John C. Young
Centre College President (1830-1857)
John Clarke Young was born on August 12, 1803, in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, the youngest child of Rev. John and Mary Clarke Young. As a boy, Young was educated by his grandfather, George Clark, and later studied for the ministry under John Borland at a classical academy in New York City. Afterward, he attended Columbia College for three years, but transferred to Dickinson, graduating in 1823 with honors. Upon graduation, Young returned to New York City, where he taught algebra for one year at his former school, and assisted the professor of mathematics at Columbia for the next. Young tutored at Princeton University for the next three years while pursuing theological studies at the school's seminary, graduating in 1828.
The year 1828 also saw Young move to Lexington, Kentucky, at the invitation of John C. Breckinridge. There he became the pastor of McChord Presbyterian Church, founded by James McChord , Centre's first president. Following the resignation of Gideon Blackburn in 1830, the trustees of Centre College traveled east to find a replacement. There they spoke with Archibald Alexander at Princeton who advised them that "There is no man within my acquaintance better qualified for such a situation than John C. Young, who is already among you. It is a mistake to look out for old men if you can get young men who are qualified; the first must be going down, but the latter will be improving for a long time to come." The trustees followed Alexander's advice, and offered the presidency to Young.
Inaugurated in November, 1830, Young took office at the age of twenty-seven, and found a college still struggling to survive. In its eleven year existence, Centre had graduated only twenty-five students, and in 1830 had an enrollment of twenty-three. In addition, the school was also suffering financial difficulties, a constant strain for most colleges in that era. Under the administration of Young, however, the college grew in size, strength, wealth, and prestige. The faculty was increased, the endowment fund enlarged, and the academic standards raised.Young's first graduating class, in 1831, was composed of only two students, but his last, in 1857, had forty-seven. In that year, the college could boast of a enrollment of over 250 students, and an endowment in excess of $100,000.
Young had not fully relinquished his career as minister, and in 1834 accepted the pastorate of the Presbyterian Church in Danville. So popular was his ministry that, in 1852, the Second Presbyterian Church was organized in order to care for the students of Centre without overcrowding the parent church. Young twice served as moderator of the Presbyterian Synod of Kentucky, and, in 1853, as moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. Young was frequently a voice of moderation in the Presbyterian Church. He remained loyal to the Old-School Assembly in the New-School controversy, but deplored the violence that led to the division. An owner of slaves himself, Young twice freed groups of his own slaves. He publicly debated in favor of gradual emancipation of slaves, but opposed the radical demands of the abolitionists. On his own campus, the slavery question required all of Young's skills as a diplomat and administrator. Young, and most of the faculty, came from the North, while the bulk of Centre's students were from the South. Young was seen by most as unwilling to dictate opinion on the matter, allowing free expression of ideas, but that did not save him from criticism from both sides.
Young was married twice: first on November 3, 1829, to Frances Breckinridge, who died in 1837, and second, in 1839, to Cornelia Crittendon, daughter of John J. Crittendon. Of his ten children, one son, William C. Young, became president of Centre College from 1888 until 1896, and two daughters, Sarah and Eugenia, made generous gifts to the college in memory of their father and brother.
During his twenty-seven years as president, it was often said that "Centre College was John C. Young and John C. Young was Centre College." When Young died in office on June 23, 1857, Centre College lost one of its greatest presidents. His legacy was an institution secure in its place as one of the country's strong liberal arts colleges.
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