May 1, 2017
Old school: U-M in History
Joseph Whiting, left, and George Palmer Williams taught the incoming students of 1841. (Photos courtesy of the Department of Classical Studies and the Bentley Historical Library)
Joseph Whiting and George Palmer Williams taught the first entering class of the University of Michigan. Whiting was a Yale-educated Presbyterian minister tasked with teaching Latin and Greek. He had been with the university since 1838, when he was picked to lead one of its branch schools — essentially a high school — in Niles, Michigan. Williams was two years younger than Whiting but far more experienced in the classroom. He led the branch school in Pontiac and had taught at colleges in Ohio and Pennsylvania. In Ann Arbor, Williams would teach mathematics. The regents gave Williams and Whiting the freedom to set the academic course of the institution. Williams, nicknamed "Punky" by students, could not easily be angered, not even by student pranks. Later on, less than three weeks before graduation, Whiting — one of the first two teachers to greet the boys — passed away. Williams stayed on the faculty until his death 40 years later, at the age of 79. He was beloved to the point that students donated money to support him in his declining years.
— Adapted from "The First Freshmen" by Kim Clarke. To read more, go to heritage.umich.edu.