Tenth Chancellor, 1953-61
1954: Ethan A.H. Shepley was appointed the university’s 10th chancellor.
1955: In February, the university launched the public phase of the $20 million Second Century Campaign.
1957: The planning process began to construct residence halls south of Forsyth (on the “South 40”), which played a major role in transforming the university from a “streetcar college” to a national institution.
1959: Chancellor Shepley received the Alexander Meiklejohn Award for Academic Freedom from the American Association of University Professors.
1961: Ethan Shepley retired as chancellor in June.
Ethan A.H. Shepley was the first native St. Louisan and the first Washington University alumnus to hold the position of chancellor.
Born in 1896, he was a third generation Washingtonian, his grandfather having been a member of the corporation during the William Greenleaf Eliot era and his father an 1882 graduate of the law school.
He was educated at Smith Academy in St. Louis and a private school in Pennsylvania before entering Yale and earning his undergraduate degree. He entered Harvard Law School but completed his law studies at Washington University, graduating in 1922.
“The university that Eliot founded and Brookings so notably developed is moving forward today in the ennobling cause of truth. It is only through truth that man can build with strength. As the university motto has it, ‘Per veritatem vis.'” -Ethan A.H. Shelpley, Address to Newcomen Society, October 14, 1958
From 1921 until 1954 he practiced law in St. Louis and began his lifelong involvement in the city’s cultural and civic affairs. Also active in politics, he was a delegate-at-large to the 1943–44 constitutional convention and took a leading role in writing Missouri’s present constitution. He was also the Republican Party’s candidate for Missouri Governor in 1964 but was defeated.
He was a member of the university’s Board of Directors from 1940 until his appointment as chancellor in 1954. During his tenure as chancellor the university began making the transition from a “streetcar college” for local students to a national university enrolling a majority of its students from outside the area. Shortly after his installation as chancellor he desegregated the dormitories, completing the job of integrating the campus started during the Compton era.
He spearheaded the three-year, $20 million “Second Century Campaign” that was the second largest of its day for an American university. The funds brought about a spate of new buildings on campus, including development of dormitories on the South 40, the John M. Olin Library, Urbauer Hall for engineering, Busch Laboratory for biology, and Steinberg Hall for the Gallery of Art (the gallery is now the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum), as well as the Spencer T. Olin Residence Hall and others on the Medical Campus.
Staunch in his defense of academic freedom in the midst of the McCarthy era, he received the prestigious Alexander Meiklejohn Award for Academic Freedom from the American Association of University Professors in 1959.
He retired in 1961 saying that the university was ready for new leadership, but in his retirement he stayed as committed as ever to the university, serving in many ways, including as chairman of the board and chairman of the university’s “Seventy by ‘Seventy” fund drive. He died in 1975.
“Shepley’s influence will continue to be felt, thank heaven, and the university will continue to benefit from his kindness, his wisdom, his humanity, and the noble tradition he represents. He is one hell of a man.” -The Washington University Magazine
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