Union College

History of Union Presidents


Charles Augustus Aiken

Sixth president of Union College, October 12, 1869–June 1871

Born in Manchester, Vermont on October 30, 1827, Charles Augustus Aiken was raised in Lowell, Massachusetts. Aiken graduated first in his class at Dartmouth in 1846 and briefly studied abroad at the universities of Berlin, Halle and Leipzig.

Upon returning, Aiken served five years as pastor of the Congregationalist Church in Yarmouth, Maine, after which he returned to Dartmouth as a professor of Latin until 1866. Within three years, Aiken was chair of Latin, and then chosen as president of Union College.

Aiken arrived at Union College during a time of stasis and struggle. The College had been suffering from a lack of strong leadership since the deterioration of Nott’s health, and enrollment had drastically decreased as a result of the Civil War. Aiken, although not a particularly gifted leader, saw the necessity of subordinating the College’s past to its future, and framed the slogan the "Our Union the union of the old and the new in education; the union of experiment and experience. "

As president, Aiken made several contributions to the College. He urged the trustees to raise funds from alumni, he advocated for a more accessible library from which faculty and students could "find either knowledge or refreshment from its riches," and he was the first president to submit an annual report.

In May of 1871, Aiken informed the trustees that his wife’s health required him to seek a warmer climate. He resigned and accepted the Archibald Alexander Chair of Christian Ethics Apologetics at the Princeton Theological Seminary, where he remained until his death on January 14, 1892.

Condensed from Wayne Somers, compiler and editor, Encyclopedia of Union College History (Schenectady: Union College Press, 2003), page 15.

Image courtesy of Union College, Schaffer Library Special Collections and Archives, Photograph Collection