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Cowling, Donald J. (Donald John) (1880-1965) | Carleton College Archives

Name: Cowling, Donald J. (Donald John) (1880-1965)

Historical Note:

Donald J. Cowling was involved in an extraordinary number of extracurricular activities both during and after his presidential years at Carleton.  Cowling came to Carleton in 1909 to become the third president.  During and after his 36 year term, he served the Congregational Church and its concerns, gave numerous years of work to educational councils and institutions, to war-related associations during both world wars, and to many other organiztions, including the United Nations Association.  Cowling's involvement in some of these organizations grew out of his work as president.  Cowling's connections with the Congregational Church, for example, were a result of both personal interest and the fact that the college had historical ties to the Church.

Cowling's work with the Congregational Church started around 1912, when he was elected president of the Minnesota Congregational Home Missionary Society, and president of the board of directors of the Minnesota Congregational Conference.  By 1913, Cowling was involved on the national level of Congregationalism as a member of the Commissions on Missions, for which he chaired the sub-committee on organization of the church's home societies.  Not long afterwards, Cowling became chairman of the Tercentenary Commission, and by 1920 Cowling was elected chairman of the Commission on Missions.  Cowling's major accomplishments at this level were his successful reorganization of the home societies, and the establishment of the Pilgrim Memorial Fund.

In 1918, in addition to his Congregational duties, Cowling became president of both the Association of American Colleges and the American Council on Education.  During his presidential years, Cowling also participated in numerous other educational associations; he served as chairman of the board of advisors to the National Student Federation for ten years, for example, and served on several committees and commissions of the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.  Cowling kept busy during the war years with organizations such as the United States Office of War Information, for which he was one of a group of educational advisors, and the United Service Organization, for which he chaired the Minnesota State Campaign Committee.

Cowling's gift for managing fund-raising campaigns kept him busy even after his "retirement" from Carleton.  Immediately after stepping down from the presidency, Cowling beame chairman of the Committee of Founders of the Mayo Memorial Commission and took charge of the campaign to raise $1,000,000 for the medical center at the University of Minnesota.  Ten years later Cowling led the campaign to raise funds for the University of Minnesota Masonic cancer hospital.  Cowling remained active in fundraising for the University of Minnesota and other organizations such as the Menninger Foundation almost to his death, at age 85, in 1965.  For more information on Cowling's life and work see Jarchow, Donald J. Cowling.

The Donald J. Cowling papers cover the years 1909-1966, from shortly before Cowling took office as President of Carleton, through the presidency years, and until a year after his death in 1965.  They document Cowling's extracurricular interests and activities in the state and national Congregational Church, in educational organizations and concerns at both levels, in national associations related to the two world wars, and in numerous fund-raising campaigns.  They also contain much evidence of his wide popularity as a speaker:  many transcripts of speeches are included here.

Cowling's involvement in the Congregational Church during his presidency is by far the best documented; this material accounts for more than half of the collection.  His post-presidential work with the Church is not covered, however.  Not all of Cowling's educational associations are represented, either,--papers about his work with the Association of American Colleges, National Student Federation, and the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, in particular, are missing.  Cowling's general correspondence is also incomplete.  (Though see Presidential Papers, 1909-62, for more of Cowling's correspondence concerning extr-curricular affairs.)

The papers include correspondence, reports, minutes, hand-written notes, newspaper clippings, photocopies of newspaper and magazine articles, and numerous manuals, bulletins, and leaflets.  Outside of some folder consolidation and reorganization, the original order and folder titles have been preserved.  Most of these materials cover Cowling's presidential years.  Some of the post-presidential material has been collected and added from outside sources (see correspondence description).

The Cowling papers are organized into eight series:  Biographical, Speeches, Congregational Church, Correspondence, Education, Military Training and Issues, United Nations Association, and Miscellaneous.

The Biographical series in this collection is supplemented by other material, including newspaper clippings, in the Biographical Vertical File.  The Speeches series is incomplete, and problematic because so many of the manuscripts are undated.  However, the lists of invitations and the correspondence about the speeches may be helpful in dating particular addresses.

