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J. Herman Wharton Papers

An inventory of his papers at the Syracuse University Archives


Creator: Wharton, John Herman, 1889-1921.
Title: J. Herman Wharton Papers
Dates: 1911 - 1921
Size: 1 box (0.5 linear feet)
Abstract: The J. Herman Wharton Papers contains photographs and writings related to his time at Syracuse University.
Language: English
Repository: University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Ave., Suite 600
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010


J. Herman WhartonJohn Herman Wharton (1889-1921) was a Syracuse University graduate, professor, and administrator who quickly established himself as a spirited young figure with ambitious ideas and the intellect to successfully implement them. He founded Syracuse University’s College of Business Administration and, despite few resources and almost no promotion, oversaw its swift growth into one of the University’s most successful programs. His burgeoning career came to a tragic end, however, when he was murdered in his office by a troubled University faculty member.

Before he was an influential member of the Syracuse University faculty, Wharton was an active member of the University’s student community. He enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts and quickly involved himself in many school associations and activities, including serving as the business manager of the yearbook board, editing the first Syracuse Songbook, founding the Southern Club, participating in the Prohibition Club, serving on the Executive Committee of the English Club, and being elected class president. He received his undergraduate degree in 1911, and he continued his education at the University to earn a Master of Arts degree in 1913.

Though his education was in the liberal arts, Wharton’s academic skills and intellectual pursuits were quite varied, which was reflected in the positions he held. His first entry into the field of education was as an instructor at Syracuse University’s College of Engineering. He later became a professor in both the College of Applied Sciences and the College of Liberal Arts. Within the College of Liberal Arts, he worked his way up to become the head of the English Department.

In 1918, Wharton, who had made quite a name for himself, approached Chancellor Day with a proposal to create a new college for business administration. Though Day greatly respected Wharton, he was forced to deny the proposal due to lack of resources. Wharton later returned to make the proposal a second time, and Day turned him down a second time. Undeterred, Wharton returned once more, saying that the lack of resources would not be an issue, as he only needed a room and a desk. Day finally approved what would be termed something of an experiment, and entrusted Wharton, who would serve as the dean, to create something worthy of the University without the benefit of much University support.

Day’s trust proved well founded, as Wharton’s newly formed College of Business Administration saw immediate success. In August of 1919, less than six weeks before classes started, the press made its first mention of the new college. Though there would be little more promotion in the weeks to come, 350 students enrolled in the College of Business Administration for its first semester. By the second semester, enrollment grew to 459. In a span of just six months, the college had become the University’s third most popular degree-conferring department by enrollment. This success was credited to Wharton and others approaching local professionals for consultations about the programs offered and assistance in securing needed materials. Soon there were 900 students attending the college, prompting Day to tell Wharton that they did not have the means to accommodate many more. With a proper building and endowment, Day commented, Wharton would have continued to expand the college he founded.

Wharton, however, would not live to have the opportunity. On April 2, 1921, Wharton met with Holmes Beckwith, an instructor from the College of Business Administration, in his office. The two had met previously to discuss the University's request for Beckwith’s resignation at the end of the academic year. Wharton had offered to help Beckwith try to find a new position elsewhere but felt that he should not continue at Syracuse University, citing the improper way in which he conducted his classes. This was not the first institution to disapprove of Beckwith’s job performance. He had been fired from nine positions in the previous ten years. Upon entering Dean Wharton’s office, Beckwith shot and killed Wharton and himself. Letters found on Beckwith revealed the murder-suicide to be the action of a troubled and embittered man who felt perpetually wronged by the “injustice and prejudice” of the world.

At the time of Wharton’s death, the College of Business administration had grown to include a faculty of 30 people and offered four distinct programs. Faculty, students, friends, and prominent local figures who spoke in remembrance of Wharton described him as bright, dedicated, and kind.

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Scope and Content Note

Spanning 1911 to 1921, the J. Herman Wharton Papers contains his photographs and writings, as well as some reflections on his untimely death.

Wharton's photograph album contains photos from 1911 to 1918. The photographs are of Wharton and his family, Syracuse University, the city of Syracuse, local events, and surrounding scenery. Some specific scenes photographed include the Snow Rush and Salt Rush on Crouse Hill, crew competitions, football games, and the New York State Fair. Other photographs in this collection include a portrait of Wharton and a mounted photograph of the Onondagan Board (yearbook staff) of 1909.

Some of Wharton's academic and professional work is also included in this collection. His master thesis, titled "The Nature Element in 'Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight,'" contains notes from those reviewing his work. There is also a speech he gave to local business owners as the Dean of the College of Business Administration titled "The Business Problems of the Day."

This collection also contains two editorials from local newspapers that comment on Wharton's character and the tragedy of his death.

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Access Restrictions

Please note that the collection is housed off-site, and advance notice is required to allow time to have the materials brought to the Reading Room on campus.

Use Restrictions

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

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Related Material

The Syracuse University Archives holds clipping files for J. Herman Wharton and the College of Business Administration. The Archives also holds a portrait file for Wharton and an oversize clipping file containing a newspaper reporting on his death.

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Selected Search Terms


Wharton, John Herman, 1889-1921.
Syracuse University -- Alumni and alumnae.
Syracuse University -- History.
Syracuse University.
Syracuse University. -- College of Business Administration.


Business education.
Campus violence.
College teachers.
Higher education.

Types of material

Photograph albums.
Writings (documents)

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

J. Herman Wharton Papers,
University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

This collection was donated by Barbara S. Rivette in March of 2004.

Processing Information

Items were placed in acid-free folders and box. Photographs were placed in protective mylar sleeves.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: Sean Molinaro
Date: 2012
Revision history:

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The items are arranged in alphabetical order.

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Box 1 "The Business Problems of the Day" (Speech) February 11, 1921
Box 1 Newspaper Editorials on Wharton's Death April 1921
Box 1 Photograph Album 1911-1918
Box 1 Photograph - Onondagan Board 1909
Box 1 Photograph - Portrait of J. Herman Wharton ca. 1911
Box 1 Thesis for Master of Arts May 1, 1913

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