1893 - 1925

Samuel Valentine Cole

The Reverend Dr. Samuel Valentine Cole was one of the most influential figures in Wheaton’s history. While he is most commonly known for being Wheaton’s first president, his commitment to the school was far more extensive. As a trustee from 1893 to 1925, secretary of the board from 1895 to 1908, president of the board from 1908 to 1925 and president of the Seminary and then the College from 1897 until his death in 1925, Cole continually took on multiple roles at Wheaton and had a significant impact on its future direction.

Cole graduated from Bowdoin College in 1877. After receiving his undergraduate degree, he worked as a tutor and instructor at the college for several years and also taught classical languages in public high schools in Bath, ME and Williamstown, MA. In 1889, he attended Andover Theological Seminary and, upon completing his studies, he became minister of the Broadway Trinitarian Congregational Church in Taunton, MA. It was there that he attracted the attention of Mrs. Wheaton, and she recommended him for membership on the Seminary’s board of trustees.

When Cole was appointed president, he had already served several years on the board and was well aware of the serious problems facing the Seminary. With the support of Mrs. Wheaton, he envisioned transforming the school into a degree-granting four-year college, an ambition that he tirelessly worked toward until 1912, when it was accomplished.

Cole’s vision for Wheaton College included improving the curriculum, increasing the number of faculty members holding college degrees and enlarging the campus. During his time as president, Cole oversaw the construction of twelve major buildings, including the Chapel that bears his name today.

His library was given to the College by his widow, Helen Wieand Cole, and his brother William Isaac Cole, and the Cole Memorial Room in the Wallace Library is dedicated to President Cole.

He was the commencement speaker in 1897.

Only a man of vision, and an idealist, could have seen a future in Wheaton as it was in 1897 when President Cole assumed its leadership. The school consisted of old Metcalf Hall, Mary Lyon Hall, and a small observatory. The campus was an apple orchard, and in its midst was a barn. Old Metcalf Hall was lighted with gasoline gas, and the drinking water was pumped by hand from a well in the basement. Laundry work was done by hand. There were no telephones, state roads, electric cars, nor trains in the town; the only means of conveyance to the surrounding towns was by carriage over ordinary dirt roads.”

Alumnae Quarterly, November 1934, p. 10.