Fred Pierce Corson (1896-1985)

Portrait of Fred Pierce Corson

Fred Pierce Corson was born to Mary Payne and Jeremiah Corson, a glass manufacturer, on April 11, 1896 in Millville, New Jersey. He graduated from Millville High School in 1913 and enrolled in Dickinson College. While at Dickinson he was a member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity as well as Omicron Delta Kappa, Tau Kappa Alpha and Tau Delta Kappa. He graduated with an A.B. degree in 1917 cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. His nickname at the College, spawned by his seriousness, was, ironically in light of later events, "the Bishop."

He went on to study at Drew Theological Seminary and earned a bachelor's degree of divinity in 1920. He also received a Master of Arts degree from Dickinson College in 1920. Following his graduation from Drew, Corson entered the New York East Annual Conference of the Methodist church, in which he had been ordained in 1919, and took on pastorates on Long Island, New York , New Haven, Connecticut and Brooklyn, New York. He was elected as the district superintendent in the New York East Methodist Conference in 1929 and received an honorary doctorate of divinity in 1933 from Syracuse University.

On June 8, 1934, Corson was elected as the twentieth president of Dickinson College though he had no previous experience in academic administration. Because of this, he often relied on the president of the Board of Trustees, Boyd Lee Spahr but also operated in a firm and hierarchical fashion in relations with the faculty. Throughout his decade of presidency, in often difficult times, he gained the respect of the Board for his careful financial stewardship. He also reintroduced some of the reforms in services and curriculum his predecessor, Karl Waugh, had proposed. In 1936, he established a student health services program for all students. He also attempted to modernize the curriculum of the College with the "Committee of Eight" charged with making recommendations. He reinstated the policy of departmental honors with the requirement of a thesis and on March 31, 1941, the Board approved his requirement of senior comprehensive exams in a student's major field. During the Second World War, Corson worked hard to maintain the enrollment numbers and was also instrumental in Dickinson being chosen in 1943 as the site of a United States Army Air Force Aircrew Training Program, a move which ensured the fiscal health of the institution during the crisis.

In 1944, in a sudden move which angered some and reopened old wounds concerning the College's relationship with the Methodist denomination, President Corson chose to resign from the College to take up the appointment as Bishop of the United Methodist Church's Philadelphia area. He held this position until his retirement in 1968, during a sterling career as a religious leader which saw him become president of the Methodist Council of Bishops for the United States, and then president of the World Methodist Council in 1961. In 1962, he sat on the ecumenical council as part of the Vatican Council to repair Protestant relations with the Catholic Church and held private audience several times with popes. He was named Kappa Sigma fraternity's man of the year in 1951, the first time the honor was bestowed upon a religious leader. Throughout his lifetime, Corson received honorary degrees from fifty different institutions. He also remained a trustee of Dickinson College as well as other institutions.

Fred P. Corson must be remembered as a president who faced and largely defeated heavy pressures on the College born of Depression and World War. He had married in 1922, Frances Blount Beamon of Charlotte, North Carolina with whom he had one son, Hampton Payne Corson, who would graduate from Dickinson in 1949 and go on to become a physician. On February 16, 1985, while spending the winter in St. Petersburg, Florida, Fred Corson died at the age of 88 of a cerebral hemorrhage suffered following a fall.

Author of Post: 
Dickinson College Archives
Date of Post: 
Alumnus/Alumna Class Year: 
President - Years of Service: 
Honorary Degree - Year: 
1931; 1944