A day in the life of William Fletcher King

William Fletcher King was president of Cornell College from 1863 until 1908. More than any other individual, King shaped Cornell, and his influence on the college is still felt today. The following “letter” is a work of historical fiction, written to give a sense of King’s personality as he finished his long career.

Mt. Vernon, 3 April 1908

Dearest Brother Isaac!

William Fletcher King
William Fletcher King

As you are aware, my collegiate career is fast drawing to its close. My intention upon accepting the call to serve at this place was to remain but a single year. Now, I mark the conclusion of my 46th year on the campus! The commencement of 1908 shall be my last as president of Cornell College. Although there will doubtless be some sadness attendant on the occasion, I well realize the need for me to leave the duties of administration to younger, and more able, hands.

My days are long, with an early rising and, of course, attendance at morning chapel, which is at 5:30. It pains me that the students appear less earnest in this morning exercise of devotion than when you and I were boys and attending the great Methodist revivals back home in dear old Ohio. What is to become of our nation if it is found so wanting in religious faith? I shudder to think that the day may come when Cornell students will suggest that dancing be permitted at college functions!

I enjoy my quiet moments in the college chapel before services. Raising the funds for that building was a long and agonizing struggle. It is immodest and a failing on my part to confess, but I almost feel that the college ought to name that chapel for me in recognition of the gray hairs that it has lain upon my head.

During my day, I do enjoy a brisk walk about the campus. Much has changed since the days when Margaret and I were able to allow our cow to graze these now park-like grounds!

Much of my day is spent in correspondence. During the past 20 years Mr. James Harlan, who is to be my successor, has largely attended to the day-to-day administration of the institution. I spend much of my time attempting to secure funds for the college, presiding over chapel and meetings, and attending to the needs of our devoted faculty.

The students have so much to do, and so many things to learn, far increased from the course of study when I arrived. I sometimes wonder how they are able to devote full attention to a particular subject, and wonder if perhaps, at some future time, there might be an adjustment in the academic calendar that would permit them to focus on a single topic, one course at a time, if you will?

In my retirement, I certainly will travel and indulge in writing my reminiscences. With no children of my own, the students and the institution have become my legacy, and to them I shall devote my failing energies as well as what material goods the Lord has blessed me with.

Now, dear brother, I take leave of you. My best wishes to your family,

William Fletcher King signature






Peter Hoehnle ’96 holds a Ph.D. in history from Iowa State University. He assisted professors William Heywood and Richard Thomas in researching “Cornell College: A Sesquicentennial History.”