Sandburg's Hometown

June 24, 2013

Site of 1958 Lincoln-Douglas Debate 1858.  Knox College, Old Main (Galesburg, IL)

John H. Finley

By Barbara Schock 

John H. Finley was 29 years old when he became president of Knox College in 1892. He had graduated from Knox in 1887 and entered post-graduate work at Johns Hopkins University. He also engaged in social work in New York City before returning to Knox as president.

Finley was born in rural LaSalle County, Illinois, October 19, 1863. His parents had come from the east to settle there on a farm. John and his younger brother, Robert, attended the local school and expressed an interest in becoming journalists.

John studied Latin with a local clergyman because he understood it would be important in his further education and it was a relief from the hard work of farming. After he graduated from Ottawa High School, Finley enrolled at Knox College. He ran out of money before completing his freshman year.

Finley taught at his former country school for a year to make enough money to continue his education. He started a night school for local immigrants who wanted to improve their education. It was a very successful endeavor.

While attending Knox, Finley boarded in the home of Albert J. Perry, a local banker, and did chores for him. He also worked at the Colville Brothers printing and binding plant. He learned to set type and proofread. These skills would serve him well in later years.

During his tenure as President of Knox College, Finley conceived the idea of emphasizing the fact that Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas had debated in 1858 on a platform constructed on the east side of Old Main. The building is the only one still standing where the series of seven debates had occurred.

On October 7, 1896, a joint celebration was held in Galesburg. The members of the Grand Army of the Republic dedicated the Soldiers’ Monument which still stands on the northeast corner of Hope Cemetery.

In the afternoon, two plaques were dedicated on the north side of Old Main depicting the debaters in bas relief with quotations from their remarks. Robert Todd Lincoln and Chauncey DePew were among the speakers of the day. Thousands of people came to Galesburg for the event.

John Finley left Knox in 1899 to become a professor at Princeton University. Several years later he became president of the City College of New York. In 1913, he was appointed Commissioner of Education for the State of New York. During World War I he served a the head of the Red Cross Commission in Palestine.

He was appointed Associate Editor of the New York Times in 1921. Finley became Editor-in-Chief in 1937 and was named Editor Emeritus in November, 1938. John H. Finley died March 7, 1940 in New York City.

Finley met his wife, Martha Boyden, while both were students at Knox College. She was born very near to his family’s farm. They were married a few days after he became president of the institution.

Many years later, Carl Sandburg wrote that Martha Finley had recalled the milk wagon on which Sandburg worked. The wagon rattled by their house early each morning. It waked President Finley for his day’s work.

Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity
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