Presidents of the college

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1. Presidents List, ca. 1919. This image represents a framed, hand-inked list of the presidents of St. Stephen’s College, along with their degrees, dates of service, and deaths where applicable. This was probably completed soon after the arrival of Bernard Iddings Bell in 1919.

2. George Franklin Seymour, 1860. Seymour was the first warden of St. Stephen’s College. The title of warden reflected its English use, to indicate a college president. Rev. Seymour had, for several years prior, served as missionary of Annandale and had been tutoring students in the classics to prepare them for entrance into the General Theological Seminary. These six students represented the core of the first class of St. Stephen’s College. Rev. Seymour presided over the College’s first commencement in 1861, with two students receiving degrees. Warden Seymour resigned soon after, and eventually became the Bishop of Springfield, Illinois.

3. Rev. Thomas Richey, ca. 1862. Rev. Richey accepted the position of warden in 1861and remained for two years. Aspinwall was built during his administration, greatly expanding dormitory capacity for potential students.

4. Robert Brinckerhoff Fairbairn, ca. 1870. Known as “The Great Warden,” Fairbairn headed the College from 1863 until 1898. Under his steady guidance, St. Stephen’s grew into an institution recognized for its academic rigor. The historic architectural core of campus was also established during his tenure, including the construction of Ludlow-Willink (1866), the Stone Row buildings Potter and McVickar (1885), North and South Hoffman (1891), and the Hoffman Library (1893). He died within two weeks of John Bard in 1899, effectively ending the “early years” of St. Stephen’s.

5. Rev. Lawrence T. Cole, ca. 1900. Rev. Cole was not yet thirty when he accepted the position of warden at St. Stephen’s in 1899. He introduced a modified elective program, and abolished the traditional “Preparatory Course,” for those students not yet prepared for the advanced Latin and Greek in the College’s curriculum. He left in 1903, but remained on good terms with St. Stephen’s, returning years later to serve as trustee.

6. Rev. Thomas Robinson Harris, ca. 1905. A veteran of the Civil War, Rev. Harris was warden of the College from 1904 to 1907. Though plagued by ill health, he brought enrollment up by replacing the “Preparatory Course” altogether. At his retirement, Rev. George B. Hopson served as acting warden at St. Stephen’s.

7. William C. Rodgers, ca. 1910. Appointed in 1909, Rodgers brought new energy to St. Stephen’s. Signaling the changes he was to make, Rodgers changed his title to president, (though B.I. Bell again carried the title of warden for several years). Under the Rodgers administration, the campus was modernized: Electricity, a sewage system, and central heating systems were all installed. The Chapel was remodeled, and Gerry House was built to house the president’s family, as well as serve as a gathering place for entertaining students, staff, faculty, and guests. To make way for Gerry House, it was necessary to move the observatory down the hill, where the structure still stands as the chaplain’s office. Dr. Rodgers resigned in 1918.

8. Rev. Bernard Iddings Bell, ca. 1920. Rev. Bell was the last administrator to carry the title of warden. His vision and energy permanently altered the physical and social geography of the College. Under his tenure, many buildings were constructed, science was emphasized, a nationally renowned athletics department was created, and legions of students were deeply impacted by his educational philosophy and personal charisma. Under Dr. Bell, the College sought to “give men four years of classical and cultural education as a background for life, and as a basis for graduate specialization or professional study.” It was through his leadership, as the College faced one of its many financial crises, that St. Stephen’s merged with Columbia University in 1928. Bell resigned in 1933
9. Nicholas Murray Butler, 1930. As president of Columbia University, Butler was the official president of St. Stephen’s, renamed Bard in 1934, while the three men who headed Bard between these years, 1928– 1944, carried the title of dean. Dr. Butler was a strong supporter of Bard’s educational potential, and he worked closely with the College’s administrators and trustees to reach this potential, despite the intervening years of the Depression and WWII.

10. Donald Tewksbury, ca. 1935. In 1934, Tewksbury was appointed dean of the College by Columbia’s president, Nicholas Murray Butler. Tewksbury outlined a progressive new educational program for the College that was approved by the board of trustees. To signal these modern curricular changes while still honoring its roots, St. Stephen’s was renamed Bard College. Under this plan, sometimes called “the inverted pyramid,” teaching was personalized to the interests and abilities of the student, the classics requirements were eased, and the fine arts were promoted as a division of study equal to other branches of the curriculum. The concepts of what have become moderation and the senior project were also introduced at this time. Tewksbury resigned in 1937 as financial pressures mounted.

