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William G. Sumner

Professor of Politics, New Haven, Conn.

Centurion, 1878–1910

Full Name William Graham Sumner

Born 30 October 1840 in Paterson, New Jersey

Died 12 April 1910 in Englewood, New Jersey

Buried Alderbrook Cemetery, Guilford, Connecticut

Proposed by Othniel C. Marsh and Henry Holt

Elected 7 December 1878 at age thirty-eight

Seconder of:

Century Memorial

William Graham Sumner had been Professor of Political and Social Science for thirty-six years in Yale University when he retired in 1908. He was born in Paterson, N. J., in 1840, was graduated from Yale, and studied in Göttingen and Oxford. Returning to this country he was tutor in Yale for two years and then took orders in the Protestant Episcopal Church, being successively Assistant in Calvary Church, New York, and Rector of the Church of the Redeemer, Morristown, N. J.

He became professor in Yale in 1872. He wrote many volumes on the subjects connected with his professorship, and was widely known as an unflinching advocate of unpopular and the opponent of popular causes. He was steadfastly against the tariff and unfalteringly opposed to the Spanish War and the annexation of the Philippines. When the nation turned to new gods, he was the more outspoken in his defence of the faith of the fathers. His patriotism repudiated the motto—my country right or wrong—for it was stern in criticism and eager for truth, undisturbed when majorities denied it, for he was serene in the confidence that truth is mighty and will prevail.

As a teacher he was the most potent personality in the Yale of his day, with a genius for instruction and a wealth of concrete illustration. On occasion his force and directness seemed crushing, and his utter fearlessness sometimes made an impression that was repellent but none the less, probably all the more, he welded his classes into units and surpassed all others in the response which he evoked. His industry was limitless, for example he learned Russian in order that he might control certain of his sources at first hand. He was wide in his range of interest and astonishingly informed on subjects seemingly remote from his proper field. It is needless to add that he never courted popularity and yet, in the society of his friends, in the intimacy of the fireside, few men were as fascinating as he.

George William Knox
1911 Century Association Yearbook