John L. Seaton, 1873
9th President, 1924-1945
Died January 28, 1961
Albion College President +
Accomplishments as President
- Facilities expanded
- Kresge Gymnasium (1925)
- Wesley Hall (1926)
- Bellement Manor (1930s)
- Lutz Courtyard (1935)
- Dean Hall (1936)
- Stockwell Library (1938)
John Lawerence Seaton was a Midwesterner by birth, a Scotsman by ancestry. He was born 25 January 1873 to Milon D. and Mary Riley Seaton in the town of Manchester, Iowa, some twenty miles west of Dubuque. Unhappy with the local secondary school, he enrolled at the Epworth Iowa Seminary for the equivalent of a high school diploma. With support from his family uncertain, the young man did odd jobs in the community, set up a combination barber and tailor shop, and managed a laundry agent. He spent his summers in the traditional student occupation of book salesman. By dint of much labor he graduated from the seminary in 1895.
Apparently his preparatory years had been productive, for he earned an A.B. degree by 1898 at Upper Iowa University at Fayette. There he maintained himself largely through a student pastorate. Like so many in these pages, he was torn between the classroom and the pulpit. When finally he decided to go into the ministry, he matriculated into the school of theology at Boston University. During his three years of study for the S.T.B. degree, he served two years as associate pastor of the Morgan Memorial Institutional Church in Boston and married Jessie Evans Davis on August 27, 1900. Upon graduation he and his wife returned to their home state of Iowa, where he became the pastor of the Grandview Avenue Church in Dubuque until 1904.
With college memories still fresh, he left the ministry that year to become professor of psychology and Bible at Dakota Wesleyan University at Mitchell, South Dakota. Still eager for advancement, Prof. Seaton maintained his academic ties with Boston University, receiving his Ph.D. degree from that institution in 1905. According to the Pleiad article upon his appointment to Albion “as the outstanding man on the faculty at Dakota Wesleyan he was reported to have been exceedingly popular with the students” (May 22, 1924 p.2). Among his peers Dr. Seaton did so well that he was named Williams Scholar at Harvard University from 1913 to 1914.
After that year of advanced studies at the School of Theology, Dr. Seaton traveled westward to spend the war years as president of the college of the Pacific at San Jose, California (the same position previously held by Dr. Thomas Sinex, Albion’s first college president). As the Pleiad phrased it, he went there “at a time when the college was about to go on the rocks,” and it took vigorous efforts to set the situation to rights. An unexpected consequence from his California sojourn was the opportunity to join the staff of the Board of Education of the Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City. From his five years as educational investigator and academic advisor came many an insight into campus affairs during his two decades of service to Albion College.
As far as Albion is concerned he seems to have lived by the quotation from the work of the poet Robert Browning, for which he became widely known. That quotation, “The best is yet to be,” seems to have been Dr. Seaton’s very creed during his 21 years in the presidency.
When Dr. Seaton appeared in Albion for the first time in the mid-1920’s, the townspeople, the students, and faculty members saw a somewhat slightly built man wearing glasses and a mustache. They soon discovered that his manner was quiet, undramatic, and determined and assured. It was quite clear that he intended to move the college forward in a manner and toward goals which would achieve greater respect for it in academic circles. It was during the administration of John Lawrence Seaton that AlbionCollege first became accredited by the nation’s most important accrediting bodies.
It was also during his administration that four new and important buildings were completed and that Albion’s productive endowment was considerably increased. The curriculum also underwent changes and improvements, some of which still remain. Dr. Seaton was probably proudest of the college’s new chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. The chapter was established on campus on November 8, 1940, after a great deal of work by Dr. Seaton, his group of fellow administrators, and the faculty.
After his retirement, Dr. Seaton became a college and university consultant. While president of Albion, he was president of the University Senate of the Methodist Episcopal Church and secretary of the Educational Association from 1925 to 1934. For a year, starting in 1938, he was president of the Association of American Colleges. He was also a member of a commission on public relations of the same organization as well as of a similar commission of the American Council on Education. He was chairman of the Commission on Higher Education and the Board of Review of the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.
His Methodist affiliations caused him to be chosen a delegate to the general conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1932 and 1936. He also attended the uniting conference of the Methodist Church in 1939. Besides the organizations already mentioned, he was a member of the National Educational Association, hi Beta Kappa, the Masonic Lodge, and the Rotary and Torch Clubs.
Dr. Seaton died January 28, 1961 – three days after his eighty eighth birthday – in Short Hills, New Jersey. He had gone east in 1946 after the death of Jesse Davis Seaton, his wife. Short Hills was the home of his daughter, Mrs. Mary W. McDonald.
The educator’s body was returned to Albion for funeral service January 31 in Goodrich Chapel and the burial in Riverside Cemetery. Acting according to Dr. Seaton’s own wishes, four men associated with the college conducted the service. Dr. Louis W. Norris, Albion president after September 1, 1960; Dr. Emil Leffler, academic dean who retired in the fall of 1960; Dr. Arthur Merton Chickering, professor emeritus of biology, and Dr. Louis Upton Rowland, professor emeritus of music participated in the service at which David L. Strickler, professor of music, sang. Thus the career and life of one of Albion’s most distinguished presidents ended. Gildart, 224
Source: Gildart, Robert. Albion College, 1835-1960, A History. Chicago: Donnelley Lakeside Press, 1961.