Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
College History

Academics

1871

Reverend Albert H. Plumb, Commencement speaker

The Reverend Albert Hale Plumb, D.D., of Chelsea, Massachusetts, gave the Commencement speech.  An alumna would later write, “We shall never forget Dr. Plumb’s impressive messages to us on Commencement days.  He taught us how to live, and I say it solemnly, knowing his splendid victory over prolonged suffering, he taught us how to die.”

A direct descendent of Governor of Plymouth Colony William Bradford, Albert Hale Plumb was born 23 August 1829 in Gowanda, NY, where his father was active in the Presbyterian church and an advocate for temperance and abolitionism. His mother had been principal of Cortland Academy for Young Ladies in Homer, N. Y.   Plumb attended Oberlin College in 1851-52, then worked in a shipping and produce business in Buffalo, NY, before graduating from Brown University in 1855, and from Andover Theological Seminary in 1858.

After being licensed to preach in Providence, RI, in 1858, Plumb was ordained in November 1858 as pastor of the Winnisimmet (later First) Church in Chelsea, MA, remaining there until 1871.  In 1868 he ministered to a church in New Orleans, LA, for several months.  After leaving Chelsea in 1871, he received the degree of doctor of divinity from Brown University in 1872. Plumb served as the first and only pastor of the Walnut Avenue Congregational Church at Roxbury, MA, for thirty-five years, from 1872 to1907.  “Of exceptional power in extemporaneous eloquence, full of evangelistic fervor, a tireless and fearless champion of unnumbered good causes, resolute in support of his conscientious convictions, by his gracious and tender spirit he won the love of those he felt bound to oppose.” [Necrology, p. 274]

Plumb's connection with Wheaton began early in his career.  He wrote that,

My first knowledge of Mrs. Wheaton and the Seminary came to me while I was a student in Brown University, in the early fifties, from the frequent and enthusiastic tributes paid to them by a zealous friend, a Christian merchant of Providence, Mr. William J. King, from 1848 to 1885 an active and influential member of the Board of Trustees. I was occasionally honored by an invitation to take his place in giving the pupils an address at their religious meetings, where his quaint and vigorous speech, enlivened by touches of humor, but always enlightening and impressive, was greatly prized.

[Harriet E.Paine, Life of Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1907, pp. 260-261]

Dr. Plumb became a member of Wheaton’s Board of Trustees in 1870, served as Secretary from 1873 to 1883, and succeeded the Rev. Blake as Board President from 1885 until his death in 1907. Along with the Rev. Alfred Emerson and Mrs. Wheaton, Plumb provided the “fundamental leadership” for the Seminary during the last quarter of the 19th century. Plumb handled policy and personnel issues, helping to rejuvenate the Seminary. During late 1870s, Plumb and other Trustees feared a falling away from religious commitment under Miss Haskell, but he would later be the only supporter of Miss Sprague. As President of the Board, he must have known in advance about Mrs. Wheaton’s wish that the Rev. Samuel Valentine Cole be made the first male President of the Seminary, as well as Cole's commitment to transforming the Seminary into a college.

On 21 Sept. 1878 Plumb wrote to Mrs. Wheaton regarding the Seminary’s religious purpose, stating that the Seminary

had always enjoyed the reputation of a school where decided and active efforts for the conversion of the pupils and the development of an earnest and consecrated type of piety were put forth….It was founded and fostered chiefly for this end of seeing a high religious culture and promoting a high order of female education and exalted character.

We are fortunate that Dr. Plumb wrote chapter XVI of The Life of Eliza Baylies Wheaton (1907), describing his experience as a Trustee and friend of Mrs. Wheaton. Among his interesting comments, these few are highlighted:

“As many can testify from personal observation, Mrs. Wheaton was possessed of keen insight and sound judgment in financial matters, and never embarrassed the trustees by any visionary or other questionable plans for the administration of Seminary affairs. In all the years of my membership on the Board, I never knew of a single instance in which she sought to obtrude her opinions in opposition to theirs. She fully recognized the responsibilities and rights of their office, and never showed any disposition to override their action, or to set aside their conclusions.”

