Ralph Pierce (1827-1908)

Ralph Pierce was born in Franklin County, New York at the town of Moira on April 11, 1827. He was the son of Methodist preacher Hiram Pierce and his wife, Sarah Pierce. The younger Pierce prepared for college locally and enrolled at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in 1848. While at the college, he was elected to the Belles Lettres Society. He graduated with his class in the summer of 1852 and immediately took up a teaching position as the head of the Cassville Academy in Blair County, Pennsylvania.

In 1854, Pierce began a short term as principal of Metropolitan Institute in Washington D.C. He then took up duties as a Methodist pastor under the Black River Conference, first in his home town of Moira and then in Torrington, New York. In 1856, the founder of Methodist activities in India, William Butler, invited Pierce to join the effort. Pierce sailed in early 1857 and spent more than six years on the sub-continent, largely in Lucknow and Bareilly in north central India. His early years of service must have been adventurous, since the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857 and 1858 was largely centered in that region.

Ill health forced Pierce to return to the United States, where he preached in New York again before joining the Eastern Tennessee Conference in 1869. During his residency in that state, he served as the president of the Holston Seminary in New Market for sixteen years and as presiding elder for the Chattanooga Conference from 1880 to 1884. Pierce joined the Central Tennessee Conference in 1885. He was presiding elder of the Nashville District and, for two years, served as the president of Tullahoma College in Coffee County. Returning poor health then forced Pierce to the mountains of Georgia as the head of the Ellijay Seminary. In 1895, he returned to Tennessee and took up the position of president and agent of Bloomington College in Bloomington. His declining health slowed his activities, and Pierce became a part-time traveling fund-raiser for the colleges and schools of the Central Conference. He also served as president of the board of his local Nashville church. Finally, in 1906, Pierce moved to Washington D.C. to live near his sons.

Pierce married Marilla Gorham Peck, the daughter of Dickinson's then president, Jesse Truesdell Peck, soon after his graduation in June 1852. The couple had two children before Marilla died during their service in India in November 1862. Pierce was remarried to a fellow mission worker, Sarah F. White, in September 1863. There were six children from this marriage. Ralph Pierce died at his home on "P" Street in Washington D.C. on the afternoon of March 17, 1908. He was eighty years old.

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Dickinson College Archives
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