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Alexander Winchell Papers

An inventory of his papers at the Syracuse University Archives

Finding aid created by: Cara Howe
Date: 2010


Alexander Winchell

Alexander Winchell was born in North East, Dutchess County, New York on December 31, 1824. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 1847; he later received an honorary LL.D. from the same institution in 1867. He married Julia F. Lines on December 5, 1849, with whom he had six children.

Winchell taught at various schools and seminaries from 1847 until 1853, when he served as president of Masonic University in Selma, Alabama. At the University of Michigan, he was a professor of physics and engineering from 1853 to 1855 and then was a professor of geology, zoology, and botany until 1872. He also worked as the director of the Michigan Geological Survey from 1859 to 1861 and from 1869 to 1871.

Winchell was appointed the first Chancellor of Syracuse University in 1872. He was inaugurated on February 13, 1873, and immediate success came by means of the advancement of the University's interests in the Agricultural College Bill and through the addition of subscriptions from local capitalists. But with the depression in 1873, the financial standing of the University began to diminish. These difficulties, along with personal financial hardships, were not assuaged by Winchell's tardy salary from the University. Consequently he resigned his chancellorship on June 24, 1874.

Winchell was a professor of geology and zoology at Vanderbilt University from 1875 to 1878 until he was called back to the University of Michigan as a professor of geology and paleontology. He served as chairman of the committee to organize the Geological Society of America and was its president in 1891.

Winchell's knowledge in many subjects led him to a prolific writing career. He authored more than 250 books. His Sketches of Creation (1870) and The Reconciliation of Science and Religion (1877) tried to solve the conflict between scientific theory and religion, while World Life (1889) was a comprehensive work on world history, which displayed careful research in this field. During the mid to late 1870s, Winchell wrote a series of lectures and published works that espoused his eugenicist view of human evolution. Arguably the most notable of these was Adamites and Preadamites (1877-1880). Winchell's eugenicist arguments were not widely criticized at the time, though many viewed these writings as heretical to Christian teaching and he was dismissed from Vanderbilt University following the publication of Adamites and Preadamites. Winchell's support of eugenics resulted in the 2018 removal of his name from a building at the University of Michigan.

Alexander Winchell died on February 19, 1891.

Scope and Content Note

The Alexander Winchell Papers date between 1866 and 1982 and contain many items relating to the first Chancellor of Syracuse University. Included in the papers are: a history of the University, short publications and two books written by Winchell; correspondence; newspaper clippings; the program and address from Winchell's inauguration ceremony at Syracuse University; minutes from the Central New York Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the American Geological Society, which contains a memorial of Alexander Winchell. Biographical information can also be found in the papers, including a short biography written by W.F. Galpin, who wrote a book series on the history of Syracuse University. Among the publications by Winchell included in this collection are those documenting his eugenicist views of human evolution, including Religious Ideas Among Barbarous Tribes (1875), The Religious Nature of Savages (1875), and Adamites and Preadamites (1877-78). Additional material related to Winchell's eugenicist beliefs may be present in correspondence and diaries contained on the microfilm reels within this collection.


Access Restrictions:

Please note that the collection is housed off-site, and advance notice is required to allow time to have the materials brought to the Reading Room on campus.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Winchell is featured in the Archives' digital exhibition "A Legacy of Leadership: The Chancellors and Presidents of Syracuse University." The Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan holds the Alexander Winchell Papers: 1833-1891.

Selected Search Terms


Winchell, Alexander, 1824-1891.
Methodist Church (U.S.)
Syracuse University -- Chancellors.
Syracuse University.


Syracuse (N.Y.) -- History.
College teachers.
Higher education.

Types of Material


Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Alexander Winchell Papers,
University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

The microfilm was filmed, at the cost of Syracuse University, from the Alexander Winchell Collection at the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan in 1989. There is no other information concerning when or by whom the remainder of the collection was donated to the Archives.


The subject files are arranged in alphabetical order.

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