[Paine, Life of Eliza Baylies Wheaton, p. 261-262]

Plumb testified to the deference the Mrs. Wheaton showed to the Trustees and “certain of the most experienced and consecrated members of the Faculty”. She was

keenly alive to the necessity of its ministering to a high intellectual culture[,…and] of recognizing the claims of a broadening arena of usefulness for  the educated young women of our time, adapting  them to the new exigencies of modern life as related to woman's work. She was ambitious that here young women should attain a symmetrical and vigorous physical development, fitting them for the arduous and exacting duties of the exalted positions of usefulness many of them would be called to fill. She was conscious, too, of the newer comprehension of late of the ethical relations the cultivated woman is to sustain in the home, in society, and in connection with social reform in consequence of the growing altruism and humanitarianism which are the glory of our age, and in which woman has an increasing share.   And yet,… Mrs. Wheaton's supreme desire was that this institution should continue to be as it was originally designed to be, from deepest foundation to topmost pinnacle, a Christian school….

[Paine, Life of Eliza Baylies Wheaton, p. 263-264]

Plumb also remarked upon the hard work of being a Trustess:

The…service[s] rendered by the trustees of such a school,… which lie outside the claims of their personal business or profession, … are sometimes exacting and laborious, calling for protracted attention and the best exercise of one's powers. …Mrs. Wheaton seemed impelled to improve every suitable opportunity to express her sincere thankfulness to the trustees, her sense of the large indebtedness of the Seminary to the integrity, the  fidelity, and the assiduity with which they sought to fulfil their trust.

[Paine, Life of Eliza Baylies Wheaton, pp.268 – 269]

Later, Grace Shepard, Wheaton Professor of English and author of a 1931 history of the College wrote that,

Dr. Plumb was an ideal Christian gentleman, genuinely good and kind, a spiritual man in the finest sense of the word, humbly following and loving Christ, active in all good works, but quiet and serene both of soul and body.…I know a family of children who always ran eagerly to the window when Dr. Plumb went by, wishing to see “a good man walk down the street.”  I know a church that almost idolized him.

Plumb was active in a large number of church organizations: a corporate member of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions from October 20, 1881, and a member of its prudential committee for twenty-one years from October 5, 1882; a director of the City Missionary Society of Boston from 1872, serving five years on the executive committee and five years as secretary; a director of the Massachusetts Total Abstinence Society, and vice-president from 1876; a member of the Evangelistic Association of New England from 1890; and a director of the New England Sabbath Protective League from 1895.

Among the wide variety of Plumb’s publications are: A Pastor's Parting Words, a sermon at Winnisimmet Church, Chelsea, Mass., December 31, 1871, Boston, 1872; Self-Sacrifice for the Good of Others, or Total Abstinence from Intoxicants, New York, 1881; Deficiency of Our Church-Work in Its Practical Results, an address before the General Association of the Congregational Churches of Massachusetts, Boston, 1881; “Dr. George A. Gordon's Reconstruction of Christian Theology,” in Bibliotkeca Sacra, pp. 325-369, 1896; "Scientific Temperance Instruction in the Public Schools," in the United States Commissioner of Education Annual Report for the year 1894-95, pp. 1829-1833, Washington,  1896; Sunday Golf, n.d.; Evangelization and the Church Catholic, an address before the  National Council of the Congregational Churches, Boston, 1904; and "Eternal Life through Belief," pp. 76-86 of Addresses on the Gospel of St. John, Providence, 1905.

Plumb married Harriet Eliza Dart, of Buffalo, NY, on 27 October. She died at Roxbury, Mass., in 1905. One son died before the father and two survived him.  Dr. Plumb died at Roxbury, Mass., of sarcoma, December 4, 1907, aged seventy-eight years, three months, and eleven days.

[Biographical information from Andover Theological Seminary Necrology, 1907-1908, Boston: The Everett Press Company, 1908, p. 274-275]

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