From Ohio History Central
Portrait of William Rainey Harper.
William Rainey Harper was born on July 26, 1856, in New Concord, Ohio. He attended the Muskingum College preparatory institute beginning in 1864. He graduated with an A.B. degree in 1870. In 1873, Harper enrolled in the Philology Department at Yale University. He graduated in 1875, with a degree of Doctor of Pedagogy. He was a specialist in the Hebrew language.
In 1876, Harper returned to Ohio, serving as an instructor at Dennison University. In 1879, he was promoted to principal of the Granville Academy, the Denison University college preparatory program. The following year, Harper became a professor of Hebrew and the Old Testament at the Baptist Union Theological Seminary of Illinois. He held this position for five years, before becoming the dean of the Chautauqua College of Liberal Arts. In 1886, Harper returned to Yale University as the chair of the Semitic Languages Department.
In 1891, Harper became the first president of the University of Chicago. He played an important role in securing donations from some of the United States' wealthiest citizens, including John D. Rockefeller. Harper also served as the chair of the Department of Semitic Languages. Under his leadership, the University of Chicago emerged as one of the most respected institutions of higher education in the United States. Harper served as president until his death on January 10, 1906.