Santa Clara County
REV. ELI McCLISH, D.D.
Rev. Eli McClish, D.D., was born in Warren county, Ind., October 3, 1846. His father, James McClish, as the name implies, was of Scotch ancestry, and his mother, Elizabeth West, was of English stock. They were both natives of Ohio, but became acquainted and were married in Indiana, where their two children, Eli and Rachel, were born.
James McClish was a carpenter and builder, and in 1850, while constructing a sawmill in Illinois, was taken suddenly with a congestive chill and died the next day. The widow kept her children with her until 1854, when, after a year's suffering, she died of consumption. The two orphans, by a kind Providence, were taken into the home of their Grandfather West, and from it Rachel went forth as a wife, and now resides in Goodland, Ind., the mother of a large family. Eli went forth to be hired man, soldier of the Union, school teacher, college student, minister of the gospel, principal of a conference seminary, and a college president; and to-day he looks back to that log house of one room with its open fireplace and rude and simple environments, and the strong, manly personality of that grandfather as one of the most important schools of his life.
John A. West was a substantial, public-spirited citizen, who as a youth had labored in a company of surveyors, and later was a soldier under General Harrison, and participated in the battle of Tippecanoe. He was familiar not only with the habits of men, whether white or red, but he knew the haunts and habits of beasts and birds and fishes. Without a suggestion of the sciences of botany, ornithology and piscatology “Nature Study” was as interesting as a story book in his companionship.
In the home of this builder of western civilization, constructed of hewn logs and consisting of one large room, young McClish saw the meals cooked on the blazing hearth of the open fire-place; the wool shorn from the sheep, carded, spun, and converted into cloth on the hand-loom on the porch; the flax grown, rotted, broken, hackled, spun and woven---all by the hands of Mr. and Mrs. West and their children. Here he was made familiar with the essential needs of our material civilization, and saw them supplied in crude and simple ways by the willing hands of men and women. Here apart from all conventional standards, where industry, honesty, courage and truthfulness were regarded as the highest virtues, the great common human sympathies grew strong within him, and his respect for the unconventional ways of the common people in their humble homes became so profound as to modify his whole life. “My early history,” said Abraham Lincoln, “is perfectly characterized by a single line of Gray's Elegy: 'The short and simple annals of the poor.' Thousands of Americans whose examples afford inspiration to high and worthy endeavor find in that single line a fitting record of their youth. It was especially true of the youth of Eli McClish.
Until he received his pay as a volunteer soldier in the army of the Union, his only compensation for work was food and raiment, with the privilege of attending district school during the winter term. November 12, 1863, he regards as an epochal day in his life. On that day he passed the neighborhood boundaries and ideals, and found himself in the great world from which it was impossible to return to the old environment and be satisfied. On that day he enlisted in Battery D of the First Regiment of Illinois Light Artillery, and a month later reached his command at Vicksburg, Miss., where the winter was spent in learning the duties of the camp from the experienced veterans of that well-known command---McAllister's Battery. The month of April, 1864, found the battery on a government transport leaving Vicksburg to join General Sherman in his advance against Atlanta. During the first night on the steamer McClish was found to be suffering from a severe attack of measles, and the following day he was left at Helena, Ark., to receive the shelter of a hospital. He rejoined his comrades at Cairo, Ill, and continued constantly with them in the march through Tennessee, Alabama and northern Georgia, reaching Sherman's firing line June 12th, and with his battery participated in all the experiences of the Army of the Tennessee in fighting and marching and watching, much of the time under fire for eighty weary days and nights from Kenesaw mountain to Jonesboro.
After the fall of Atlanta he accompanied his battery in pursuit of Hood's army northward into Alabama, and was there placed on detached service in the First Minnesota Battery to march “From Atlanta to the Sea,” while his own command was sent to Nashville to assist General Thomas in destroying General Hood's army. By this unexpected incident Mr. McClish was permitted the rare privilege of spending the first half of his nineteenth year in the fellowship and experiences of the more than sixty thousand citizen soldiers filled with the spirit of victory, and devoted to the cause of human freedom, who in six months, in spite of siege and battle, of bridgeless streams and barricaded towns, marched eight hundred miles through an enemy's country. In such a bath of manly ideals and sentiments the youth matured rapidly, and when at the close of the war he received an honorable discharge he faced the world as a man.
Returning to Illinois Mr. McClish began to work for wages on the farm, and spent the first winter in attending the district school. But the larger vision of men and affairs received in the army rendered him dissatisfied, and in August, 1866, he entered Grand Prairie Seminary in Onarga, Ill., his studies being beginning English grammar, beginning arithmetic at fractions, reading in the fourth reader, and penmanship. In this institution he was prepared to teach in the common schools, and by so doing assisted himself financially. Having partially prepared for college in the seminary, he went to Evanston, Ill., and completed his preparation in the academy of the Northwestern University, and in the fall of 1870 entered the university itself, and took the degree of A.B. in 1874. In 1876 the university conferred upon him the degree A. M., and in 1877 he took the degree B. D. from Garret Biblical Institute, and in 1884 his Alma Mater honored him with the degree D. D. and in 1900 he was made a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society of the Northwestern University.
