Cornelius William Prettyman (1872-1946)

Portrait of Cornelius William Prettyman

Cornelius Prettyman was born on July 21, 1872 in Leipsic, Delaware, the son of the Reverend Cornelius Witbank Prettyman of the Dickinson class of 1872 and his wife Emma Elizabeth. He prepared at the Newark Academy in his home state and then entered Delaware College in 1886. That same year he transferred to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he excelled in the modern languages, played tennis, edited for the Dickinsonian, joined the Union Philosophical Society, and pledged with Beta Theta Pi fraternity, of which his father had been a charter member. He graduated in 1891 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. His brother, Virgil, graduated the following year.

After graduation Prettyman continued his studies and began a career of teaching. He taught for brief periods at the Mt. Holly Academy in New Jersey, and at the Davis Military Academy in Winston, North Carolina. In 1896, he became a fellow in German at Johns Hopkins University and in 1897 he became an assistant professor of German at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his doctoral degree in 1899. At both these institutions, he studied under Professor Marion Dexter Learned, class of 1880. After two years in Philadelphia, he returned to his alma mater, first as an adjunct and then full professor of German. In 1910 he studied at the University of Berlin and published a book on the higher education of women in Germany. Back in Carlisle, he was named in 1917 as dean of the senior class and in 1938 became the head of the department of modern languages. He also served on President Fred Corson's "Committee of Eight" charged with drafting reforms to the curriculum.

After Corson's resignation in 1944, Prettyman was elected as president of the College. He was a very popular choice, especially with students, for whom he relaxed the stricter rules on behavior such as smoking. Unfortunately, on March 13, 1945, the president suffered a severe heart attack that left him an invalid. He continued to work from the President's House before he was finally forced to resign on June 7, 1946 due to his increasing weakness. On August 9, 1946, Cornelius Prettyman died in his Carlisle home. He was seventy-four years old.

Few instructors in the history of the College were more highly respected than Prettyman; as Bishop Corson noted at his funeral, students "took German to get Prettyman." He was twice married. Clara Bains became his wife on June 10, 1892, and remained so until her death in 1908. He met his second wife, Charlotte Hopfe, during his studies in Berlin in 1910 and returned to marry her there in 1912. She survived him and died in Germany in 1971, aged 80. The Prettymans had no children.

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Dickinson College Archives
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