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Marcy, Oliver, 1820-1899



Oliver Marcy

Oliver Marcy was born February 13, 1820 in Coleraine, Massachusetts, the seventh of eleven children. Marcy attended Wesleyan Academy for his preparatory work and graduated from Wesleyan University in 1846. To work his way through school, he spent a few years and summers in teaching and his first job upon graduating from Wesleyan University was instructor in mathematics at Wilbraham (Wesleyan) Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. Marcy also taught geology, although he had little training in that field For a short period in 1851, Marcy taught at Amenia Seminary in Dutchess County, New York.

Marcy took the position of professor of natural science at Northwestern University in 1862. He taught at Northwestern for thirty-seven years and held a number of faculty posts. In addition to the sciences, Marcy taught natural theology, moral science, philosophy, logic, and Greek.

Marcy established the Northwestern University Museum of Natural History and served as its curator from 1871 to his death. He also held several administrative positions at Northwestern. He was Dean of the College of Technology from 1873 to 1876 and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts from 1890 to 1899. Twice he served as Acting President of the University, from 1876 to 1881 and again from May to September, 1890.

Marcy was active in professional organizations including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of America. His scholarly writings were few and included newspaper articles and a monograph entitled, “Enumeration of Fossils Collected in the Chicago Limestone,” written in collaboration with Alexander Winchell in 1865. In 1866 the United States government sent Marcy as a geologist on a survey expedition from Virginia City, Montana to Lewiston, Idaho.

Marcy was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the old University of Chicago in 1873.

Marcy married Elizabeth Eunice Smith in 1874 (see biographical sketch of Elizabeth on Page 3). They had four children of whom only one, Annie, survived. Mrs. Marcy was very active in temperance causes and Methodist social work; Chicago's Methodist-sponsored settlement house, the Marcy Center, was named in her, honor. Oliver Marcy died March 19, 1899 in Evanston, Illinois. Elizabeth Marcy died in 1911. Both are buried at Wilbraham, Massachusetts.

Elizabeth Marcy

Since this addition contains a substantial amount of materials relating to his wife, Elizabeth Eunice Smith Marcy (1821-1911), it seems appropriate to add a concise overview of her life.

A descendant of New England's founding families, Elizabeth Eunice Smith was born in 1821 in East Hampton, Connecticut. She attended first the public schools and later, Wilbraham Academy in Massachusetts, where she became a teacher of French and botany. There she made the acquaintance of Oliver Marcy, a mathematics instructor with interests in natural science The two became engaged in the early 1840s, and in 1847 they married and settled in Wilbraham to teach. One son, Edwin, was born and died in 1854. In 1862 the Marcys moved to Evanston, Illinois, where Oliver Marcy obtained a position at Northwestern University.

Elizabeth Marcy appears to have concentrated her energies on society and motherhood until 1875, when the death of her twelve year old daughter Maude and the marriage of her daughter Anna left the home empty. At this point Mrs. Marcy threw herself into temperance and church work, joining the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Woman's Home Missionary Society (WHMS), and the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Often she served as an officer in these organizations, planning events, corresponding with local chapters, and associating with such well-known leaders as Frances Willard and Annie Wittenmeyer. In the late 1890s Mrs. Marcy's interest in the settlement movement prompted her, with the WHMS, to found the Elizabeth Marcy Home (now known as the Marcy Center) in Chicago's Bohemian district. Always she wrote poetry, and her contributions to the Methodist hymnal were popular.

Elizabeth Smith Marcy outlived husband Oliver and daughter Anna Davis. At her death in 1911 she was eulogized as “a devout disciple of her divine Master... loving to go about doing good.”

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Oliver Marcy (1820-1899) Papers

Identifier: 3/7
Abstract The Oliver Marcy Papers comprise biographical materials; correspondence; copies of articles and addresses by Marcy; and materials relating to the Northwestern University Museum of Natural History. Marcy's correspondence concerns a variety of subjects, including his early career as a science teacher at Wilbraham Academy and at Amenia Seminary; his career as a faculty member and his two separate terms as Acting President of Northwestern; Northwestern's faculty and administration, campus life,...
Dates: 1794-1969