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September 27, 2018

Namesakes - Charles B. Storrs and Storrs House

Charles Backus Storrs
The northside dormitory, Storrs House, was named for the first president of Western Reserve College, Charles Backus Storrs. Storrs was born 5/23/1794 in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. He was the son, grandson, and nephew of ministers. He attended the village school and then Monson Academy where he graduated in 1810. He entered the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton University) in 1810 at the age of 16. He had to withdraw his junior year on account of ill health. He returned home and taught at the village school. He began the study of theology as a private student of a clergyman on Long Island. When he was 20 he was licensed to preach. In 1817 he entered Andover Theological Seminary and graduated in 1820. He served as a missionary in South Carolina and Georgia for a year and a half before suffering ill health again. While returning to Massachusetts he stopped in Ohio to visit a friend.

When he arrived in Ravenna, Ohio in 1822, a new church was being established. Storrs became the new pastor and served 6 years. On 7/6/1823 he married Vashti Maria Pearson of Avon, New York. They had 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls. His first son (second child) died as an infant and his last child died a month before President Storrs himself.

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The Western Reserve College President's House in Hudson, built 1829-1830

Storrs was offered the professorship of Theology at Western Reserve College in 1828. Before that time the faculty consisted of tutors. As the only professor he also performed administrative duties for the College. He was offered the presidency in 1829 but declined. In 1830 he accepted the presidency and was inaugurated as the university’s first president 2/9/1831.

He had been anti-slavery and was a Colonizationist. He became an ardent abolitionist some time in 1831. He was also an advocate for temperance. On 5/8/1833 Storrs gave a 3-hour long sermon on the subject of abolition; after which he became extremely ill. His health had been failing for some months. He was given a leave of absence by the trustees and went to his brother’s home in Braintree, Massachusetts. He never recovered and died from tuberculosis on 9/15/1833. John G. Whittier published 2 poems referring to slavery in 1833. According to university historian Frederick C. Waite, “In November, 1833, Whittier wrote a poem which ‘sounded through the abolition ranks like the notes of a trumpet.’ It was in memory of Charles Backus Storrs, who at that date was the only college president that had publicly advocated abolition. This was the first poem that Whittier published in Garrison’s journal, the Liberator. Its opening stanza, which indicates the place President Storrs held in the early abolition movement, is as follows:
Thou hast fallen in thine armor,
Thou martyr of the Lord!
With thy last breath crying, - ‘Onward!’
And thy hand upon the sword.”

Storrs House
Storrs House was built as part of the Adelbert I dormitory complex, which consisted of 4 dormitories and 1 commons building. The dorms were named for the first 4 presidents of Western Reserve College: Charles B. Storrs, George E. Pierce, Henry L. Hitchcock, and Carroll Cutler. The commons was named for the 8th president, Winfred G. Leutner.

Financing for the $3.3 million Adelbert I complex was through a loan from the Housing and Home Finance Administration ($2.6 million) and university funds. The Adelbert Alumni Association conducted a three-year $200,000 fundraising campaign to furnish the new men’s dormitories. There is a donor plaque in each of the 4 dorms to commemorate the donors. Some rooms may still have the original small plaque outside the individual doors.

Ground was broken in 1963 and Storrs House was completed by 10/15/1964. Instead of being ready for the Fall 1964 semester as planned, there was a delay in the completion of Storrs House and the rest of the Adelbert I complex and the Mather II complex because of a strike by the building trades workers. Students were housed in the old dorms and some were accommodated in local hotels. The dedication ceremonies included the Adelbert I, Mather I (Cutter House, Smith House, Taft House, Taplin House, and Stone Dining Hall) and Mather II (Norton House, Raymond House, Sherman House Tyler House, and Wade Commons) dormitory complexes on Sunday, 3/7/1965 at Leutner Commons. Storrs House has been in continuous use as a dormitory since its opening 54 years ago.

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Gravestone for President Storrs

President Storrs is the only university president for which there is no portrait or likeness in any format. According to correspondence with his descendants, there never had been a portrait or other image of him. The Archives has a photograph of one of his brothers and of his gravestone. On Friday, 9/15/1933 a wreath was laid on Storr’s grave on behalf of Western Reserve University to mark the 100th anniversary of his death. University historian Frederick C. Waite had visited the site to make the arrangements.

For more information on abolition at the university see our 2009 Archives Month webpage, Taking a Stand: Abolition in Ohio (scroll down the page), and the Institute for the Study of the University in Society story, The College and Abolitionism.

Posted by hxy2 at September 27, 2018 08:52 PM

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