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Chamberlain, William Isaac

Published onJul 30, 2021
Chamberlain, William Isaac

(February 11, 1837- June 30, 1920)

Quick Facts

Following Beardshear, Chamberlain as the fourth president of Iowa State College, expanded the college’s curriculum but faced difficulty with faculty and students.

Source: University Archives, Iowa State University Library

William Isaac Chamberlain was born in Sharon, Connecticut in February of 1837. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Ohio where he attended Western Reserve College (Case Western Reserve University) and upon graduation in 1859 was appointed instructor in Greek. After six years, Dr. Chamberlain returned to his family's farm and proceeded to study and conduct agricultural experiments related to farm fertilizers, drainage, and crop rotation. He published his studies in agricultural journals and became widely known for his investigations of agricultural issues. Dr. Chamberlain was elected State Secretary of Agriculture of Ohio (1880-1886) and was instrumental in setting up Farmers' Institutes in every county of the state.

Dr. Chamberlain's reputation was well-known when he became the fourth President (1886-1890) of Iowa State College (ISC, now Iowa State University). However, Dr. Chamberlain's presidency was a turbulent one. He regularly defended the college's curriculum which was often criticized by local citizens for not focusing enough on agriculture. On campus, many students opposed fraternities due to their secretive and exclusionary nature. Thus, his backing of student fraternities would eventually cost him the support of most of the students. He never did gain the favor of the faculty. Dr. Chamberlain resigned in 1890 and moved back to his Ohio farm where he continued to conduct agricultural experiments as well as write and lecture on agricultural issues. He served on the Board of Trustees of The Ohio State University and the Ohio Experiment Station and became Associate Editor of the Ohio Farmer and the National Stockman and Farmer.

William Chamberlain married Lucy Jones Marshall on July 16, 1863 and they had six children. Dr. Chamberlain died on June 30, 1920, in Cleveland, Ohio and is buried in Markillie Cemetery, Hudson, Ohio.

William Isaac Chamberlain, President, Iowa State College, 1886-1890, 1943 by Henry Rossmann (Austrian-American, 1886 - 1950). Oil on canvas. Commissioned for the Chamberlain Portrait Fund, Iowa State Alumni Association. In the Presidential Portrait Collection, Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U88.10

Location: Iowa State University, Parks Library

Selected Sources

William Isaac Chamberlain Papers (1886-1997), RS 2/4, University Archives, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library, Ames, Iowa.

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