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#128 President Charles Spooner, Only Member of His Graduating Class, Doubled the Size of Norwich

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Leaders & Legacy

Charles Horace Spooner was born in Charlestown, N.H. in 1858. He entered Norwich University when he was just 16 years old and completed a bachelor’s degree with an A average in only three years. He gained experience in teaching and military training at different schools before being called home to lead his alma mater in 1904.

Spooner’s presidency followed the death in April 1904 of Allan Danvers Brown, a former naval officer and Episcopal priest who had served as president for eight years. The Norwich at which Charles Spooner arrived to take the helm looked very different from the university where he had been the only graduate in his class. During Spooner’s 11-year presidency, he helped nearly double the size of the Corps of Cadets, from 104 to 185, despite strengthening the admissions requirements.

To deal with the burgeoning size of the student body, he also doubled the physical plant, which in 1904 consisted only of Jackman, Dodge, and Dewey Halls. Spooner oversaw the additional planning and construction of Alumni Hall, now our oldest barracks; Carnegie Hall, the university’s first freestanding library and also home to the new electrical engineering department; and a new central heating plant.

In addition to leading us through a spectacular period of growth on campus, Spooner gained a reputation as a vocal advocate for Norwich in the outside world. He successfully convinced the U.S. Weather Bureau to build a station on university land in 1910. The university later acquired that building. We know it as Ainsworth Hall, and it is now undergoing extensive renovation as part of the bicentennial capital projects.

Spooner’s advocacy was put to the test near the end of his term when, in 1914, a report commissioned by the Vermont Education Commission sparked a massive statewide debate over higher education funding known as the “College Wars.” The report recommended that the state only provide scholarships and other funding to one university instead of the three (Norwich, Middlebury, and UVM). An outpouring of support from alumni and heartfelt testimony from President Spooner helped save Norwich’s funding just before the outbreak of World War I made the university more indispensable than ever.

Charles Spooner resigned as president of Norwich in 1915. In retirement, he returned to his native New Hampshire. He spent some time teaching math at Dartmouth and published writings on education. He passed away in 1946. Heartfelt tributes in the Norwich Record speak to the great impact he had on the Norwich community.

You can learn more about Charles Horace Spooner from his personal papers in the Norwich University Archives. His life and presidency are also documented in the online Index to Norwich University Newspapers available on the Archives’ website.