Williams College President 1902-1908
Henry Hopkins, son of Mark Hopkins, the most famous and longest tenured president of Williams College, was born on November 30, 1837. He grew up in Williamstown, and graduated from Williams in 1858, while his father was in the middle of his presidency. Henry then studied theology for two years at Union Seminary and for a year under the expert tutelage of his father before being ordained as a minister in the fall of 1861.
Hopkins served as a chaplain during the Civil War, stationed at the Federal Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia after a personal commission from President Lincoln. He headed the ambulance corps at the battlefields of Chantilly and Bull Run, and then enlisted as a field chaplain in the New York Infantry in May of 1864.
When the war finished, Hopkins returned to Massachusetts as the pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Westfield. After fifteen years there, he was called to Kansas City where he was a pastor for twenty-two years, until he assumed the role of president at Williams in 1902, stepping in as the permanent replacement after the short and interim tenure of Henry Haskell Hewitt.
Hopkins was inaugurated with much fanfare during the commencement exercises on June 24, 1902. Delegates from twenty-three other schools and many alumni returned to honor both the new president and the memory of his father. In his address, Hopkins praised the ideal of a liberal arts education, calling for the continuation of generalized study amid the nation’s new demand for specialists.
Hopkins first major action was to restructure the college’s curriculum. A committee from the faculty oversaw the drafting of new guidelines, and the faculty as a whole accepted the program without a single vote of dissent. The new curriculum laid out a proscribed program focusing on the humanities for freshman, with more choices allowed for upperclassmen. Hopkins also oversaw the erection of Thompson Memorial Chapel and other buildings, the lengthening of the term, and the improvement of student-faculty relations.
Hopkins resigned in 1908, at the age of seventy, as planned. Very soon afterwards, he set of for Europe with his family, but fell ill during the voyage. He died in Rotterdam on August 28, 1908.
By Benjamin Roth (Williams Class of 2003)
Botsford, E. Herbert. Fifty Years at Williams: Administrations of John Haskell Hewitt and Henry Hopkins. Pittsfield, Mass.: Eagle Printing and Binding Company,1932.