Elsie Storrs Dow

Elsie Storrs Dow was born in Sycamore, Illinois in 1859. She graduated from Wheaton College in 1881, having successfully completed the requirements for the classical course of study normally pursued only by men, and joined the faculty in 1889. Her father, Roswell, attempted to dissuade her from teaching and the "wasted life in the rut of classroom duties." (Wheaton Alumni News, May-June 1939, p. 1). A pillar of Wheaton's early faculty, she worked at the College for more than 50 years. She dedicated her life to Wheaton even though her father cautioned her that she would waste "her life in the rut of the classroom"—but testimonies from friends, colleagues, and especially students proved him wrong. When she returned to Wheaton in 1889 she filled the Samuel Plumb Professorship of English Literature, but during the next 53 years her varied duties required her "to teach the encyclopedia" which eventually included courses in Greek, Latin, mathematics, philosophy, Bible, Christian apologetics, history, and English literature. About Dr. Dow's early efforts, College librarian Julie Blanchard later wrote, "She was finally assigned professor of English which at that time was taught for only one semester. She then began the fight for more courses in this subject which continued until the department of English is one of the strongest of the college departments. She also worked for the enlargement of the teaching of history with similar success, and greatly strengthened the modern languages." Over the years her prodigious memory allowed her to recite freely from "literally reams of poetry." Browning and Shakespeare, about whom she was called "an American authority," remained her favorites. Letters of tribute from former students frequently describe Dr. Dow as a demanding teacher who insisted that any student "present only in body should answer, 'Absent,' at roll call!" Known for her devotion to Wheaton and love of her students, Dr. Dow's life clearly reflected one of her favorite Bible verses, Revelation 22:3b, "and His servants shall serve Him." Three generations of students found her an inspiration. Over the years, in addition to her academic duties, at various times she functioned as dean of women, principal of the ladies department, and registrar. And in 1926, along with Professors Smith and Straw, she was appointed to run the College until a successor to Charles Blanchard could be installed.  She received an honorary doctorate in literature from Lawrence College. She retired from post as chair in 1939 after fifty years at Wheaton and retired from teaching fully in 1942. Elsie Dow died October 28, 1944.