McClenahan, Howard

McClenahan, Howard (1872-1935), second dean of the College, was brought up in a family of thirteen children -- an apt training-ground for the strict disciplinarian his students remember him to be. He completed the electrical engineering course at Princeton in 1895, earned a master's degree in science and became instructor in physics in 1897, and was made a professor in 1906.

He was a good teacher and an able administrator. In his younger days he was principal assistant to Cyrus Fogg Brackett, Professor of Physics and founder of the Department of Electrical Engineering. Later he was largely responsible for the design and construction of Palmer Physical Laboratory and for the choice and organization of its equipment. He had strong convictions and a dry sense of humor. Once while conducting demonstrations in a physics lecture, his foot upset a pail near the end of the demonstration table with a clatter. A voice from the rear of the Lecture hall called out ``O sir, you've kicked the bucket.'' ``No,'' said McClenahan coolly, ``I merely turned a little pale.''

As dean of the College from 1912 to 1925, McClenahan proved a stern disciplinarian whose summons to appear in his office ``without fail'' aroused appropriate apprehension in the heart of the recipient. His image as the rock of rectitude was regarded as fair game by the seniors in their annual Faculty Song. They poked fun at his baldness (``His polish well becomes a Dean,/As does the polish of his bean.''), derided his efforts to enforce Prohibition, called him hard-hearted for enforcing compulsory chapel attendance and, in 1922, when it fell to his lot to have to declare three star athletes ineligible, outrageously suggested that Dean ``Mac'' had been invited by the authorities at New Haven to have his picture taken on the Yale fence.

In the spring of 1925, when McClenahan resigned to accept appointment as secretary of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, the ragging in the Faculty Song was noticeably absent, as the Class of 1925 showed the respect that lay beneath the jibes and protests of other years:

``Here's to Dean McClenahan;
He's fair and square with every man.
Our class gives him a friendly grip,
And honorary membership.''

During the decade that he directed the affairs of the Institute, McClenahan's most significant contribution was the planning, development, and equipping of an industrial and technical museum, which, at his suggestion, the Institute erected as a memorial to Benjamin Franklin. Both as director of the Museum and secretary of the Institute, he advanced the cause of scientific progress by encouraging and broadening popular interest in the mechanical and electrical arts.

Besides receiving a number of honorary degrees and appointments as an honorary member of the Royal Institution of Great Britain and of the Board of Directors of the Deutsches Museum of Munich, McClenahan was also a trustee of Lincoln University, an associate trustee for graduate study of the University of Pennsylvania, and a member of the American Philosophical Society. In a memorial written for the Society, McClenahan's Princeton colleague Dean William F. Magie paid tribute to his ``genial and winning manners'' and to his ability ``to plan on a large scale'' and, at the same time, ``to attend to the many details of a complex organization.'' The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin observed that, although he had devoted over a quarter of a century of his life to Princeton, McClenahan had left his chief monument in Philadelphia: ``In building to the memory of Benjamin Franklin he wrote his own epitaph.''

From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

Go to Search A Princeton Companion