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Chancellor William P. Tolley Papers

A description of his papers at the Syracuse University Archives


Creator: Tolley, William Pearson, 1900-1996.
Title: Chancellor William P. Tolley Papers
Dates: 1918-1993
Size: 212 boxes and 15 wrapped packages (144 linear feet)
Abstract: THIS COLLECTION IS CURRENTLY CLOSED FOR PROCESSING. The William P. Tolley Papers contain correspondence, speeches, photographs, and other materials related to his time as a student and Chancellor of Syracuse University.
Language: English
Repository: University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Ave., Suite 600
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010



William Pearson Tolley was born in Honesdale, Pennsylvania in 1900 to Adolphus and Emma Tolley and grew up in Binghamton, New York. A student of many talents, Tolley participated in debate and public speaking clubs. He graduated as valedictorian of his high school class in 1918. Tolley attended Syracuse University from 1918 to 1922 and was heavily involved in extracurricular activities, including Glee Club, University Choir, Tanus Literary Society, Debate Union, and Senior Council. Tolley was also a saxophonist and a member of the “Synful Syncopators” jazz band. In the fall following his graduation from Syracuse, Tolley entered Drew Theological Seminary in New Jersey and took classes at Columbia University and Syracuse University. In 1924, he earned a Master of Philosophy degree and was ordained a deacon. In 1925, he married Ruth Canfield, with whom he had three children. The same year, he obtained a Master of Divinity degree from Drew University and went on to earn master's and doctoral degrees at Columbia in 1927 and 1930.

Portrait of William P. Tolley, 1942

While serving as the first dean of Brothers College at Drew University, thirty-year-old Tolley was elected president of Allegheny College and became the youngest college president in the country. It was at Allegheny College that he developed a reputation for revitalizing colleges in financial trouble. He lifted the college out of debt, secured a large endowment, and made changes to the curriculum. For this reason, the Syracuse University Board of Trustees' nominating committee saw Tolley as an excellent candidate to replace Chancellor William Pratt Graham, who had stepped down in the midst of World War II and the resulting decline in college enrollment.

On November 14, 1942, Tolley was inaugurated seventh Chancellor of Syracuse University, the second alumnus to serve in that capacity. Much of the first decade of Tolley's tenure was dedicated to adapting the University to meet the needs of students in the military and returning veterans. Many citizens of Syracuse criticized some of Tolley’s early acts as Chancellor during these wartime years. For example, he accepted sixty-five Japanese-American students who were released from internment camps to attend Syracuse University on scholarships from religious organizations. While the University's previous chancellor refused to consider adopting cadet training programs, Tolley believed that the University "could not survive without students, and that meant boys in uniform." Female students were also called to train for war service at the University, enlisting in the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps and Cadet Nurse Corps. By the end of the war, 18,000 Syracuse University students and alumni served in the armed forces, both at home and abroad.

As the war came to an end, Syracuse University experienced an influx of enrollment of veterans. This "GI Bulge" was due to the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, or the GI Bill. Accommodating these students included creating new programs and acquiring new housing. The University promised programs that would address individual needs of veterans, whether they wished to complete job training, their high school diploma, or an advanced degree.

In 1961, Tolley remarked that Syracuse University was “on the threshold of greatness,” and announced the “Syracuse Plan.” This plan sought to raise $76 million by the University's centennial in order to expand the physical size of the University more than any other time in its history. As a result of funds raised as part of this campaign, Tolley oversaw the building of the Newhouse Complex, Ernest Stevenson Bird Library, Grant Auditorium, and Manley Fieldhouse. Booth Hall and Lawrinson Dorm were also constructed during this time.

As the University expanded physically, the Tolley administration faced new challenges. Protests by students and faculty were common during the Vietnam War period, and Syracuse University was no exception. While acknowledging the students' right to protest, Chancellor Tolley viewed many of these demonstrations negatively, believing they represented the interests of only a handful of students. On May 13, 1964, the Daily Orange published a photograph of Tolley “in the act of striking” a student protester with his cane. Mere months after Tolley’s retirement, the University would see the largest protest in its history, the 1970 Student Strike.

Tolley retired in 1969 after nearly thirty years of service to Syracuse University. He died in Syracuse in 1996.

Note: Much of the material in this biographical note was drawn from Syracuse University: The Tolley Years, 1942-1969 by John Robert Greene (1996).

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Scope and Content Note


The Chancellor William P. Tolley Papers contain materials related to his time as a student and Chancellor of Syracuse University. Materials include correspondence, office files, and annotated drafts of speeches and lectures. Of note is a transcript of remarks Tolley delivered at the funeral of former Chancellor Charles W. Flint in 1964.

Also included are awards and citations given to Tolley as a student and as Chancellor, including certificates from Boar’s Head Dramatic Society, Syracuse University's Department of Choral Music and The Syracuse Herald-Journal. Additionally, there are several academic robes, hoods, and caps worn by Tolley.

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Access Restrictions


Records of the Office of the Chancellor are restricted for 50 years from date of creation.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from the Syracuse University Archives and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Related Material

Several photographs were removed from this collection and placed in the Photograph Collection and William P. Tolley's portrait files at the Syracuse University Archives.

The Archives holds an extensive clipping file on Tolley as well as several portrait files and the Chancellor William P. Tolley Reference Collection. The Archives' Memorabilia Reference Collection features items related to Chancellor Tolley, including a bathrobe covered with buttons that he wore to reunions and pep rallies.

In 1997, the Archives mounted an exhibition honoring the students that attended Syracuse University under the GI Bill. An online version of the exhibition can be found on the Archives' website. Additionally, Tolley is featured on the "Chancellors of Syracuse University" page on the Archives' website.

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Selected Search Terms


Tolley, William Pearson, 1900-1996.
Allegheny College (Meadville, Pa.).
Syracuse University.


Syracuse University -- Chancellors.
College students.
Servicemen's readjustment act of 1944.
Syracuse University -- History.
College administrators.
Higher education.

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Chancellor William, P. Tolley Papers,
University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

The materials included in the Chancellor William P. Tolley Papers were acquired by Syracuse University from 1959 to 2006. Most of the materials, including office files, were placed in the Archives in the period following Tolley's retirement. In 1993, materials from the Tolley Room at Syracuse University's Bird Library were placed in the Archives. Upon Tolley's death in 1996, his daughter Katryn Fritz Tolley donated additional materials from his office.

Processing Information

This collection has not been processed.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: Katie Swingly
Date: 2015
Revision history:

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