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Samuel Black McCormick

Third President of Coe College (1897-1904)

May 6, 1858 in Irwin, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
June 18, 1928
Educational Background:
A.B., Washington and Jefferson College, 1880; Western Theological Seminary, 1890
Teaching Experience:
Cannonsburg Academy, 1880-81; Washington and Jefferson College, 1881; Western Theological Seminary, 1890-1894
Ministerial Experience:
Central Presbyterian Church, Allegheny, 1890-1894; First Presbyterian Church, Omaha, Nebraska, 1894-1897
Administrative Experience: 
President, Board of Trustees, Omaha Theological Seminary and Bellevue College, Omaha, Nebraska, 1894-1897
Key events/accomplishments during administration:
Initial endowment campaigns; Marshall Hall erected; Gymnasium erected; Faculty more than doubled in size (from 11 in 1898 to 26 in 1904); Increase in student body size (from 68 in 1898 to 185 in 1904)
Post-Coe Career:
Chancellor, Western University of Pennsylvania (now Pittsburgh University)

Moving Forward: Samuel B. McCormick as Coe's Third President

One of the traits of former President McCormick that impressed his friends was his ability to make quick decisions.  Nervous in temperament, he could decide an issue in a fraction of the time an average mind could require and he was rarely wrong.  (Courier, June 1928)

Following the controversial presidency of James Marshall, as well as the difficult financial times of the 1890's, Coe needed a visionary leader to get the college back on it's feet.  Samuel Black McCormick was just that man.

Samuel McCormick, the son of Dr. James Irwin and Rachel Black McCormick, was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, in 1858.  His father, a successful medical doctor, personally supervised his education until 1877, when McCormick entered the sophomore class at Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania.  In college he was known as a strong debater, and for his hard work was well liked among the college faculty.  He graduated in 1880 with the highest scholarship honors in his class.

The year after he graduated, McCormick returned to Washington and Jefferson College as Assistant Professor of Greek, and while working there began studying law in his uncle's law office. In 1881 he was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar.  He married Ida Mae Steep on December 29, 1882, and together they moved from Washington to Pittsburgh.  In 1883 Mr. and Mrs. McCormick moved to Denver, Colorado, where he practiced law for four years.

In 1887, McCormick decided on ministerial work; he and his wife moved back to Pennsylvania, where he began his three-year education at Western Theological Seminary.  Before he graduated he was licensed to preach, and was invited to become pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church of Allegheny.  Though the church's location was poor and many of the prominent members had only recently migrated there, McCormick increased the membership of the church from 250 to over 500.  McCormick did more than pastoral work, however.  Between 1890, when he moved to Allegheny, and 1894, when he set off to tour Europe, McCormick served as both an instructor and Board of Directors member for Western Seminary and was actively identified with the Freedman's Board, located in Pittsburgh. 

In the summer of 1894, McCormick toured England, France, Germany, and Switzerland.  On his return to the states. He was called to the First Church of Omaha, the leading church of the Synod of Nebraska.  He served as pastor there until 1897, and while there he was president of the Board of Trustees for both Omaha Theological Seminary in Omaha and Bellevue College at Bellevue, Nebraska.

In 1897 McCormick met with Coe's Board of Trustees and officially became the third President of Coe College.  The college, when he arrived, was in alarming straits.  There was no endowment, and the college had few financial supporters outside the members of the Board of Trustees.  There were two buildings on campus and a total of 41 students.  The Presbyterian Church, for whom the College was founded, was indifferent to it.  

During Dr. McCormick's administration the faculty increased in number from ten to twenty-five, as the president hired new professors and encouraged the work of others.  The October 1899 Courier hailed McCormick's work: "For perhaps the first time Coe is fully equipped in it's Faculty and congratulates itself on having one of the very best in the State of Iowa."  The student body increased to 310 students.  The number of buildings on the campus doubled: the Athletic Field House, a clubhouse with showers for both Kohawks and visiting teams, was the first of it's kind.  Marshall Hall, designed to house Coe Academy and the Literary Societies, was also completed.  He was also responsible for the gift of Sinclair Chapel, built shortly after he left Coe. The financial foundation of the college was secured; during the first year of McCormick's administration, he secured the basis for the college endowment from Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Voorhees and then set to work matching that fund.  As President, McCormick saw the need to travel often while securing funds for the college, and it was common for him to arrive in Cedar Rapids late in the evening, call together the faculty to discuss plans, and to leave in the morning to continue campaigning for the college.  McCormick's driving personality and determination to wrench the college onto sound footing made him one of the greatest Presidents Coe ever knew. 

McCormick was awarded two honorary degrees from Washington and Jefferson College: his D. D., in 1897, and in 1902 his LL. D.  In 1901 he was placed on the Revision Committee of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, and in 1903 assumed a position on the Assembly's Special Committee. 

Dr. McCormick's administration ended in 1904 when he became Chancellor of the University of Western Pennsylvania. He served as the Chancellor of the college for 16 years, retiring from the school in 1920 but remaining active as the Chancellor Emeritus. Under his direction Western University increased in size and location and changed names to the University of Pittsburgh.  He brought the schools of law, medicine, dentistry and pharmacy into definite departments and assisted in the creation of the school of education, economics, mines, and chemistry. 

Dr. McCormick died on April 18, 1928, at the age of 70.  He had been ill for some time with pneumonia.  At his death Pittsburgh University suspended afternoon and evening classes so that all members of the student body and faculty could attend the funeral service.  A letter to Ms. Ethel Outland from Mr. E. R. Rhoads described the funeral:

The funeral was held at two o'clock.  When I drove up more than an hour early, several people were already there, and they kept coming until there were probably a thousand people there at the service, in the midst of a busy day in this great industrial city.

The saddest and most impressive part of the service was when the escort of nationally prominent honorary pallbearers preceeded [sic] the casket, as the pall bearers lifted shoulder high the remains of our beloved "Prexy" [President] and passed down the aisle as the vast assembly stood in sadness and silence.

Known in life as a man of action, honored in death by city, state, and national figures, Dr. McCormick is remembered at Coe as the man who accomplished the most for the college in the least amount of time, securing the future of the institution during his seven-year administration through his vigor, zeal, and boundless enthusiasm.

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