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Oren Burbank Cheney

The Reverend Oren Burbank Cheney was the founder and first president of Bates College. He was a Freewill Baptist minister, a teacher, and a former Maine state representative. In 1854 the Parsonfield Seminary, a school at which Cheney had been a student and a teacher, burned down. Seeing a need for a new, larger, and more centrally located school for his denomination, Cheney steered a bill through the Maine Legislature in 1855, creating a corporation for educational purposes called initially “Maine State Seminary.”

According to Bates history, the two existing Maine colleges, Bowdoin and Colby, were confident  they could offer all the higher education the state needed.  But Cheney persevered. He assembled a faculty of six dedicated to teaching the classics and moral philosophy  and in 1863 received the collegiate charter. In 1864 the Maine State Seminary became Bates College. The College consisted of Hathorn and Parker halls, and the student body numbered fewer than 100.

At the end of Cheney’s tenure, tuition was $36 a year, the library  amounted to 16,500 volumes, and the campus had expanded to 50 acres with six buildings. Bates was known for its nondiscriminatory liberal education, made available even to students of limited financial means, and for “doing great work for the state of Maine in educating teachers for its public schools.”


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