Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard was born 5 May 1809 in Sheffield, Massachusetts. He graduated second in the Class of 1828 with honors at Yale. He began teaching at Connecticut’s Hartford Grammar School, and in his spare time he played piano and flute and learned seven languages. By 1832 Barnard had determined that pedagogy was not a good career choice because of his acute hearing impairment. He spent the next six years working at the New York State Institute, a school for the deaf and mute. In 1837, after returning from a research trip to Yale, Barnard met Basil Manly, president of the University of Alabama, who offered Barnard the school’s chair of mathematics and natural philosophy. He accepted.
Barnard spent the next decade and a half there, conducting scientific researching and publishing, before moving on in 1854 to hold the chair of mathematics at the University of Mississippi. Soon after moving to Oxford, Barnard entered the Episcopal priesthood. When Augustus B. Longstreet resigned as the university’s president, the religious factions among the school’s leaders scrambled to select his successor, and in 1856 the Episcopalians, who held a majority on the board, appointed Barnard to the position.
Barnard worked tirelessly to place the university in the top tier of American institutions. His outgoing nature, support of the school’s literary societies, and efforts to construct a recreational gymnasium won him the admiration of the students. He also advocated the creation of departments of medicine, law, agriculture, science, classics, and political history. Barnard used the legislature’s 1856 appropriations for the university to build an observatory for the world’s largest telescope and laboratories for barometry, geology, and chemistry, facilities considered “the most perfect” in America. Although several of his proposed reforms did not materialize, the school added a chair in English literature, expanded the administration, achieved better disciplinary control over students, and instituted an emphasis on grammar and composition during the freshman and junior years.
Despite his successes, Barnard also faced a stream of problems, including disputes with professors and lack of funds for a respectable library. In 1861, when the Civil War erupted, Barnard resigned. Even though he owned slaves, Barnard never accepted the legitimacy of slavery and opposed secession. In December 1861 he moved back to the Northeast, and in May 1864 Barnard accepted the presidency of the small Columbia College (now Columbia University) and shaped it into a first-rate university. While in New York, he helped found the National Academy of Sciences and championed coeducation. Barnard remained at Columbia until his death in 1889, at which time the University of Mississippi faculty paid him tribute: “We hear of his death with regretful sorrow, recognizing the fact that the University of Mississippi has lost a friend, the cause of education, a strong support, and science, a vigorous advocate.”
- “Autobiographical Sketch of Dr. F. A. P. Barnard,” PMHS (1912)
- Frederick A. P. Barnard, Letter to the Honorable Board of Trustees of the University of Mississippi (1858)
- William J. Chute, Damn Yankee! The First Career of Frederick A. P. Barnard (1978)
- John Fulton, Memoirs of Frederick A. P. Barnard (1896)
- John Wesley Johnson, “Sketches of Judge A. B. Longstreet and Dr. F. A. P. Barnard” Publication of the Mississippi Historical Society, 12 (1912)
- Robert Mellown and Gene Byrd, Alabama Heritage (Spring 2000)
- Ronald L. Numbers and Janet S. Numbers, Journal of Southern History (May 1982)
- David G. Sansing, The University of Mississippi: A Sesquicentennial History (1998)