Wesleyan's Sixth President

Cyrus D. Foss

B.A., D.D., LL.D.

"No president of Wesleyan University was ever more respected; none was ever more beloved."
– Caleb T. Winchester

Cyrus Foss, the sixth president of Wesleyan University, was a natural choice to lead the institution because of his ties both to teaching and to the Methodist Church. Born on January 17, 1834, in Kingston, New York, his father was a Methodist minister who later became a farmer. Foss and his two brothers graduated from Amenia Seminary and then from Wesleyan, all as valedictorians. Each one, Archibald of the class of 1852, Cyrus of the class of 1854, and William of the class of 1856, entered the ministry. Archibald Foss later joined the faculty of Wesleyan, and it is for him that Foss Hill is named.

After Cyrus Foss graduated from Wesleyan, he taught for two years at Amenia Seminary and was the principal there for a year. He then began to preach and eventually was called to churches in Brooklyn and Manhattan, where he served for more than 15 years and attracted large congregations. While there, he met several influential Wesleyan trustees and alumni who in 1875 called upon him to serve as president when the university was once again in a financial crisis. He accepted, despite the 40 percent reduction in salary that he had to take when he left the ministry.

A popular, open-minded, courteous man who spoke clearly and logically, Foss faced an endowment fund that had not grown in proportion with the physical facilities of the university. The country was still in the throes of the depression created by the Panic of 1873. He marshaled the resources of the alumni association and the trustees, who responded generously and averted a crisis. During his tenure as president, a few professorships were added, but there were no major changes in the curriculum and there were only minor improvements on campus.

Foss was so successful in his management of the university that in 1880 the Methodist Church elected him a bishop, the highest office in the church. He left the presidency but remained a trustee of the university and continued to be active on the board until his death on January 29, 1910.