A Legacy of Leadership: The Chancellors and Presidents of Syracuse University

Alexander Winchell

Term of Office: January 1873 – June 1874
Inauguration Date: 13 February 1873

Alexander Winchell was elected the first Chancellor by Syracuse University’s Board of Trustees in August 1872. Prior to his appointment, Winchell earned a reputation as a respected professor of the natural sciences. It was noted during his inauguration that the appointment of a layman and a scientist to the highest office of a Methodist university honored “the advancing sentiment of the age which [put] the laity side by side with the ministry.” Winchell’s administration saw early success with increasing the support of local capitalists through subscription to the University’s endowment. The College of Medicine and College of Fine Arts were established under his stewardship, and the Hall of Languages was completed and occupied. Not long into his tenure, however, the Panic of 1873 impacted the University’s finances. These difficulties, combined with delays in the payment of Winchell’s salary, led to his resignation in June 1874. He stayed on as a professor of botany, geology, and zoology until departing for the University of Michigan in 1879. During the mid to late 1870s, Winchell wrote a series of lectures and published works that espoused his eugenicist view of human evolution, most notably Adamites and Preadamites (1877-1880). Additional information about Winchell is available in the Archives’ Alexander Winchell Papers.

Portrait of Chancellor Alexander Winchell, circa 1875. Syracuse University Portrait Collection, University Archives. Photograph by W.V. Ranger.

Program from the inauguration of Chancellor Winchell, 13 February 1873. Alexander Winchell Papers, University Archives.

Chancellor Winchell’s inauguration was held at Wieting Opera House in downtown Syracuse. The ceremony included addresses on behalf of the students, alumni, faculty, and the colleges of the state of New York. A reception at Convention Hall followed the formal installation. The day’s proceedings were well attended and drew the attention of the public, with many of the daily papers publishing detailed accounts of both the inauguration and the reception as significant society events.