Lorin Andrews

Administrator, educational reformer, and anti-slavery activist Lorin Andrews was the first in Ohio to volunteer to fight for the Union cause in the Civil War. Unfortunately, disease struck him down early in the war.

ASHLAND -- It's bad enough when one's most famous act is largely forgotten in the dusk of lost history. It's worse when the person did more than one thing that should be remembered.

But that's how things have gone in posterity for Lorin Andrews, an educator, administrator, and moral leader of distinction, who was president of Kenyon College in Gambier from 1854 to 1861.

Kenyon College associate professor of cognitive psychology Tabitha Payne Kennedy recently enlisted my help to tell Andrews' story – and its relation to Knox County's story – in a series of podcasts, the first of which just went live.

The 19-year campus veteran noticed Andrews' grave marker in the Kenyon College Cemetery and was fascinated by its inscriptions which she had examined during student projects.

“We go to the graveyard to do rubbings,” Payne said. “We are searching for old words and phrases you don't hear any more for an exercise on how language changes over time, but is preserved in the stones.”

She noted how uncommon it was to find words like “martyr” and “patriot” on an academic's gravestone, but when she inquired around campus, she found that no one today remembers Andrews' legacy.

Lorin Andrews was notable for being the first official volunteer of the Civil War in the state of Ohio.

But beyond that, if you went to a public school in Ohio where the classes were separated into grades, then you have experienced another part of Andrews' legacy, for he was one of the driving forces in educational reform in the mid-1800s.

Born in Ashland (then Uniontown) in 1819, Andrews demonstrated his dedication to hard work and learning in his youth, prompting his parents to send him to Kenyon College. Unfortunately, the family could not sustain the cost, and Andrews dropped out, even though he had made a strong impression on classmates such as Rutherford B. Hayes, who was later to become a president of the United States.

Without a degree, Andrews turned to teaching public school, educating himself to keep ahead of his students. He quickly saw the shortcomings of Ohio's one-room schoolhouses and leapt at the chance to get involved in a new kind of system. He moved to Massilon's “union school,” which was one of five experimental schools in the state that separated the students into grades so that each level could work with more focus. Before long, Andrews was running the school.

His old college had kept an eye on Andrews and gave him an honorary degree to salute his excellent work in the field of education. Soon he formed a state teachers' association and traveled all over Ohio to advocate for education reform. When the state created an education commissioner position, Andrews ran for the office, but he wasn't prepared for the rough-and-tumble world of politics.

Suffice it to say that Andrews was not cynical enough to be a skilled politician, and thus he lost the election. But it was clear that he was a brilliant and conscientious organizer, and that prompted Kenyon College to offer him the school's presidency in 1854. It is no exaggeration to say that Lorin Andrews saved the then- faltering college and set it on a path to its distinguished future.

Andrews had become such a prominent figure in the state – with some talk even circulating about trying to get him to run for governor in the near future – he recognized his own value as a social and moral influencer. He contacted Ohio Governor William Dennison and offered his services to rally volunteers for the army to fight the great rebellion that was taking shape.

Thus, after the Battle of Fort Sumter started the conflict and President Abraham Lincoln called for an army of volunteers, Governor Dennison was able to immediately announce that the famous Kenyon College president and educational reform advocate Lorin Andrews had already become Ohio's first volunteer. Ohio succeeded in raising more volunteers per capita than any other state.

Andrews was happy as an administrator, and had no particular desire to be an army commander, but he saw the war's mission as a way to end slavery in the United States, and that cause dictated that he must serve.

Many Kenyon College students followed Andrews into the war – including some of The Fighting McCooks, whom I profiled in an earlier History Knox column – but many of these soldiers saw much more action than Andrews, who was down with “camp fever,” which was likely either typhus or the similar typhoid fever 

Struggling with spiking fevers and delirium, Andrews was sent home to Gambier to attempt a recuperation. Unfortunately, the disease was too much for him, and Lorin Andrews died on Sept. 18, 1861. The Kenyon chapel bell tolled 42 times at his funeral, once for each year of his life.

In the series of podcasts, professor Payne Kennedy had current Kenyon College president Sean Decatur and I talk about Andrews, Knox County in the Civil War, and the school's long and sometimes contentious interaction with its surroundings via social issues, then and now.

May these podcasts remind people of Lorin Andrews' legacies, and of the value of serving a calling.

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