Andrew Dickson White

On this date in 1832, Andrew Dickson White was born in Homer, N.Y. He graduated from Yale University in 1853 with a B.A., and returned for his M.A. in history in 1856. He became a history professor at the University of Michigan beginning in 1856, and was elected a New York State Senator in 1864. White co-founded Cornell University with Ezra Cornell, and became its first president (1866–1885). White was also the first president of the American Historical Association (1884–1886), president of the American delegation to The Hague Peace Conference in 1899, and U.S. Ambassador to Germany (1897–1902). He married Mary Outwater in 1859, who died in 1887. White was married to Helen Magill in 1890 and had four children.

Upon founding Cornell, White announced that he wanted the college to be “an asylum for Science—where truth shall be sought for truth’s sake, not stretched or cut exactly to fit Revealed Religion” (quoted in God and Nature by David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, 1986). He strongly supported science and secularism, lecturing about “The Battle-Fields of Science,” which he describes in his autobiography as a lecture about “how, in the supposed interest of religion, earnest and excellent men, for many ages and in many countries, had bitterly opposed various advances in science and in education” (Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White Vol. 1, 1904). In 1896, White wrote History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom, which further examines the tumultuous relationship between science and religion. He wrote: “In all modern history, interference with science in the supposed interest of religion, no matter how conscientious such interference may have been, has resulted in the direst evils both to religion and science.” D. 1918

“I simply try to aid in letting the light of historical truth into that decaying mass of outworn thought which attaches the modern world to mediaeval conceptions of Christianity.”

—Andrew Dickson White, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 1896.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

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