2nd president, August 1833—June 17, 1837
Born April 3, 1785, in Charlton, Massachusetts, the son of a pious blacksmith, Martin Ruter moved with his parents to Bradford, Vermont, in 1793 and later to Corinth. He received only modest schooling. Yet his spontaneous address to a camp meeting at the age of fifteen had such effect that he was invited to accompany an elder on a preaching circuit. In due course he was licensed as a preacher. Primarily self-taught, he mastered five languages and was known as the most educated man in the community of Methodism.
In 1818 Ruter became principal of a Methodist academy in New Market, New Hampshire, the distant forerunner of Wesleyan University. At the Methodist General Conference of 1820 he proposed that each conference of the church have an educational institution within its precincts. This recommendation sparked the beginning of a Methodist effort that had national impact. His success at New Market brought him appointment as the book agent for the new Methodist Book Concern in Cincinnati. In eight years Ruter accelerated the church’s educational activities in the West and began his noted volume on The History of the Christian Church. Other works by Ruter include A Sketch of Calvin’s Life and Doctrine and A History of Martyrs. In 1822 the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred on him by Transylvania University.
In 1825 Ruter became president of Augusta College, an institution he had helped to found. But he longed for the ministry and a congregation, so he went to the Smithfield Church in Pittsburgh in 1832. Small wonder then that he sighed when pressured by Pittsburgh Conference colleagues to assume the presidency of Allegheny in 1833. He resolved to stay only long enough for Allegheny to acquire, as he said, “prosperity and permanency sufficient to secure its usefulness.” During his first year in the post, Ruter petitioned the legislature in Harrisburg while Vice President Homer J. Clark ran the College. Ruter assumed on-site presidential duties only in June 1834. He moved into the east wing of Bentley Hall in spring 1835, the first president to reside where the president’s office is now located. His salary was $700 per year. Ruter continued to work on behalf of the church, preaching at camp meetings and serving as pastor to a local congregation.
On June 21, 1837, with the College seemingly reestablished, Ruter resigned to undertake evangelism in Texas. That winter he traveled the plains in weather fair and foul. For his founding of congregations he is termed the spiritual father of Texas. Exhausted, Ruter died of fever May 16, 1838. His body was first buried at Old Washington, Texas, then at Rutersville, a town named for him in 1840. Rutersville College, predecessor to Southwestern University, was also founded there. In 1899 Ruter’s remains were relocated to Navasota, Texas.
Martin Ruter had immense impact on the Methodist cause in New England, the educational mission of the Methodist Church, and the religious history of Texas. His stay at Allegheny College was brief, but as with his other ventures, he was the right person active at a crucial time. Ruter Hall on the Allegheny campus, completed in 1854, stands a monument to his service and character.
*This account is taken, with permission, from J. E. Helmreich, Through All the Years: A History of Allegheny College. Meadville, PA: Allegheny College, 2005.