Wesleyan's Third President
"The overriding principle of collegiate studies is "their tendency to enlarge, invigorate and discipline the mind."
Although elected as the second president of
Wesleyan, Stephen Olin was actually the third president to serve in
capacity. Chronic ill health had beleaguered him throughout his life,
and at the time he was elected president he felt that he was unable to
serve and therefore postponed his presidency while he attempted to
recover his strength in Europe.
Born on March 2, 1797, in Leicester, Vermont, the son of a self-educated man who became a congressman and a judge in Vermont, Olin graduated from Middlebury College. At the age of 25, he had a religious awakening and gave up his study of law. He taught in South Carolina and then was a pastor for a short time before becoming a teacher and administrator. In 1832, he was elected president of Randolph-Macon College, declined the offer because of ill health, but then was re-elected and accepted the offer in 1834.
More than six feet tall, Olin had a commanding presence and was a charismatic speaker. When he arrived at Wesleyan in 1842, the university was in trouble. Discipline was poor and finances were in a dreadful state. Olin took charge, raised funds successfully, and put the university back on track. He consolidated the curriculum and despite this retrenchment, won the respect of the students.
During his tenure he continued to preach and debate, which also resulted in support for the university, both monetary and otherwise. However, this demanding schedule took a toll on his already-fragile health, and he died in Middletown on August 16, 1851. His son, Stephen Henry Olin, a loyal, active, and extremely influential alumnus, graduated from Wesleyan with the class of 1866.