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William Porter

Excerpted from: The Beloit Daily News (October 29, 1917)


     Shortly after noon yesterday, Prof. William Porter of Beloit College, after an illness caused by the increasing weakness of a ripe old age passed to his final rest from a life of service seldom surpassed. The veteran teacher contracted a hard cold and was confined to his bed last week. His condition grew steadily worse every hour until the end, which came peacefully on Sabbath day. He would have been 98 years of age the ninth of next January, the oldest professor of any American college faculty.

     Prof. Porter was born in the village of Lee, Mass., January 10, 1820. Descended from the finest of New England ancestors, his grandfather's grandfather was the great Jonathan Edwards. At 15 years of age, Prof. Porter entered Williams College then forty years old and having a president, six professors and two tutors. At the age of nineteen he graduated and the following year was spent with his father in the study of law. It was his intention, however, to enter the ministry and the next year he entered Andover seminary.

     Sickness drove him from his preparation and finally his illness with hemorages was such that the New York doctors advised him that he had but a few weeks to live. However, after a continued illness, he decided to go south for his health and for the next seven years he lived an out-of-door life under the pines of Florida. These years spent mostly on horseback restored his health and determination to continue in the ministry.

     First, however, an opportunity presented itself of teaching mathematics at Marietta College, and two years were spent there.

Enters Beloit Service

     Having an uncle in Green Bay, Wis., he decided to come west and enter the mission field. From Green Bay he came on to Beloit where the Suerintendent of the Missions was then located. He called upon Dexter Clary, then in charge of the mission and explained his desires. During the interview, Prof. J.J. Bushnell of the college here happened in and after the meeting the young man asked him to substitute on the college faculty for him for a short time while he was away on business. Prof. Porter consented and thus began his sixty-four years of connection with the college upon whose faculty he became professor of Latin.

     He was the oldest professor of any college in the United States and the oldest graduate of Williams College and probably of any college in the world. When Prof. Porter, as a young man, came to Beloit in 1852, President Chapin's house, now located on the corner of College and Chapin streets, was on the edge of the town, except for three houses to the north and west. At that time Middle College was the only college building and the faculty consisted of a president and four professors. There were five seniors in college and a total enrollment of thirty-seven. Only one class graduated before Prof. Porter began his service with the college and he has furnished an influence which has grown up with Beloit.

Paid Many Tributes

     Prof. Porter until recently attended college chapel with a regularity astonishing for one of his years. He was also a member of the First Congregational Church. Every year as his birthday came around, an especial observation of the event was made by the college students at their morning chapel service and at his ninetieth birthday in 1910, President Edward Dwight Eaton of the college outlined his life and the influence of Prof. Porter on the growth and high ideals of the college.

     Prof. Porter retired from active teaching service in 1907 as professor emeritus on the Carnegie foundation. In speaking of his work here after 1852, President Eaton said, "What a life work has been wrought in those swift beautiful years, by this serene and efficient personality. The absence of physical strength has been more than counterbalanced by saneness, self-control, wisdom of self direction, completeness of submission to higher guidance, thru which nearly sixty years of service has been rendered here, incorporate in the lives of thousands of students, and touching with ceaseless ministries unnumbered homes and hearts in this community.

     "Happy the college that has such men to found and mould it; fortunate the pupils whose reverence is called forth and whose noblest nature is quickened by fellowship with such spirit! What Matthew Arnold said of Ralph Waldo Emerson, that his distinguished characteristic was that he was a friend of those who would live after the spirit, may be with special truth said of Prof. Porter. The common ambitions and ostentations of life are stripped of their glamour by the touch of such a personality. Its simplicity and dignity make life as beautiful and as imperishable as a Greek statue. Its deep insight, and its steadfast upward look help us to realize that the things that are unseen are eternal."

Urges Right Ideals.

     At the same service, Prof. Porter told the students in a few short words of the life that was before them. It was his thought during his last years of life that even better things were in store for the college with which he had grown up. He said, "The past seventy, eighty, ninety, years have been the greatest and best in the history of the world. It is great to have lived thru them; but I am thinking now, not of the past; I am thinking of you, and of the fifty sixty, seventy years which you may be permitted to share and influence, -- years that will be greater than any which have gone before them. I am not envious of you -- I have had my turn; but I rejoice with you that you are entering upon this future, and I want everyone of you to make life count for the most; -- to raise life (in the mathematical phrase which I dimly recall,) to its highest power. I am sure you will do this."

     Three children survive professor Porter, Miss Mary Q. Porter, 735 College Avenue, Beloit, Prof. Frank Porter of the Yale Theological Seminary, and Dr. William Porter of Hartford Connecticut.

     Funeral services will be held from the College chapel tomorrow, Tuesday afternoon, at 2 o'clock, the Rev. W.A. Rowell and Prof. A.W. Burr having charge of the service. The College Vesper Choir will furnish the music and Prof. E.G. Smith, Dean G.L. Collie, Prof. H.D. Densmore and E.B. Kilbourn will act as pall bearers. No college classes will be held tomorrow.


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