Alumnus makes gift of letters sent to first president of DePauw

Friday, January 4, 2013
DePauw University alumnus Dr. William Dugan (right) shares a notebook of letters sent to Matthew Simpson, the first president of DePauw (then Indiana Asbury University) with DPU Archivist Wesley Wilson (left) and university historian John Baughman.

DePauw University alumnus and his DPU-graduate family recently enriched the archives of the university with a unique donation.

Dr. William Dugan (Class of 1960) and his family -- wife Ann (Class of 1961), daughter Cindy Curnow (Class of 1988) and granddaughter Emily Curnow (a current member of the Class of 2014) -- brought in a collection of letters written to Matthew Simpson, the first president of DePauw (then known as Indiana Asbury University) to donate to their alma mater.

The collection, encompassing five notebooks and all carefully preserved in archival clear plastic sleeves, were written to the young president (who had been born in 1811) from 1838 through the 1840s.

"Indiana Asbury was very new and small then, and its future was anything but certain," DePauw Archivist Wesley Wilson noted in announcing the recent receipt of the gift.

"So the collection is an extremely important addition to the documentation of DePauw's history," Wilson added, "especially coming as it does during the university's 175th anniversary year."

Dr. Dugan said he had collected the historic letters because he is an avid stamp collector.

The collection has great philatelic, and Dugan has used it in an exhibit.

The whole Dugan family was involved in preparing the collection of letters for donation. His wife, Ann, transcribed all the letters, while granddaughter and DePauw junior Emily created indexes to the correspondence.

"Since Dr. Dugan used to practice oncology at Putnam County Hospital for years," Wilson said, "I thought many people would remember him and be interested in his gift."

Born in Cadiz, Ohio, President Simpson was largely self-educated (he learned to read at age three). Young Simpson had taught briefly in a local academy, been admitted to the practice of medicine in his native state, and been ordained into the Methodist ministry, preaching in a small church in Pittsburgh.

Deciding to enroll in Allegheny College in 1837, he found himself the recipient of an honorary A.M. degree from the institution and was invited to join the faculty rather than the student body.

After two years teaching mathematics and natural science there, he accepted the Asbury presidency and came to Greencastle in April 1839, assuming his duties as president that May.

At first he taught everything except Greek and Latin while holding the mathematics department chairmanship.

Transferring later to the professorship of mental and moral philosophy, Simpson assumed responsibility for that subject, along with natural theology and "Christian evidences" considered the capstone of the college course and taught by all succeeding presidents for most of the rest of the century.

By 1848 the infant university was well established, and President Simpson, in somewhat declining health and looking for a less strenuous post, went to Cincinnati to become editor of the Western Christian Advocate.

Four years later he was elected a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In that office he soon became an influential national Protestant leader and confidant of Abraham Lincoln.

When Lincoln was assassinated, Simpson was chosen over every other minister in the United States to deliver the oration at the fallen president's funeral.

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