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After the failure of Twombly’s presidency, the regents turned to another Williams graduate, John Bascom. Bascom was born in Genoa, New York on May 1, 1827. He graduated from Williams College in 1849, then spent several years studying and working, finally graduating from Andover Theological Seminary in 1855. From that year until 1874 he was a professor of rhetoric and English literature at Williams.
On January 21, 1874, the regents elected Bascom president, and he took office with the beginning of the spring term on March 31. During Bascom’s thirteen years as president, the university became a solid academic institution. Bascom continued to teach during his presidency and was known as an excellent scholar and teacher. He believed that the university should exert a strong moral presence, and he taught a special course for seniors on the importance of using their education to improve society. His support of prohibition and his belief that the regents should not be involved in day-to-day operations of the university brought him into conflict with that group.
In December 1885 Bascom indicated that he might resign in June 1886 to become effective one year later. The regents took this as a formal resignation and began the search for a replacement, although Bascom did remain in office until June 1887. After leaving Wisconsin, Bascom returned to Williams where he taught sociology and political economy until his resignation in 1903.
He died in Williamstown, Massachusetts on October 2, 1911.