Third President of the University of Iowa, 1862 — 1867

Silas TottenThe first university president to be selected from the institution’s faculty, Oliver M. Spencer assumed duties at a time of great uncertainty, with the dual challenges of the Civil War and dire economic conditions.

An Ohio native, Spencer graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University and became a minister in the Methodist Episcopal church, later supervising seminaries in Ohio and Indiana. In 1860, at age 31, he joined the faculty of the University of Iowa as professor of ancient and modern languages. He also served throughout the administration of his predecessor, Silas Totten, as secretary to the faculty.

While president, Spencer encouraged stronger centralization of the university’s organization. The school’s financial fortunes improved and, as the Civil War came to a close, attendance and faculty appointments finally began to stabilize. In 1867, he resigned to accept appointment as U.S. consul to Genoa, Italy, a position he held until 1878. That year, he was promoted to the position of U.S. consul general at Melbourne, Australia. During this time, he also wrote for the Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Monthly.

Spencer was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1829, and died in Melbourne on July 27, 1895, at age 66.