The Congregational series, by far the largest, has three subseries:  National Council, Commission on Missions, and State of Minnesota.  The National Council subseries consists of minutes for meetings of the Corporation of the National Council, a few letters, and many manuals, pamphlets, and reports on various Congregational concerns--missions, finances, etc.

The Commission on Missions subseries covers primarily the Commission's desire to reorganize the home societies; there is less information on its work with the Pilgrim Memorial Fund and the Tercentenary Commission.  The correspondence, especially the correspondence with Herring, the secretary of the National Council and the Commission on Missions, whom Cowling came to know very well, is particularly informative about the problems and concerns of the reorganization process.  The correspondence with people that Cowling knew well also occasionally applies to Carleton and its connections with the Church -- often either about missions or about getting a Sunday speaker.  Most of the correspondence is with other members of the commission, National Council members, or Congregational Church pastors -- requesting feedback to Cowling's preliminary reports or proposals for reorganization.  The section on the Commission's meetings, especially the Boston-New York meetings of 1914 and the 1914 Chicago meeting folders, contain many of Cowling's hand-written notes that seem to be from the meeintgs or personal interviews and conversations giving both his own and other's viewpoints on a variety of subjects.  Apparently, this was in part data gathering for a preliminary report on the coordination of the home societies.  These notes are hurriedly written with abbreviations and some short-hand, and as a result, are very difficult to read.

The state of Minnesota subseries, which consists entirely of correspondence and some budget reports, covers not only state concerns, such as finances, starting new churches, and finding new pastors for old churches, but also the reorganization plans of the Commission on Missions for national and state missionary societies.  Other state issues include the Windom Institute--whether the church could support it as a college--and the controversial Dr. Merrill and his job as general superintendent of the Congregational Home Missionary Society (see correspondence with Heermance and Herrick).

The General Correspondence series contains two sets of original correspondence and three sets of photo-copied correspondence (between Cowling and William C. Menninger, Felix Morley, and University of Minnesota Medical School) that M. E. Jarchow gathered together from outside sources for his research of the book Donald J. Cowling.  Of the "original" correspondence, the letters from Putnam Drew, who was a Carleton student in 1876, not only try to persuade Cowling to establish a teaching position in publicity and promotion, but also mention the James gang incident and stories about the natural history collection of Williams Hall.  The correspondence with Morgan, who was a member of the Kellogg, Morgan, Chase, Carter, and Headly firm, concerns a number of people, including Frank Kellogg, but is incomplete.  The Other Positions folder (Miscellaneous), which include job offers from many prestigious schools, illuminates just how well-respected Cowling became.  The post-presidential copies of correspondence with Morley, who was President of Haverford during World War II, covers primarily Cowling's interest and involvement in Morley's two books.  The last two sets of correspondence, with Menninger and the University of Minnesota, cover Cowling's fundraising activities for the Menninger Foundation and medical facilities at the University of Minnesota.

The Education series contains much less correspondence than the other series.  The first subseries, Emergency and American Councils on Education, contains many reports, memos, and minutes from meetings in addition to correspondence that discuss military training for students, relations with other government and volunteer agencies, students exchanges with Great Britain and France, the possibility of creating a national Department of Education, etc.  The second subseries contains some correspondence and numerous copies of statements, editorials, newspaper and magazine articles on the subject of federal aid to education.  Cowling was strongly opposed to such aid and urged people to write to their congressman, or appear at the House hearings.

The series on War-Related Associations contains in its first subseries some correspondence between Cowling and the consultant for the Office of War Information pertaining to public information about World War II, and about post-war concerns.  The second subseries, United Service Organizations, contains memos and correspondence about the National War fund, some correspondence on the USO Center in Northfield, a map of Minnesota with the USO divisions, two USO bulletins, and some other printed USO material.

The United Nations series contains a small amount of correspondence about the Minnesota United Nations Committee undertaking the program of the United Nations Information Office, and about Cowling becoming the spokesman for the United Nations Association.

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