STORRS, CHARLES BACKUS (Reverend) (23 May 1794-15 Sept. 1833) was the first president of WESTERN RESERVE COLLEGE (WRC) in Hudson, OH. He was born in Longmeadow, Massachusetts to Rev. Richard Salter Storrs and Sarah Storrs. He studied at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) from 1810-1813 but dropped out due to poor health. Following family tradition, he went to school to become a PRESBYTERIAN pastor. He graduated from Andover Theological Seminary in 1820 and became a pastor in Ravenna, OH in 1822 after moving to the region. In 1828, he became a theology professor at WRC.

In 1830, he was appointed the first president of the college. He played an active role in the ABOLITIONIST movement, including the encouragement and leading of a student anti-slavery society at WRC. Rev. Storrs, along with other professors at the college, Rev. Beriah Green and Elizur Wright Jr., joined the program for Presbyterian-Congregationalism in 1801, which was a sector of “New School” Presbyterian. This organization was a staunch opponent of slavery and called for immediate emancipation. At the same time, a contemporary revivalist sentiment spread through the Midwest, calling for immediate sin repentance and an immediate emancipation approach for slavery. This was widely accepted by young evangelicals, including Green, Storrs, Wright, and their students. For example, in 1833, students were exempt from classes for two weeks to attend a local revivalist convention, where students were required to attend 3 sermons a day. WRC was also one of the first higher education institutions in the state to accept Black students, with their first Black student starting in 1832.

However, this immediate emancipation approach was not accepted by two influential trustees, Revs. Harvey Coe and Caleb Pitkin of WRC, who vied for “Old School” Presbyterianism and a gradualist approach to the abolition of slavery. Because this older generation of trustees, led by Coe and Pitkin, held more fiscal power over the community and WRC, they ultimately prevailed in this struggle, the strain of which led to the death of Storrs in 1833 from consumption and the resignation of Revs. Green and Wright. Following this, several students left WRC and went to Oberlin College in support of Storrs, Green, and Wright. Oberlin had adopted a staunch immediate emancipation approach, which drew many young, revivalist students to their gates, rather than some of the “Old School” policies adopted by WRC.

Grace Johnson

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