Eliphalet Nott Potter

The 7th president of Union College

Eliphalet Nott Potter

Eliphalet Nott Potter (1836–1901)
(Union College Permanent Collection)

Term: 1871-1884
Academic credentials: B.A., Union College

Eliphalet Nott Potter was born at Union College where his father served as a professor and de facto vice president. His mother, Sarah Maria Nott Potter, was President Eliphalet Nott's only daughter.

Before Potter took office Union had seen no building since the completion of the President's House a decade earlier, while the foundation of the future Nott Memorial, untouched since 1859, bore constant witness to the College's poverty. The curriculum had not changed significantly for several decades, and enrollments had fallen to their lowest level (72 students in the fall of 1871) since the College's first decade.

Students had been agitating for a gymnasium, a project many alumni thought unnecessary, but Potter supported the students, encouraging them to begin raising money for the purpose. When they had collected about half the projected cost, Potter found the balance and began the gymnasium, said to be his own design, in the spring of 1873.

The College's greatest bricks and mortars need, a classroom building, was finally addressed with the construction of Washburn Hall.

Potter was very successful at raising money. He obtained it from members of his family, from former parishioners and from other members of his various circles.  In an attempt to restore enrollments to their former level, a step he saw as crucial to rescuing the College's reputation, Potter raised substantial funds for scholarships, and he recruited students from southern states where many antebellum colleges had not yet reopened.

In 1876 he became the first Union president to create a place for the arts, bringing in outside lecturers in art, architecture and sculpture. Two years later he placed these and other lecturers and a newly-hired instructor in drawing under a nominal "Department of Art Instruction and General Culture."

Popular with students in his early years, he went out of his way to entertain them as other presidents had not. With Potter's encouragement, students launched the Concordiensis and the Garnet in 1877.

From the "Encyclopedia of Union College History"

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