Educator and clergyman Alexander Martin (January 24, 1822-December 16, 1893) was the first president of West Virginia University. Born in Scotland, he moved with his parents in 1836 to Jefferson County, Ohio, adjoining the Northern Panhandle. He graduated from Allegheny College, Pennsylvania, in 1847.
Martin served as principal of Kingwood Academy in Preston County in 1846, and after college he taught at Northwestern Academy in Clarksburg. He then served as a Methodist pastor in Charleston before returning as principal of Northwestern Academy. He later served as a pastor in Moundsville, then as professor of Greek at Allegheny College. He returned to (West) Virginia as pastor of the Fourth Street Church in Wheeling. During the Civil War Martin was West Virginia president of the Christian Commission, a social services agency working to relieve the hardships of war.
Martin was a guiding influence in the passage of public schools legislation by the new West Virginia legislature in December 1863. At the request of Gordon Battelle, who chaired the education committee at the constitutional convention, Martin had drafted ‘‘An Outline of a System of General Education for the New State.’’ In it, he argued that education should be ‘‘as free as the air . . . and the light of Heaven.’’
In 1867, Martin became the first president of the Agricultural College of West Virginia, which was renamed West Virginia University at his recommendation in 1868. The core of the historic downtown campus took shape during the Martin years, including University Hall (now Martin Hall) and initial construction on New Hall (now Woodburn).
Martin left WVU in 1875 in a dispute regarding direction of the university; later historians characterized him as uncompromising and tactless in support of high standards, discipline, and coeducation at the institution. He became president of Indiana Asbury University, developing it into present DePauw University and serving as DePauw president until 1889. He died at Greencastle, Indiana. Alexander Martin was one of a group of ‘‘Northern Methodists’’ who helped to found West Virginia and to establish the young state’s institutions.
This Article was written by Ken Sullivan
Last Revised on October 08, 2010