Wesleyan's Second President

Nathan Bangs


Wesleyan "should be made what its name implies – a university."

When Willbur Fisk, the first president of Wesleyan, passed away, Stephen Olin was elected president but was unable to serve at that time due to ill health (he later became Wesleyan's third president). He suggested Nathan Bangs, who was hesitant to accept, but who did so after much pressure. At the time, Bangs was missionary secretary, a prestigious and important leadership post in the Methodist church.

Born on May 2, 1778, in Stratford, Conn., Bangs assumed the Wesleyan presidency at age 62. A missionary in Canada, a book agent, and a leader in a number of Methodist enterprises, he had chaired the joint board of Wesleyan and knew the university well. The joint board, a dual arrangement commonly found in that era, consisted of two branches: the fellows, who supervised academics and day-to-day operations, and the trustees, generally non-locals who were appointed by the Methodist conferences and who had more general oversight.

The university was going through difficult times when Bangs was elected: confidence in the school had fallen, there were financial problems, the number of undergraduates decreased, and-according to reports at the time-there were discipline problems. Bangs wanted the Bible to be a regular subject of study, and he also wanted to institute studies for those going into the ministry, medicine, the law, or teaching.

Bangs was a self-educated man who had not graduated from college. Although he was reportedly an excellent speaker and preacher, he did not have the confidence of the students, who forced him to resign a year and a half after he assumed the duties of the presidency. He remained on the board and served Wesleyan until his death on May 3, 1862.