What educator was closely associated with Monmouth College’s first five presidents, whose administrations spanned 96 years?
Hint: This faculty member was a student under President David Wallace, was hired to teach by President J.B. McMichael, was a college classmate of President Samuel R. Lyons, was a professor of President Thomas H. McMichael and, in retirement, was a friend and adviser to President James H. Grier.
Another hint: During a 50-year stint in Monmouth classrooms, this professor taught mathematics, astronomy, Latin, history, English and rhetoric; and was honored by the college with two honorary degrees, an endowed chair and the naming of a dormitory.
If the above biography does not immediately ring a bell, this name certainly will: Winbigler. Alice Winbigler—or “Lady Alice,” as she was popularly known—left a mark on the Monmouth College campus that still endures, some 72 years after her death.
Alice Winbigler was the youngest of seven children, born to Elias and Rachel Winbigler in Terre Haute, Ind., on March 1, 1857. When she was 2, the family moved to a farm north of Monmouth, where the staunchly Presbyterian clan took full advantage of the newly-chartered Monmouth College.
Her brother John enrolled as a Junior Preparatory student in 1859, followed by her sisters Julia in 1864 and Anna in 1869, and her brother Willard in 1871. When Alice was only 7, her father died and the family moved to Monmouth. They built a comfortable house on East Second Ave., which would become Alice’s home for the rest of her life.
By the time Alice entered Monmouth College in 1873, Alice’s mother had died; and she was living with her sister Julia (an elementary school teacher) in the family home. John was a decorated Civil War veteran, farming north of Monmouth, Anna had left school to marry, and Willard was preparing to enter medical school. Left essentially to fend for herself, Alice developed a spirit of independence that would become a distinguishing character trait throughout her long career.
Besides being self-reliant, Alice was intensely curious—particularly in the sciences and math—and became a star pupil of mathematics professor Thomas Rogers. Not long after her graduation, she was asked to return to her alma mater and teach under Rogers; eventually, he selected her to be his replacement on the faculty. (She would later follow suit by hand-picking her own replacement, Professor Hugh Beveridge ’23.)
Despite the fact that the only graduate work she ever did consisted of two summers at the University of Chicago, she was promoted to professor of mathematics and astronomy in 1895 and in 1902 was named head of the Mathematics Department, a post she held until her retirement in 1929. Throughout her 50 years of teaching, she never once took a sabbatical or leave of absence. Her summers, though, were often filled with activity.
Such was the case in 1924, when she was awarded a trip to Europe, Egypt and the Holy Land by two of her former student, Mr. and Mrs. Dan Everett Waid (by then Mr. Waid was a successful architect based in New York City). Just prior to embarking, she had been presented with an honorary degree by Monmouth College in recognition of her estimable teaching skills.
Over the years, many of Miss Winbigler’s students would attest to the impact she had on their education. Charles Wishart (Class of 1894), who went on to become president of the College of Wooster, noted, “she not only taught me to think straight, but to think hard.” Long-time newspaperman Ralph Eckley ’23 loved to relate how Miss Winbigler would always hold up an older sibling as an example to prod a math-impaired student along: “Your sister Isal never had any trouble with that problem!”
Miss Winbigler’s love for math was contagious—perhaps because she believed so strongly in its power to improve the mind…and the person. In 1917, she wrote: “Mathematics presents to most students just the kind of difficulty the overcoming of which produces that intellectual fiber essential to effective citizenship.”
She was also a disciplinarian. As one student later commented: “She had a sharp tongue and woe to the lazy or indifferent pupil who tried to judge on Miss Winbigler.” As dean of women from 1910 until 1914, she kept an eagle eye on the evening activities of female students. And when she served as faculty advisor to the YWCA, which sponsored the annual May Fete, she decreed that all the dresses worn by the participants must be of a certain length.
Despite her strict demeanor, Miss Winbigler was beloved by her students, who twice dedicated the Ravelings yearbook to her. They called her “Lady Alice,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Sweet Alice Ben Bolt.” Miss Winbigler also enjoyed corresponding with her former students. She wrote the alumni column for the Oracle for 20 years and even after retirement welcomed former and current students in her home on East Second Ave. Isabel Bickett Marshall ’36 recalls being entertained there as a student: “She was very social and very kind. She was an elegant lady.”
Another alumna who remembers Miss Winbigler fondly is her great niece, Juanita Winbigler Reinhard ’42, who lived with her for two years while attending Monmouth College, just prior to her death. “Aunt Alice was interested in everything,” Reinhard said. “She was an avid Republican and hated Franklin Roosevelt. “She would have me read to her…I remember particularly reading Mein Kampf.”
Upon Alice’s retirement in 1929, Monmouth College dedicated its entire Commencement Week activities in her honor. A campaign to endow a Winbigler Chair of Mathematics in memory of her sister Julia was announced, with half the income from the endowment to go to Miss Winbigler as an allowance during her lifetime. The night before commencement, a gala banquet was held in the gymnasium with hundreds of her former students in attendance. At commencement, she was named professor emerita.
Alice Winbigler died on May 27, 1941. Five years to the day after her death, a new dormitory was dedicated in her memory, the first building on campus not to be named for a college president and the first to be named for a woman. As the cornerstone was laid, Professor Milton Maynard eulogized his former colleague with these words: “She was as uncompromising in her ideals and integrity as the mathematics she taught…truly the name of Alice Winbigler is written large in the history of Monmouth College.”
Special thanks to James Hardesty ’98, whose senior history research project on Alice Winbigler was helpful in researching this piece.