Williams College Acting President 1901-1902
John Haskell Hewitt was born in Preston, Connecticut on August 8, 1835 to Charles and Eunice (Witter). After an extremely modest beginning to his education, Hewitt received encouragement and instruction from a few new teachers and tutors in the area (often walking five miles to recite lessons) and was able to enter Yale University in 1855. This was at a time when Yale followed an extremely didactic teaching agenda, a style that Hewitt, while admitting it might “not be the best sort of mental training,” was able to get rid of much of the “mental flabbiness” found under more liberal approaches. After his plans to study law fell through, Hewitt returned to New Haven and entered the Yale Divinity School. In 1865 he took a temporary post in Latin at Olivet College. His teaching there was obviously quite successful, as the trustees of the college promoted Hewitt to the rank of Full Professor of Latin Language and Literature at the end of the year. He developed health problems, however, and was told by doctors that a change of climate would be beneficial. He took a post in Latin and Greek and Lake Forest, where he went on to become a trustee and act as president under his condition that it be only a temporary post.
In 1882, Franklin Carter, who had know Hewitt at Yale and who was then the president of Williams, offered Hewitt the Garfield Professorship of Ancient Languages. Hewitt accepted and entered into his long relationship with Williams. In addition to his teaching, he led both chapel and local religious services and was a popular speaker on campus and at alumni events. When President Carter resigned in the spring of 1901, the board of trustees could not decide on a permanent replacement and named Hewitt as an interim leader instead. He served as acting president of Williams College from 1901 to 1902, but is not counted officially in the numbered list of presidents. His tenure, so short, was not particularly of note, except that many of the college’s oldest and most respected faulty members passed away. Henry Hopkins, the seventh president of Williams, was named as president after Hewitt’s one year. Even after retiring, Hewitt remained studiously busy in his scholarship, publishing a study of the relationship between Williams and foreign missions. He died, still making his home in Williamstown, on October 8, 1920, at 86 years old.
E. Herbert Botsford, Fifty Years at Williams: Administrations of John Haskell Hewitt and Henry Hopkins (Eagle Printing and Binding Company, Pittsfield, Massachusetts: 1932), pp. 10-32.