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Francis Wayland: A Founding Father of American learning

Francis Wayland

Nearly two centuries after he attended Andover Theological Seminary, Francis Wayland is still very much on the map.

The Boston suburb of Wayland, MA, is named for him, in honor of his role in establishing the town’s public library. Brown’s Wayland Hall and Wayland Fellows also bear his name, as does the university’s Francis Wayland Collegium for Liberal Learning and Wayland Avenue and Wayland Square in Providence, RI.

Each year, on May 15, Keio University in Japan celebrates Francis Wayland Day. In 1853, Wayland helped establish a school in Wisconsin and gave the school’s library a collection of books. It is known as Wayland Academy today.

Part of the history of two seminaries

Son of a Baptist pastor, Francis Wayland graduated from Union College in 1813. He studied medicine in Troy, NY, and in New York City before entering Andover Theological Seminary in 1816, where early faculty member and pioneering Biblical scholar Moses Stuart greatly influenced him. Wayland was too poor to finish his theological studies at Andover but fixed his name in Andover Newton history in 1825, when he became one of the founders of Newton Theological Institution.

Organized according to the Andover model, the new seminary in Newton Centre had several founders and faculty members who, like Wayland, had trained at Andover Seminary. So the histories of two of America’s oldest seminaries were intertwined 140 years before they formally merged in 1965, to become Andover Newton Theological School.

Wayland also taught at his alma mater, Union College, and for five years was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Boston, where he was serving when Newton was founded.

Brown years

In 1827, Wayland became the fourth president of Brown University, where he is warmly remembered as one of the school’s most innovative and energetic leaders. In Rhode Island, where the local inhabitants often asked him to speak on the major issues of the day, he became known as “the first citizen.” Wayland promoted free public education and prison reform and defied the Fugitive Slave Law. In Massachusetts, he was the catalyst for legislation establishing public libraries.

During his 28-year tenure at Brown, Wayland published several widely-read textbooks on moral philosophy, intellectual philosophy, and political economy. Wayland’s educational philosophy, that Brown’s courses of study “should be so arranged that, insofar as practicable, every student might study what he chose, all that he chose, and nothing but what he chose,” is considered the seed of the school’s unique approach to the undergraduate curriculum and, ultimately, the inspiration for the elective system in American higher education.

An indelible legacy

Wayland signature

Wayland’s influence on American life and education is indelible.

One who was a Brown undergraduate during the Wayland epoch remembered that “no graduate of his time ever failed to gain from him higher ideals of duty or lasting impulses to a noble and strenuous life. He said so many wise things to us and uttered them in so pithy and sententious a style that one could never forget them. I presume that my experience is like that of others, when I say that hardly a week of my life has passed in which I have not recalled some of his apt sayings and to my great advantage. Is there any better proof than that of the power of a teacher over his pupils?”

About Andover Newton’s History

Since 1807, the Andover Newton community has crossed borders, climbed over barriers, and made connections. The nation’s oldest theological school and its first graduate institution, Andover Newton’s many innovations created the model used by almost all American theological schools today. Few schools of any kind have had as profound and lasting an impact on American life--- in religious and public service, in government, on public and higher education, in literature, linguistics, scholarship, social justice, equality, freedom, and the development of America’s core ideals and values.

Andover Newton alumni, alumnae, and faculty have included leading theologians, the founders of schools and colleges around the world, generations of nationally and internationally distinguished preachers, clergymen, and scholars, three presidents of Brown University, the 9th president of Dartmouth College, and the author of the national hymn, “America.”

For more about Andover Newton's history, please click here.