Alonzo Church

Born in West Brattleboro, Vermont, Alonzo Church (1793-1862) received his education at Middlebury College. The possibilities for work as a teacher attracted him to Georgia. After starting a school in Putnam County, he moved to Athens to lead the mathematics department at the University of Georgia in 1820. Nine years later he became president of the University, a post he held for thirty years. The Presbyterian Church ordained him as an evangelist in 1854.

Born on a farm in West Brattleboro, Vermont on April 9, 1793, Alonzo Church attended Middlebury College. Following his graduation in 1816, he moved south in hopes that the more temperate climate might benefit his feeble health. He launched his career as an educator in Putnam County. During his residence there, he met and married Sarah Tripp in 1817. The marriage produced eight children, all of whom lived to adulthood. In 1820, Church’s reputation as an effective teacher prompted the University of Georgia to hire him as head of its mathematics department. Nine years later, the University’s Board of Trustees elected him president of the institution. He held the post until 1859. A strict disciplinarian, Church maintained high expectations for students both as to academic efforts and decorum. His efforts sometimes failed to produce the desired results, however. In 1832, for instance, Howell Cobb, a University sophomore resentful at being punished for leaving campus during study hours, organized and led a night-time rampage around the campus. The faculty expelled Cobb, but readmitted him the following year. His grave lies across the valley from Church’s own, where he remains under the watchful eye of his former teacher.

During Church’s tenure, the University enjoyed considerable growth. Authorized to manage the repair and improvement of the dilapidated campus, Church oversaw the construction of several new buildings including the library, the Chapel, Phi Kappa Hall, Lumpkin House, Lustrat House, and faculty housing (now called the Garden Club House). In addition, the University’s emblematic Arch was erected during Church’s administration. He retired from the University in 1859.

In addition to his work as an educator, Church, a devoted member of the Presbyterian Church. He joined the Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Madison in 1817 and in 1854, the Bethany Church of Greene County ordained him as an evangelist. Deeming his income from the University adequate to meet his modest needs, he served without compensation for churches too poor to afford a minister.

An ardent supporter of the Confederacy, Church did not live long enough to witness its decline and fall. He died of pneumonia on May 18, 1862.

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