James Edward Oliver, Department Chair 1871–1895

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The following paragraphs were taken from Waterman Thomas Hewett's Cornell University: A History, University Publishing Society, New York, 1905, pp. 141–143.

"Professor Oliver became head of the department in 1874, but after 1877 the executive work was shared with Professor Wait, who in that year was advanced to an associate professorship, and to a full professorship in 1891. Professor Oliver was born in Salem, Mass., of Quaker parentage, in 1829. He was the poet of the class of '49 at Harvard, and the favorite pupil of Professor Benjamin Pierce, who always declared that "Jimmy Oliver was the best mathematician who had ever come under his notice." As a teacher, Professor Oliver was thorough, painstaking, considerate, and, above all, inspiring by his wealth of suggestiveness and depth of intellectual insight. His methods in the classroom were very informal, and he seldom lost and opportunity of making a good joke, even when the joke was on himself. As he was happiest when the text-book could be laid aside and he could follow his own bent, it is possible that he did not always attain the best results with a miscellaneous class of undergraduates; but with "audience fit though few," he was wont to open up new vistas, sometimes forgetting the lapse of time in his enthusiasm. His publications are not numerous, for the drudgery of working up an article for permanent form was peculiarly irksome to him, especially after the freshness of discovery had passed away; and, during his best years, he had small leisure for writing, as he had then comparatively few assistants, and his recitation hours sometimes amounted to more than twenty in the week. His high original power was of the kind that shows itself not so much in published writings as in familiar classroom talks, and in the inspiration which they impart to others; and it is thus he would wish his name to live. As regards the silent influence of his life, there must be many hundreds of students and others who still derive inspiration from the memory of his high standards, and the rare beauty of his life and character with its unusual freedom from self-consciousness.

"In the first few years of Professor Oliver's administration, in addition to Assistant Professors Wait, Potter, Arnold, and Byerly, the following three persons acted temporarily as instructors without regular appointment: George T. Winton, B. L., '74, afterwards president of the University of North Carolina, and then president of the University of Texas, now president of the Mechanical College, Raleigh, N. C.; Madison M. Garver, B. S., '76, now at State College, Pa.; Morris R. Conable, B. C. E., '76, M. S., '88. Between 1876 and the death of Professor Oliver in 1895, the following appointments were made: Charles A. Van Velzer, B. S., '76, instructor (1876-77), now professor in University of Wisconsin; George W. Jones, A. B., Yale, '59, A. M., assistant professor (1877-93), associate professor (1893-95), professor since 1895; James McMahon, A. B., Dublin, '81, A. M., instructor (1884-90), assistant professor (1890-1904), professor 1904; Arthur S. Hathaway, B. S., '79, afterwards fellow at Johns Hopkins, instructor (1885-90), assistant professor (1890-91), now professor in Rose Polytechnic Institute, Terre Haute, Ind.; Duane Studley, B. S., '81, instructor (1887-92), afterwards professor in Wabash College, now professor in Normal School, Chicago; George E. Fisher, A. B., '87, instructor (1887-89), now assistant professor in University of Pennsylvania; Charles S. Fowler, A. B., '88, instructor (1889-95), now chief examiner to Civil Service Commission, Albany, N. Y.; Walker G. Rappleye, B. S., '82, instructor (1889-94), now professor in Normal School, Oswego, N. Y.; John H. Tanner, B. S., '91, instructor (1892-94), student at Goettingen (1894-96), assistant professor (1894-1904), professor 1904; Paul L. Saurel, B. S., New York City College, post-gradaute at Cornell (1890-91), fellow (1891-92), instructor (1892-96), Ph.D., Bordeaux, '99, now instructor in New York City College; William R. Shoemaker, B. S., Iowa State College, post-graduate at Cornell (1890-92), instructor (1892-94); Daniel A. Murray, A. B., Dalhousie, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins, instructor (1894-1902), now professor in Dalhousie College; Joseph Allen, A. M., Harvard, instructor (1894-97), now instructor in New York City College; John I. Hutchinson, A. B., Bates College, Ph.D., Chicago, instructor (1894-1903), assistant professor since 1903."