Andrew Dickson

Andrew Dickson

White, Andrew Dickson, 1832-1918, American educator and diplomat, b. Homer, N.Y., briefly attended Geneva (now Hobart) College, grad. Yale, 1853. He studied in France and Germany, served (1854-55) as attaché in St. Petersburg, and toured Europe. While teaching history (1857-63) at the Univ. of Michigan, he developed the idea of a university detached from all sects and parties and free to pursue truth without deference to dogma. After his father died (1860) he returned (1863) to New York a comparatively rich man. He sat (1864-67) in the New York state senate and was chairman of the education committee, which dealt with the founding of a land-grant college. With the financial aid of a fellow senator, Ezra Cornell, the land grant was made available for the institution that became Cornell Univ. White, as first president (1867-85), expanded the institution to teach not only agriculture and mechanical arts but also other fields of knowledge. He was one of the first educators to use the system of free elective studies. As Cornell was nonsectarian, the charge of "godlessness" was made against it. White, a practicing Episcopalian, maintained that freedom was beneficial to religion and wrote his History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896) and Seven Great Statesmen in the Warfare of Humanity with Unreason (1910) to develop his concept of free inquiry. Later White was minister to Germany (1879-81) and to Russia (1892-94). He was also ambassador to Germany (1897-1902) and was chairman of the American delegation to the First Hague Conference (1899). He persuaded Andrew Carnegie to build the Palace of Justice to house the Hague Tribunal.

See his autobiography (1905); study by W. P. Rogers (1942).

Andrew Dickson White (November 7, 1832 – November 4, 1918) was a U.S. diplomat, author, and educator, best known as the co-founder of Cornell University.


White was born in Homer, New York. After spending one year at Hobart College (then known as Geneva College), he transferred to Yale University. At Yale, he was a classmate of Daniel Coit Gilman, who would later serve as first president of Johns Hopkins University. The two were members of the Skull and Bones secret society, and would remain close friends. He was also a member of the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, serving as editor of the fraternity publication, The Tomahawk.

After graduating from Yale in 1853, White spent three years studying in Europe before returning to the United States as a professor of history and English literature at the University of Michigan.

In 1865, White and Western Union tycoon Ezra Cornell founded Cornell University on Cornell's estate in Ithaca, New York. White became the school's first president, and his farsighted leadership set the university on the path to becoming an elite educational institution, with particular excellence in agricultural research and engineering. He also served as a professor in the Department of History. He commissioned Cornell's first architecture student William Henry Miller to build his mansion on campus.

While at Cornell, White took leave to serve as Commissioner to Santo Domingo (1871), the first U.S. Minister to Germany (1879-1881), and first president of the American Historical Association (1884-1886). Following his resignation as Cornell's President in 1885, White served as Minister to Russia (1892-1894), President of the American delegation to The Hague Peace Conference (1899), and as the first U.S. Ambassador to Germany (1897-1902).

While serving in Russia, White—a noted bibliophile—made the acquaintance of author Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy's fascination with Mormonism sparked a similar interest in White, who had previously regarded the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) as a dangerous, deviant cult. Upon his return to the United States, White took advantage of Cornell's proximity to the original Mormon heartland near Rochester to amass a collection of LDS memorabilia (including many original copies of the Book of Mormon) unmatched by any other institution save the church itself and its university, Brigham Young University.

In 1891, Leland and Jane Stanford asked White to serve as the first president of the university they had founded in Palo Alto, CA, Stanford University. Although he refused their offer, he did recommend his former student David Starr Jordan.

White died in Ithaca and was interred in Sage Chapel at Cornell.

Contribution to the conflict thesis

At the time of Cornell's founding, White announced that it would be "an asylum for Science—where truth shall be sought for truth's sake, not stretched or cut exactly to fit Revealed Religion". Up to that time, America's private universities were exclusively religious institutions, and generally focused on the liberal arts and religious training (though they were not explicitly antagonistic to science).

In 1869 White gave a lecture on "The Battle-Fields of Science", arguing that history showed the negative outcomes resulting from any attempt on the part of religion to interfere with the progress of science. Over the next 30 years he refined his analysis, expanding his case studies to include nearly every field of science over the entire history of Christianity, but also narrowing his target from "religion" through "ecclesiasticism" to "dogmatic theology."

The final result was the two-volume History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). Initially less popular than John William Draper's History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874), White's book became an extremely influential text on the relationship between religion and science.

The premise of the book—known as the conflict thesis—was once prevalent, even if already in 1908, it was strongly criticized as antihistorical in the book of historian of medicine James Joseph Walsh, The Popes and Science; the History of the Papal Relations to Science During the Middle Ages and Down to Our Own Time .

Anyway, since the 1970s and 80s, many contemporary historians of science have reevaluated the history of science and religion, finding little evidence for White's claims of widespread conflict. The Christian American Scientific Affiliation, in an address at Westmont College, blamed White for perpetuating a number of scientific myths, such as the idea that Christopher Columbus had to overcome widespread belief in a flat earth and that Charles Darwin's work was generally opposed by the religious authorities.

See also



Works by White

  • Outlines of a Course of Lectures on History (1861).
  • Syllabus of Lectures on Modern History (1876).
  • A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 2 vols. (1896), online at Gutenberg text file
  • Seven Great Statesmen in the Warfare of Humanity with Unreason (1910).
  • The Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White (1911), online at Autobiography of Andrew Dickson White: Vol. 1, Vol. 2
  • "Fiat Money Inflation in France" (1912), Free E-Text available at

Works about White

  • Altschuler, Glenn C. (1979), Andrew D. White — Educator, Historian, Diplomat, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press
  • Drechsler, Wolfgang (1989), Andrew D. White in Germany. The Representative of the United States in Berlin, 1879-1881 and 1897-1902, Stuttgart: Heinz
  • Lindberg, David C., and Ronald L. Numbers (1986), "Introduction" to God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science, ed. Lindberg and Numbers, Berkeley: University of California Press
  • Lindberg and Numbers (1987), "Beyond War and Peace: A Reappraisal of the Encounter between Christianity and Science", Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 39:140-149 (accessible through an external link )
  • Engst, Elaine D. and Dimunation, Mark. A Legacy of Ideas: Andrew Dickson White and the Founding of the Cornell University Library (Ithaca: Cornell University Library, 1996) (accessible through an external link )

External links

Cornell University links

Other links

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