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Bonbright, Daniel, 1831-1912



  • Existence: 1831 - 1912


Born on March 10, 1831, in Youngstown, Pennsylvania, Daniel Bonbright’s first two years in higher education were spent at Dickinson College, and he transferred in 1848 to Yale, receiving his A.B. there in 1850 and his A.M. in 1853. After a stint teaching in Georgia and Pennsylvania, he returned to Yale in 1854 to enter the Theological Seminary and act as a tutor before accepting appointment to the Northwestern University faculty two years later. In the course of his many years at the university he was the Professor of Latin Language and Literature (1856-1888), the University Librarian (1855-1865) the John Evans Professor of Latin Language and Literature (1888-1912), the Dean of the College of Literature and Science (1873-1878), Dean of the College of Liberal Arts (1878-1902), Dean Emeritus (1902-1912), as well as the President ad interim from 1900-1902. Also at Northwestern, he was granted an honorary LL.D. in 1908. Bonbright was a founder of the Evanston Philosophical Society (1866), and received an honorary LL.D., from Lawrence University in 1873.

Bonbright wanted to further burnish his academic credentials, so before settling in at Northwestern, he performed two more years of further study among the elite scholars of Germany. In 1858, after attending the Universities of Berlin, Bonn, and Gottingen, and with some trepidation at the prospect of leaving the more refined precincts of Europe and the East Coast, he installed himself in Evanston. He remained there for fifty-four years, a pillar of the university and the broader community. In addition to his tenure as president, he was esteemed for shaping the early curriculum; for setting the university's standards with what one commentator called "a fine Greek sense of proportion"; and for what used to be called "moral formation." In keeping with his utter devotion to the university's best interests, in 1890 he wed Alice D. Cummings (1856-1932), the daughter of former Northwestern president, Joseph Cummings. The Bonbrights had two children; their first child, James C. Bonbright, was born in 1891, graduated from Northwestern in 1913, and died in 1985; and their second child, Dora Bonbright, was born in 1893 and married Major Augustus Gurney.

Bonbright also had a hand in the conception of Northwestern’s University Hall, establishing its overall design for its architect to translate into stone, and was responsible for the definitive version of the University Seal. He was instrumental in forming the University Library, acting as librarian for the fledgling university, while later, back in Germany for his health in 1869, he secured for Northwestern the coveted Schulze collection, which became a prized nucleus for the growing library. Bonbright was also preoccupied with finding ways to bolster enrollment so as to ensure momentum in the university’s expansion. He persuaded the trustees to institute one-year tuition scholarships for Illinois's most promising high school students and, concomitantly, recommended a veritable publicity campaign, with representatives in the field informing students and parents of the University's merits.

When in March, 1902, the University retained Edmund Janes James to succeed him, Bonbright returned gratefully and with relief to the classroom, where he continued to flourish for another decade. When James left Northwestern in 1904 to assume the presidency of the University of Illinois, the trustees again turned to Bonbright, but this time he declined, preferring to devote his remaining years to his students. Bonbright died at the age of 81 on November 27, 1912 in Daytona, Florida where he had taken a vacation for his health. He is buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois. A memorial plaque presented to the University as a gift from the Class of 1913 and commemorating the life of Daniel Bonbright hangs today in the lobby of University Hall.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Daniel Bonbright Papers

 Collection — Box 1
Identifier: 3/10

During Daniel Bonbright’s 54-year career at Northwestern University (1856-1902), he taught Latin, served as University Librarian, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and interim President from 1900 to 1902. He was instrumental in shaping the University’s early curriculum, establishing the Library, and getting University Hall built. This sparse collection of his papers offers an overview of his life and legacy.

Dates: 1847 - 1951; Other: Majority of material found within 1847 - 1902