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    James Burrill Angell Biography: Reminiscing The Life of University of Michigan’s Longest-Serving President


    By Max - Jul 19, 2023 | Updated On: 23 July, 2023 | 4 min read

    By Max , 4 min read - Jul 19, 2023

    Updated On: 23 July, 2023

    James Burrill Angell Biography. Image Source: GetArchive

  • The historic legacy of James Burrill Angell Biography is based on Michigan’s evolution from a small state to a major national academic hub. But you might wonder how a man brought such educational prominence. Well, if you like to read about people who changed society with their innovative visions, then this article will take you on a ride of an exciting quest.

    A lifelong educator and a true diplomat, Angell’s leadership brought changes in traditional educational reforms. He became known for his commitment and dedication to educational quality during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Often called Michigan’s transitional figure, Angell uplifted the state’s academic eminence during his nearly four-decade scholarly tenure. Stick with us as we are about to explore the enduring legacy of James B. Angell, one of the most important leaders in American academic history.

  • Left Home at an Early age, Academic Endeavors

    James Burrill Angell was born on January 7, 1829, in Scituate, Rhode Island, U.S., to parents Andrew Aldrich Angell (father) and Amy Aldrich Angell (mother). The eldest of eight siblings, Angell was named after a former Rhode Island senator, James Burrill. At 8, he attended a local school and demonstrated exceptional academic abilities, particularly in arithmetic and surveying.

    James Burrill Angell Biography

    James Burrill Angell Biography. Image Source: GetArchive

    A voracious reader, James, at the age of 12, left home to attend a theology school in Massachusetts to study Latin. For two years, he worked on the family farm, but after his father’s financial support, Angell decided to attend Brown University and graduated as valedictorian of the class in 1849.

    After graduating, Angell took part-time jobs as an assistant librarian at the University. In 1850, Angell suffered from a cold and sore throat but continued the daily strain of reading aloud to his students. As a result, the damage to his throat made longer speech difficult for the rest of his life. This showed how much of an immensely dedicated person he was.

    ALSO READ: A strong advocate for Education, Diane Ravitch’s biography.

  • Becoming Brown’s President, Moving to the University of Michigan

    Originally planning to study law, Angell shifted his focus to academics due to his passion for teaching and knowledge. Therefore, he became a professor of modern languages at Brown University in 1853 and started his professional teaching career. In a short time, Burrill gained recognition for his teaching skills and intellectual thoroughness.

    In 1860, Angell was appointed as the president of Brown University, becoming one of the youngest university presidents at the age of 31. During his tenure, he transformed the institution into a prestigious center of learning, fostering a commitment to excellence and broadening access to education.

    James Burrill Angell Biography

    James Burrill Angell Biography. Image Source: Social Media

    In August 1866, the University of Vermont requested his presidency, and he accepted the offer to move to Burlington, Vermont. For the next six years, he guided the University.

    In September 1869, the University of Michigan first sought Angell’s leadership skills. However, he declined the offer feeling his work at Vermont was left incomplete. Two years later, Michigan repeated the offer; this time, the educator accepted its presidency. For the next 38 years, he left a mark on the institution.

  • Under his guidance, the university flourished, witnessing substantial growth in enrollment, expansion of academic programs, and the development of a distinguished faculty. Also, James upheld policies that supported African American students and faculty segregation, particularly in the university’s law school. His commitment to inclusivity and access to education allowed students from various backgrounds to receive a quality education, further enhancing the university’s reputation.

    Similarly, the pioneer Chicano writer Rudolfo Anaya changed Mexican-American literature.

    Family with Academic Accomplishments

    During the early 1850s, Angell had already become the chair of the modern languages department at Brown University. On November 26, 1855, James Burrill married Sarah Swoope Caswell, the daughter of an educator, Alexis Caswell, who was then a professor at Brown. James eventually became Brown University‘s president in 1868.

    James Burrill Angell wife Sarah Caswell’s family was a direct descendant of Peregrine White, the first baby boy born on the pilgrim ship Mayflower in the harbor of Massachusetts. Also, her family was long established in New England.

  • The couple had their eldest son Alexis C. Angell on April 26, 1857. He was a Michigan Law School professor and U.S. district judge.

    James Angell’s second son, James Rowland Angell, later served as the president of Yale University from 1921 until 1937. Born on May 8, 1869, Rowland was married to Katharine Cramer Woodman, the founder of the Culinary Institute of America (previously known as New Haven Restaurant Institute).

    The Angells’ third child, a daughter named Lois Angell, was married to Andrew McLaughlin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian.

    Contribution to Diplomacy: Maintaining U.S and China Relationship

    Known for remarkable diplomatic skills, Angell was appointed as the United States Minister to China in 1880. Further, he put his academic tenure on hold on several occasions to carry out a variety of diplomatic assignments. During his four-year diplomatic mission, Burrill skillfully negotiated important treaties and strengthened bilateral ties between the United States and China.

  • The Angell Treaty of 1880 was the first treaty that allowed the U.S. to regulate and limit the immigration of Chinese laborers. The second treaty James negotiated was called a Trade Treaty, in which the U.S outlawed the trade of opium that had damaged Chinese society for hundreds of years.

    In 1887, Angell was appointed to negotiate with the British government regarding fishing rights off the coast of Canada. In 1897, Angell accepted the offer to serve as the minister for the Ottoman Empire. During this time, James Burrill Angell and his wife toured the Middle East visiting Cairo, Jerusalem, Damascus, Beirut, and Ephesus. He left the post in August 1989 and returned back home to the U.S.

    38 Years of Academic Legacy

    Upon his return to the United States, Angell resumed his presidency at the University of Michigan and continued to build upon its reputation as a leading educational institution. In 1905, after two years of his wife’s death, James submitted his resignation to the University of Michigan‘s Board, but his resignation got refused.

    After 38 years of his service, James Burrill Angell retired as president of the University of Michigan in 1909. He left a lasting impact on the institution and American higher education and continued to be involved in educational matters and public service until his passing on April 1, 1916.

  • Throughout his life, James Angell remained a strong advocate for promoting higher education, emphasizing the importance of intellectual pursuits and the cultivation of global understanding. His vision and leadership significantly impacted American academia, leaving a legacy reverberating in the educational landscape.

  • James Burrill Angell Biography

    James Burrill Angell Biography. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

    James Burrill Angell Biography exemplifies the transformative power of education and leadership from his early days as a student to his trailblazing career as an educator and diplomat. Angell’s impact on American academics and diplomacy is immeasurable, leaving a lasting legacy that inspires generations of scholars and leaders.

    Keep visiting BroadBiography for more exciting and informative articles about your favorite personalities.


    The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (1998a, July 20). James Burrill Angell | University of Michigan, President, Philosopher. Encyclopedia Britannica.

    Encyclopedia Brunoniana | Angell, James Burrill. (n.d.).

    James Burrill Angell (1829-1916) – Find a grave. . . (1829, January 7).

    Holdship, D. (2016, March 25). Death of an angell. Michigan Today.

    Holdship, D. (2013, July 29). Who was James Angell? Michigan Today.

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