11. Harold Mestre, ca. 1938. Mestre was a distinguished biophysicist appointed dean in January 1938, as the College, facing insolvency, almost closed its doors. Grass roots efforts on the part of the students, alumni, and even the local communities provided hope in the coming year, but Dr. Mestre died suddenly on the second day of the fall semester in 1939. His term was completed by Bennington President John Leigh, then on sabbatical. Dr. Leigh provided the trustees with a six-year plan to improve enrollment, modernize the campus, and balance the budget, with continued support from Columbia and the board of trustees. He nominated his fellow Bennington colleague Charles Harold Gray for the position of dean to implement the plan.

12. Charles Harold Gray, ca. 1945. Appointed early in 1940, Charles Harold Gray was a Rhodes Scholar. Under Gray, students engaged in issues of campus governance, reflected seriously on the purpose of a Bard education, and on the nature of progressive education in general. Fraternities and intercollegiate athletics were phased out during this time. Pearl Harbor and America’s subsequent entry into WWII necessitated the hosting of a unit of the Army Specialized Training Program at the College, which Dr. Gray oversaw with care. With the closure of this program, Dean Gray became President Gray as Bard broke from Columbia with its decision to accept women as students, thereby effectively increasing its enrollment, and permanently changing the social fabric of the Bard community. President Gray resigned in the fall of 1946.

13. Dr. Edward Fuller, ca. 1948. Dr. Fuller replaced President Gray in October 1946. Fuller had taught chemistry at Bard since 1935, and, during the war, had worked on the Manhattan Project based at Columbia. As president, Fuller oversaw the development of an innovative integrated introductory course in the sciences (combining chemistry and physics), promoted Bard as a progressive college, and presided over events such as the international students’ conferences; the 1948 poetry conference; and student-led projects, including the organization of the Bard Fire Department and the founding of the campus radio station, WXBC. Coeducation and postwar educational subsidies ensured strong enrollment for a time, and the College prospered briefly. Dr. Fuller resigned in February of 1950 to resume a career in teaching. Photograph by Elie Shneour ’47.
14. James H. Case, early 1950s. Case became president in July 1950, and served in this capacity for ten years. President Case assumed the challenge of leading the College with an energy that bred high expectations, many of which were met: In 1951, the 825- acre estate Blithewood was deeded to the College, ultimately fulfilling the wish of John Bard, who had lost the property to foreclosure a half century earlier; in 1952, the Common Course, now First Year Seminar, was inaugurated and developed under the direction of Heinrich Bluecher; in 1957, President Case opened the College for the Hungarian Student Program, the humanitarian impacts of which are still celebrated today; and in 1959, “The New Dorm” (renamed Tewksbury Hall) was completed, further expanding the capacity for student enrollment. President Case resigned in 1960.

15. Reamer Kline, ca. 1960s. Kline was President of Bard College from 1960 until 1974. An Episcopal priest, his presidency was marked by civility, even during this most turbulent time in the America’s social history. In 1963, the College purchased the Ward Manor property, substantially increasing housing capacity, which in turn helped to increase enrollment. He increased faculty salaries, and supported the founding of the nursery school. He and his wife Louise opened their home to students and Bard families for memorable holiday parties, helping to build a College community. He hosted a Bard Family Reunion, bringing Bard descendants back to campus, and reminding the College of its roots. Relationships with alumni/ae and the Episcopal Church were likewise reaffirmed, and the academic program was strengthened through hiring which emphasized the arts. New programs were introduced—including the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), the Independent Studies Program (ISP), and the Community Regional Environmental Studies program (CRES)—and buildings were constructed, among these Proctor Art Center (now Fisher Studio Arts), new dormitories called Ravine Houses, two additions to the library, and the Kline Commons dining hall. President Kline supported students during the drug raids of the late sixties. His final gift to Bard was the completion of his deeply human institutional history, Education for the Common Good: a History of Bard College the First 100 Years, 1860–1960, without which the College would be much poorer indeed. Photograph by Fabian Bachrach.

16. Leon Botstein, ca. late 1970s. The year 2010 marks the happy coincidence of the 150th anniversary of the College and the 35th year it has been served by President Leon Botstein. In 1975, at the age of 27, President Botstein accepted the same challenge faced by most of his predecessors: to lead a small college with a strong academic record, but with fragile financial resources. Like his predecessors, he is an educational innovator with both the vision and practicality to put his ideas into effect. He has been an intuitive administrator and has taken care to cultivate and work with talented people both on the board of trustees and on the faculty and administration of the College. He has overseen the construction of bold new buildings, chief among which are the Olin Humanities building, the Stevenson Gymnasium, the Stevenson Library, several dormitories, the Milton and Sally Avery Arts Center, the Bertelsmann Campus Center, the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, and the Gabrielle H. Reem and Herbert J. Kayden Center for Science and Computation; and he has also expanded the Bard name to an array of innovative graduate programs, early colleges, and international institutions. President Botstein also maintains an active conducting schedule as the principal conductor of the Bard Conservatory Orchestra and the American Symphony Orchestra, and pursues his commitment to teaching, which he exercises annually in First Year Seminar.
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