George Thacher (1871–1877)

George Thacher

Oil on canvas by Ellen Day Hale, n.d.

Though not trained as an administrator and burdened with poor health, George Thacher successfully led the University toward increased professional training and a higher level of academic distinction. The Homeopathic Department, an early medical program, and the Department of Civil Engineering, were both established in 1876.

Thacher graduated from the Yale Divinity School in 1840 and over the next 30 years served as a minister at Congregational churches in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Iowa before his selection as president of the University in 1871. Before arriving in Iowa City, he was a pastor in Waterloo.

His six-year term as president was the longest to date. Many of Iowa’s high schools during the 1870s became more closely associated with the University, in part the result of Thacher’s encouragement. Beginning in 1872, students graduating from qualified high schools were exempt from
completing a then-required entrance examination.

Other noted changes included the re-introduction of a military science program, or drill, and the recognition of athletics with the establishment of the University’s first playing field, both in 1873.

Thacher was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on July 25, 1817. In 1844, he married Sarah M. Smith, who died in 1850. The following year he married her sister, Mary S. Smith. Three children were born to these marriages. Thacher died December 27, 1878, at age 61.