Folwell, William Bainbridge, 1878-1938.

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William Watts Folwell, B.A. (1857), M.A. (1960) Hobart College, NY; LL.D. Racine College (1870), Hobart College (1878). Author of A History of Minnesota . Librarian (1869-1903), professor of political science (1884-1907), and first president of the University of Minnesota (1869-1883).

William Watts Folwell was born in Seneca County, NY on February 14, 1833. He attended Hobart College, NY, where he received his undergraduate degree in 1857 and M.A. in 1860. He was awarded LL.D.s from Racine College (1870) and Hobart (1878). After four years of teaching at Hobart, Folwell became interested in comparative philology and enrolled at the University of Berlin in 1861 for further education in the area.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, he returned to the United States to serve in the 50th New York regiment of Volunteers where he rose to the rank of Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel of Engineers (1862-1865). After the Civil War, he went into a business partnership as one of the managers of a cooperative milling business in Ohio. During this period of his career, he studied economics and politics, subjects that become his areas of teaching.

In 1869 he accepted a teaching position at Kenyon College, Ohio. Later in the same year he accepted the presidency of the of the University of Minnesota, the first person to hold this position. In his inaugural address Folwell stated that the state should support the University, advocating free public high schools with curricula to prepare students for entrance to the University of Minnesota. Because of his influence on education in the state of Minnesota, Folwell was able to close the University's preparatory school in 1869, and espoused the creation of junior colleges. He supported a building program for the University and urged the creation of a geological and natural history survey (1872).

Folwell supported agricultural education and, in 1882, the agricultural extension service was established to meet the educational needs of Minnesota’s farmers. He promoted the academic study of education that preserved the University of Minnesota’s status as Minnesota’s land grant college. Folwell also served on a number of civic commissions and committees. In 1876 he was commissioner of the Centennial Exhibition, served as president of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts (1882-1892), member and president of the Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners, and president of the Minnesota Historical Society (1924-1927).

After resigning the presidency of the University of Minnesota in 1883, he continued as chair of the political science department where he remained until his retirement in 1907. After his retirement, the University honored him by naming a new building Folwell Hall. In addition to his role as president and professor of political science, Folwell served as University Librarian from 1869-1903. He is also know for his four volume A History of Minnesota, published in 1921 by the Minnesota Historical Society. In 1925, Folwell received the first honorary doctorate awarded by the University of Minnesota. William Watts Folwell died at his Minneapolis home on September 18, 1929.

From the guide to the William Watts Folwell Papers, 1856-1929, (University of Minnesota Libraries. University of Minnesota Archives [uarc])

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Folwell family papers, 1898-1944 University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
referencedIn Folwell, William Watts, 1833-1929. William Watts Folwell papers, ca. 1856-1929. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
creatorOf William Watts Folwell Papers, 1856-1929 University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Buffington, LeRoy Sunderland, 1847-1931 person
associatedWith Bull, Coates Preston, 1872- person
associatedWith Burton, Marion LeRoy, 1874-1925 person
associatedWith Coffey, Walter Castella, 1876-1956 person
associatedWith Coffman, Lotus Delta, 1875-1938 person
associatedWith Countryman, Gratia Alta, 1866- person
associatedWith Eliot, Charles William, 1834-1926 person
associatedWith Firkins, Oscar Wilde, 1864-1932 person
associatedWith Folwell family family
associatedWith Folwell, William Watts, 1833-1929. person
associatedWith Mayo Medical School. corporateBody
associatedWith Mayo, William James, 1861-1939 person
associatedWith Minneapolis Board of Park Commissioners. corporateBody
associatedWith Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey. corporateBody
associatedWith Minnesota Historical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Northrop, Cyrus, 1834-1922 person
associatedWith Pillsbury, John Sargent, 1828-1901 person
associatedWith Sanford, Maria Louisa, 1836-1920 person
associatedWith Schaper, William August, 1869- person
associatedWith Shepardson, George Defrees, 1864-1926 person
associatedWith Sibley, Henry Hastings, 1811-1891 person
associatedWith Snyder, Fred Beal, 1859-1951 person
associatedWith Tuttle, James Harvey, 1824-1903 person
associatedWith University of Minnesota corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Board of Regents. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Dept. of Agriculture. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Folwell Hall. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. General Extension Division. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Law School. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Medical School. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. School of Agriculture. corporateBody
associatedWith Upham, Warren, 1850- person
associatedWith Vincent, George Edgar, 1864-1941 person
associatedWith Washburn, Frederick Leonard, 1860-1927 person
associatedWith Winchell, Newton Horace, 1839-1914 person
associatedWith Wirth, Theodore person
associatedWith Wulling, Frederick John, 1866-1947 person
associatedWith Zeleny, Anthony, 1870-1947 person
associatedWith Zeleny, John, 1872- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Campus planning
Education, Higher
Education, Higher
Faculty (Education)
High schools
Junior colleges
Land grants


Birth 1878

Death 1938

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Ark ID: w66j1tcf

SNAC ID: 22302942