John Huston Finley, 1863-1940

John Huston FinleyJohn Huston Finley was born October 19, 1863 in Grand Ridge, Illinois, the eldest son of James Gibson Finely and Lydia Margaret McCombs. His family were early settlers on the prairies. His father was the great-grandson of the Rev. James Finley, the first minister, it is believed, to settle permanently beyond the Allegheny Mountains in Western Pennsylvania, and brother of Dr. Samuel Finley, the fifth president of Princeton College from 1761-1766. Mr. Finley’s brother, Robert was associate editor of the Review of Reviews, and died in his early thirties; his sister, Bertha, died a missionary in Korea.

Finley was educated in the public schools of Grand Ridge, the Ottawa High School, in Illinois, and Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. He received the degrees of A.B. and A.M. 1887, He was valedictorian of his class at Knox and won the interstate prize in oratory in 1887. He was made an honorary member of the Northwestern Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Upon graduation from Knox, he did his post-graduate work at the Johns Hopkins University.

In 1892 he returned to Knox College to become President of the College, and at the time he was the youngest college president in the country. He held that position until 1899, and during his seven years of leadership, Knox College was transformed from a college out on the prairie to an institution with a national reputation. He encouraged the development of Founders’ Day and initiated the Lincoln-Douglas Debate celebrations which brought dignitaries and put a spotlight on the campus. He also made significant changes, modernizing the curriculum and campus social life.

After leaving Know in 1899 he went to New York to pursue a publishing career. After a year in the editorial departments of Harpers and McClure, Finley was invitated to take a newly established chair at Princeton University. He was Professor of Polities at Princeton from 1900-1903, and President of the College of the City of New York from 1903 until 1913, when he was appointed President of the University of the State of New York and State of New York Commissioner of Education. He was also Harvard University exchange lecturer on the Hyde Foundation at the Sorbonne, Paris, 1910-1911.

During WW I he served with the Red Cross as the head of operations in Palestine and the Middle East. In his later career he assumed various editorial positions, including associate editor, at the New York Times from 1921 to 1940.

John H. Finley’s printed works include various titles in the classics including an essay on Thucydides that was republished nearly thirty years after his death. Also among his works are The French in the Heart of America, C. Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1915 and The Coming of the Scot, C. Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1940.