated and was prone to overlook many defects. However, he saw many things, which apparently he did not see. He had a rare insight into character and an unusually correct estimate of personal worth. On the whole, he was wise in the selection of men for professorial positions and he was always ready to let any professor do his work without limitation or dictation from the President. He had no desire to play the role of a superior and he had undisguised contempt for anyone who made a display of authority. Among the great and the lowly his bearing was always the same. As minister extraordinary to China or ambassador to Turkey he was no more gracious or courteous than he was in the simple homes of Ann Arbor. He never permitted himself to be lionized. He shunned publicity and he would not tolerate adulation. He always resented undue deference to him in manner or speech. His true greatness found its highest measure in his simplicity. He needed neither insignia of office nor certificate of position to proclaim his character. Doctor Angell was a great college president, and if one who worked with him for forty years has not misjudged, his greatness in this position has been largely due to the fact that he had no trace of the dictator, of the man in authority. Each professor became largely the architect of his own fortune. The President did not dictate to the Professor of Physics how he should teach his subject, what kind of a laboratory or equipment he needed, nor what assistants he should select. When he appeared before the legislature he talked of the needs of "your University,” not "my University." He never tried to drive a thing through the Faculty, because he was wise enough to recognize the fact that a forced function does not produce satisfactory results. He permitted the Faculty to struggle with its own problems and he often accepted conclusions, which he did not approve. I do not claim that this method gave uniformly good results. I know from long observation that University faculties may be conservative even to the point of downright stupidity, but I am trying to give a truthful estimate of Doctor Angell's presidency of the University of Michigan as I view it and I know that he would not have me do otherwise. I have had occasion to express to him my impatience with his failure to enforce a measure, which, he acknowledged to be wise, but in the end I have had to acknowledge in many instances that his judgment was better than mine.

While the greater part of his life's activities were devoted to the University of Michigan, Doctor Angell's usefulness was not confined to this institution. As an editorial writer during the period of the Civil War, in the capacity of minister to China and Turkey, as a member of treaty commissions, he has rendered large and useful service to the nation. Modest, gentle and lovable in character, strong and broadly trained in intellect, working for the best interests of man, pleasing, logical and convincing in speech and, with pen he has rendered his day and generation a service the fruits of which will continue to ripen through years to come.