Harris, A. W. (Abram Winegardner), 1858-1935

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Abram W. Harris, Sr. (1858-1935)

Abram Winegardner Harris, Sr., was born on November 7, 1858, in Philadelphia, son of James Russell and Susan Reed Harris. He received the Bachelor of Arts (1880) and Master of Arts (1883) degrees from Wesleyan University. Harris was given the Doctor of Science degree by Bowdoin College in 1894, and Doctor of Laws and Letters degrees by the University of New Brunswick (1900), University of Maine (1901), and Wesleyan (1904).

In 1880-81 Harris taught mathematics at Dickinson Seminary, and from 1881 to 1884 he was in the department of mathematics at Wesleyan. After studying in Munich and Berlin Harris returned to teach at Wesleyan, this time as an instructor in history. He entered government service in 1888 as the Assistant Director of the Office of Experiment Stations in the Department of Agriculture. His administrative abilities were recognized in 1891 when he was promoted to Director in which office he served for two years. Returning to his chosen field of education Harris in 1893 accepted the presidency of Maine State College which became the University of Maine in 1896. In 1901 Harris moved south as Director and Headmaster of the Jacob Tome Institute (a preparatory school) in Port Deposit, Maryland.

Northwestern University called Harris to Evanston in 1906 as President, a position he held until 1916 when he resigned to move to New York. Harris served the Board of Education of the Methodist Episcopal Church as Secretary from 1916 until his retirement in 1924. Returning to Maine for his final years Harris lived in Manset on Mount Desert Island until his death, after several years of failing health, on February 21, 1935, while on a visit to his son, Abram, Jr., in Philadelphia.

During his term as President of Northwestern Harris initiated and oversaw a variety of activities and programs. He initiated the concept of a night school business program. The Commerce School, incorporating this idea, began in a building at Lake and Dearborn Streets in Chicago. The program was expanded the following year to include a day school in Evanston. Another major step in the development of the University took place when, at Harris' request, the Board of Trustees established the Graduate School. Although the funds for Swift Hall (School of Engineering) had been obtained before 1906 President Harris was responsible for the completion of the building which opened in 1909. A gift from James J. Patten made it possible for Harris to have the Patten Gymnasium built in 1909-10. The social sciences also benefited from Harris' efforts through a donation from Norman Wait Harris which was used for Harris Hall (opened at the end of 1915). The most innovative aspect of the building done during President Harris' term was the quadrangular plan for fraternities and dormitories. This concept was initiated and developed by Harris both to bring the fraternities, which had been scattered around Evanston, into the university area and to encourage a feeling of cohesiveness among the students.

Fraternities and social organizations were long an interest of Harris and many of them profited from his work and influence. Harris was an active member of Alpha Delta Phi and Phi Beta Kappa, and was an originator and the first president of Phi Kappa Phi. He served as President of the American Social Hygiene Association from 1915 to 1917 and, in Chicago, served as Executive Chairman of the Vice Commission, Vice President of the Committee of 15, and President of the Union League Club.

While he was President of Northwestern Harris promoted friendly relations between the town of Evanston and the University. His activities took a concrete turn when he initiated the idea and promoted the building of Evanston's water filtration plant on land donated by the University.

On February 28, 1888, Harris married Clara Virginia Bainbridge in Philadelphia. Two children were born of this marriage: Abram W., Jr., on June 25, 1890, in Washington, D.C., and Bainbridge, on May 30, 1900, in Orono, Maine. Abram, Jr., died on April 12, 1958, and Bainbridge died at birth.

Harris' abilities as an administrator led to the formation and expansion of the University of Maine, and to the instilling of a strong feeling for the University in the students at Northwestern and in the alumni by, among other things, his inauguration of the Candle Lighting ceremony. He took over the Tome Institute at a low point and made it a substantial and respected school; he also introduced an educational policy that provided credit for the quality of the work done by the students as well as for the quantity. The Office of Experiment Stations and the Methodist Episcopal Board of Education both developed considerably as a result of Harris' leadership.

From the guide to the Abram Winegardner Harris, Sr., (1858-1935) Family Papers, 1897-1947, (Northwestern University Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn James, Edmund J. (Edmund Janes), 1855-1925. Personal letter books, 1904-1906. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
creatorOf Abram Winegardner Harris, Sr., (1858-1935) Family Papers, 1897-1947 Northwestern University Archives
referencedIn Harris family, 1858-1935. Papers, 1897-1947. Northwestern University
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Harris family, 1858-1935. family
correspondedWith James, Edmund J. (Edmund Janes), 1855-1925. person
associatedWith Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) corporateBody
correspondedWith Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
College presidents


Birth 1858-11-07

Death 1935-02-21


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