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From the Archives

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New York Stories

by Elizabeth Swift, Wabash Archivist

The Robert T. Ramsay, Jr. Archival Center

A president, a painting, and the rest of the story…

During one of Wabash co-founder Edmund Hovey’s trips to New York City to raise funds for the College, he also secured our first president, Elihu Baldwin.

Baldwin, a graduate of Yale, was a very successful minister in a rapidly growing congregation. Among his friends was Sidney Morse, the founder of the New York Observer, who was devastated when he heard Baldwin would be leaving for this College on “the Western frontier.” He asked his brother, a struggling painter, to create a portrait for him of his friend Baldwin.

Today, that starving artist is famous. His portraits include Eli Whitney, Yale President Jeremiah Day, Noah Webster, and the Marquis de Lafayette. He served as the first president of the National Academy of Drawing and was a professor at the University of the City of New York, today’s NYU.

While art was his first love, it did not sustain him financially. In a New York Times article from 1935 about an exhibit of his paintings at Yale, the reviewer says, “One of the most distinguished and highly endowed of our early painters, he was almost literally starved out of his profession by lack of public support.”

“Painting has been a cruel jilt to me,” the artist said. He turned to science and made his fame and a substantial fortune. You know him as Samuel Finley Breese Morse, the inventor of the telegraph and Morse code.

You can see a copy of Morse’s portrait of Baldwin in the College Chapel, and the original hangs in President Ford’s office.

The roots of cultures and traditions

The name Coss is well known to the Wabash faculty. The Coss Fund for Faculty Development was created in 1950 to honor the life and memory of John J. Coss and enables faculty “to engage in research, writing or study, or other activities deemed to be conducive to the benefit of the College.”

A Crawfordsville native, Coss graduated from Wabash in 1906 and left for New York City. He earned a bachelor’s in divinity from Union Theological Seminary and the master of arts degree from Columbia, where he became the Moore Collegiate Professor of Philosophy. He was one of the originators of Columbia’s Contemporary Civilization course, which became the model for our own Contemporary Civilization course, the forerunner of modern day Cultures and Traditions.

A member of the Wabash Board of Trustees, Coss was a close friend of two of our most influential professors of the 20th Century, J. Insley Osborne and George V. Kendall. The three men attended Columbia as graduate students and, in the late 1920’s, when the faculty and administration (headed by Kendall and Osborne) decided to create a new curriculum, they turned to Columbia, basing the divisional system and much of the structure still in place at Wabash on the New York university.

Coss had a huge impact on Wabash during his life. Through the Coss Fund, his legacy of excellence in education continues.