Saturday, November 23, 2013

McKendree Hypes Chamberlain (1838-1914)

From the 1928 McKendrean Centennial Yearbook.

     A prominent son of Illinois, McKendree Hypes Chamberlain gained distinction as the President of McKendree College during the late 19th century, and during his decade-plus tenure in said office took great strides to help the school succeed both academically and financially. While his time as President of McKendree college is undoubtedly the most important aspect of his life, Chamberlain had earlier been a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois in 1872, earning him a write-up here.
   It can rightly be said that McKendree Hypes Chamberlain's connection with McKendree College extended back to his birth, which occurred on the college grounds on November 17, 1838. McKendree's father, the Rev. David Chamberlain (1788-1880), is recorded as having been "one of the original subscribers to the fund for the founding of the institution" and at the time of his son's birth was head of the college's boarding department. Chamberlain's unusual name also has a connection to the college that he later oversaw, as he was bestowed the name "McKendree" in honor of the school's namesake, Bishop William McKendree (1757-1835), the first Methodist bishop to be born in the United States. Chamberlain's middle name Hypes came about from one Benjamin "Uncle Ben" Hypes (1805-1896), a prominent citizen who resided in Chamberlain's hometown of Lebanon.
   Recorded as having grown up in the "college atmosphere", McKendree Chamberlain attended McKendree College for six years and graduated in the class of 1859 with an A.B. (bachelor of arts) degree. Shortly afterward he began pursuing the study of law at Harvard University and after graduating in 1861 relocated to Kansas City, Missouri to begin his career in law. His stay here proved to be short-lived, as he removed back to Illinois, settling in the village of Beardstown. Once settled, Chamberlain established a law practice in town and is mentioned by the 1905 edition of the McKendree Pigskin yearbook as developing an interest in newspaper publishing. His newfound interest led him to the Beardstown Illinoisan, where he served as an editor. In 1862 Chamberlain was awarded a master of arts degree by his alma mater and in June of 1869 married in Kansas City, Missouri to Helen Lemira Dana (1841-1928) and later had two children, Clifford Dana (born 1870) and Ellen, who died aged two months in 1876. Shortly following his marriage Chamberlain became engaged in the railroad industry and later was named to the Illinois Railroad Commission for a five-year term. 
   In 1872 Chamberlain was selected "without his knowledge or consent" as a Presidential Elector for the Springfield district of Illinois and was accorded further honors later in the election year when he "was removed from the electoral ticket, and despite his earnest protest, was made the congressional candidate from this district." While having the Republican nomination for Congress quite literally fall into his lap, Chamberlain accepted the offer tendered to him and in the November 1872 election faced incumbent Democrat James Carroll Robinson (1823-1886). As a Republican nominee in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, Chamberlain lost out on election day by a slim margin of only 934 votes. A result from that contest appeared in the Tribune Almanac and Political Register of 1872 and is shown below (with the candidate's names abbreviated.)

    Chamberlain's 1872 candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives marked the beginning and the end of his involvement in politics, and after his defeat migrated west, where he entered the mining industry. After several years he moved to St. Louis and was still a resident of this city in 1894, the year that he became the President of McKendree College. Elected to this post by the college board, Chamberlain was faced with the daunting task of heading a college that was badly in debt, and within a few months of becoming president had instituted a plan that would help the college out of financial stress. As the 1928 McKendree College Centennial yearbook detailed, President Chamberlain noted that "the college must have at least $100,000 of new endowment to make its foundation safe" and after some deliberation made the announcement that "he would expect the people of Lebanon to pay for the debt, then he would ask a wider constituency to furnish the endowment."
   While his plan may have been ambitious, it did succeed. After a year or so of constant work on college finances the debt was paid off, and in the succeeding years Chamberlain continued to make advances for the college, including having college professor's salaries increased "from seven hundred dollars annually to one thousand two hundred,  paid in full" and had "buildings repaired and steam heat installed, and the curriculum has been changed, until to-day it is second to none." Chamberlain's presidency extended from 1894-1908 and at the time of his retirement in 1908 was honored with the position of President-Emeritus and college trustee. 
   Around 1910 Chamberlain and his wife removed from Lebanon, Illinois to Los Angeles, California, where they would reside for the remainder of their lives. McKendree Hypes Chamberlain died at his home in Los Angeles on July 28, 1914 at age 76 and was later cremated. His ashes were later returned to Lebanon for burial at the College Hill Cemetery, located a short distance from McKendree College. Chamberlain's widow Helen continued to reside in California following her husband's death and after her passing in 1928 was also interred at the College Hill Cemetery.

From the 1905 McKendrean Yearbook.

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