Mr. McClish became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church while a student in the seminary, and before he went to Evanston had decided to enter the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
During his college and theological studies he preached in Desplaines for two years, in River Forest for one year, in Chicago in mission work for one year and in Rogers Park one year, after which he spent seven years in the Central Illinois Conference in pastorates at Eureka, Matamora and Canton, from which point he was induced to take the presidency at Grant Prairie Seminary in 1884, and held the position for six years, during which time the general standing of the institution was greatly raised in the public mind, and the number of students in attendance almost doubled. Transferred to California in 1891, he was appointed to Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, San Francisco. He found a debt on the church of $19,600 which was reduced to $13,100 during his pastorate, besides a parsonage was built and furnished at a cost of $6,300 and left free from debt.
The spiritual interests of the church were not neglected. On one Easter Sunday he received one hundred and thirty probationers into full membership, thirty-two members on probation and sixteen by letter. Closing his pastorate at Grace by limitation, he followed Rev. D. A. Hayes, D. D. in the pastorate of Napa, Cal., and during the year Napa College, which had been consolidated with the University of the Pacific, was closed by action of the joint board of trustees, and Rev. J. N. Beard, D. D., the president of the consolidated institutions, resigned and went abroad for needed rest and study.
Soon after his arrival on the coast in 1891, Dr. McClish had been elected to the presidency of the university by the trustees, but had declined to accept. The position being offered again he hesitated until a large number of representative ministers and laymen in the patronizing territory urged it, and the trustees unanimously elected him. His task was educational and financial. He had had experience and observation in both lines. Two terms of teaching in the common school before he entered college, seven years' observation of methods of teaching while a student in college and professional school between his twenty-third and thirty-second years, one year as principal of a school in La Grange, Ill., after his graduation, and six years at the head of Grand Prairie Seminary, had created in him a permanent interest in educational questions. So his first move was to adjust the university in all its departments to its environment, as nearly as the limited finances would permit. This has been done. The next move was to improve the financial condition by securing the confidence and co-operation of the people. This is being accomplished. In 1900, through the helpful efforts of Rev. H. B. Heacock, D. D., as financial agent, and Jeremiah Leiter, treasurer, and the generous support of the pastors and people of the churches, encouraged by Bishop J. W. Hamilton of San Francisco, the burdensome debt of $60,000 was completely liquidated. During the conference year 1902-03, the sum of $100,000 was subscribed towards a permanent endowment.
In this effort President McClish gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the pastors and people of the California conference, and the special and inspiring efforts of Bishop Hamilton, and the labors of Dr. F. Burgett Short, who as his financial agent assisted President McClish in raising the last $18,000. In addition to the above, there have been donations of real estate to the institution, aggregating $20,000 in amount, during his administration. But to efficiently accomplish the work to which this college is called, President McClish insists that it should have an endowment of half a million or even a million dollars or complete and ample equipment.
For eight years President McClish has been president of the Pacific Coast Branch of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, which meets annually at Pacific Grove, Cal. During the last four years he has been a member of the University Senate of the Methodist Episcopal church. He is often invited to speak at high school commencements and address teachers in their institutes, and it is a common occurrence for him to be invited to occupy the pulpits of different denominations in San Jose, in the absence of their regular pastors.
December 24, 1872, in Onarga, Ill., Dr. McClish was married to Miss Louisa Adelaide Clark, a former classmate, and an alumnus of Grand Prairie Seminary, who was a successful and popular teacher. Miss Clark was the only daughter of Oliver Lee Clark, one of the pioneer settlers in Iroquois county, and a native of New York, where his brother, Rev. Horatio Clark, D. D., was a prominent minister of the Methodist Episcopal church. President and Mrs. McClish are the parents of five children, namely: Clark Loring, who took the degrees B.S. and B.M. from the University of the Pacific in 1899, and the degree M. D. from the University of California in May, 1904, and is now a physician in California; Helen Maude, a student in the University of the Pacific, who expects to graduate in art at the commencement of 1905; Lois and Paul, who are academy students; and Lloyd, who studies at home. The entire family often sit together around the household board. In politics Dr. McClish is a Republican. He takes a great interest in the veterans of the Civil war, and is a member of the Grand Army of the Republic.
The institution over which Mr. McClish now presides, and in which he is professor of psychology and ethics, is the oldest Protestant college of California, and is located near San Jose, the Garden City of the state. It includes a college, an academy, a conservatory of music, and an art department. It is the only college under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church between Los Angeles and Salem, Ore.
Transcribed 11-11-16 Marilyn R. Pankey.
Source: History of the State of California & Biographical Record of Coast Counties, California by Prof. J. M. Guinn, A. M., Pages 1383-1386. The Chapman Publishing Co., Chicago, 1904.
© 2016 Marilyn R. Pankey.