5th president, October 1960—June 1874
Born June 30, 1817, in Attica, New York, George Loomis attended Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Wesleyan University in 1842, he taught natural science at Genesee Wesleyan and became principal in 1844. Three years later, he chose to serve as chaplain of the American Seaman’s Friend Society in Canton (Guangzhou), China.
In 1852 Loomis became president of Wesleyan Female College in Wilmington, Delaware. His six years there were successful, but his northern sympathies led him to resign. In October 1860 he accepted the presidency of Allegheny College.
Loomis was a fine preacher and the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. His guttural perorations were such that the student body nicknamed him “The Great Iambic.” The adjective referred to his massive size, the noun to his prose. “Yank,” as he was also called by the students, seemed intimidating. This president was not as popular with the undergraduates as the genial John Barker. He was not physically graceful, yet his distinctive charm and social skills won friends in the larger society, while his courage and calm leadership earned respect. Loomis strengthened science programs and focused on expanding the circle of supporters of the College.
Loomis staunchly supported the Union. His finest hour, in the minds of his contemporaries, was the day the company of Allegheny volunteers departed to join the Union forces. He wished them Godspeed with an inspirational speech. Inevitably the war reduced enrollment. In 1862 when a move was afoot to send another volunteer detachment, the president urged the students to remain on campus and complete their education. Most heeded his advice. The ability of the president and the success of his work were such that in 1864 he was offered the presidency of Genesee College, a liberal arts college added to the campus of Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in 1850. The Allegheny trustees responded with a plea for Loomis not to leave, because a change in leadership “would be most untimely and disastrous to the interests of the college.” They assured him of their appreciation, continuing support, and “increased exertions to make Allegheny College in all respects what its patrons and its friends . . . have a right to expect of a first class college.” Loomis stayed.
Enrollment after the war rebounded only slightly. This problem, joined with the conviction of Loomis, the Pittsburgh Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and some trustees that women should participate in Allegheny’s program, brought coeducation in 1870. The step was not without its critics but was accomplished fairly smoothly, in part because women students were few and far between, and in part because the president and a majority of the faculty and the hitherto all-male student body welcomed—or at least did not oppose—the new scholars.
Loomis had lofty ambitions for the College. The coming of the war curtailed them. They were further weakened by the collapse of the fortunes of Loomis’s friend and donor to the institution, Charles V. Culver. The latter’s fall took others down with him, to the chagrin of the College whose local reputation suffered. His gift of a large wooden dormitory, first named for Culver, then later retitled East Hall, could not be paid by him in full. Loomis’s ability to recruit new funds for the College was sullied. Strain deteriorated the president’s health, and he asked to be excused from teaching responsibilities from 1868 to 1870. He eventually returned to the classroom but did not teach in the fall and winter terms of 1871–72, pressed as he was with the College’s financial dilemmas.
Worn-out by the wartime struggle to keep the College going, weakened by the Culver fiasco, wearied by debates over coeducation and College governance, and injured by a railroad accident, the disconsolate Loomis retired in 1874. After a respite he assumed the initial presidency of the Foster School for Young Ladies in Clifton Springs, New York, in 1876, and guided it for ten years. He died on February 26, 1886.
Although Loomis’s vision for the College did not come to pass, undergraduates of those years, when older, remembered President Loomis as a hero. They saw him as a man who sacrificed personal goals and even some of the College’s own for the welfare of the country. He taught them that loyalty to Allegheny meant loyalty to the United States. He is not commemorated on campus by any plaque or memorial. But a street built a few years after his departure, at the south edge of the campus along a line of property that he sold to the College in 1864, bears his name today.
* This account is taken with permission nearly completely from J. E. Helmreich, Through All the Years: A History of Allegheny College. Meadville, PA: Allegheny College, 2005.