Silas Totten (1859-1862)

Silas Totten

Pencil drawing based upon an earlier portrait, Cloy Kent, 1975

The outlook for the University was very discouraging when Silas Totten assumed the presidency in 1859. The treasury was empty, most courses were temporarily closed, land sales to raise funds were not proceeding as expected, and sectional tensions leading to the Civil War were mounting.

Amid these difficulties, the University’s Board of Trustees elected Totten and requested that he prepare a new plan of organization for the institution. For the first time, the University developed independent departments, each with its own distinct classes and course of study.

Like his predecessor, Amos Dean, Totten graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York. In 1833, he was ordained as an Episcopal minister and joined the faculty of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, becoming its president in 1841. Until 1859, he was a member of the faculty at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Totten had publicly expressed sympathy with the South during the Civil War, prompting angry local reaction. In 1862 a pro-Union crowd pursued his son, a university student also sympathetic to the Confederacy, following a demonstration in downtown Iowa City. Totten’s son escaped, never to return again. The incident, combined with the University’s financial troubles, caused Totten to resign on August 19 of that year. Totten returned to teaching and the ministry in Illinois, and, later, Kentucky.

Totten was born on March 26, 1804, in Scoharie County, New York. He died on October 7, 1873, at age 69.