Biography: C. W. Prettyman

            Cornelius William Prettyman was born the son of Cornelius Witbank and Emma Elizabeth Prettyman on July 21, 1872 (Reed 310). He grew up and was educated under their care. A passport he acquired as a grown man gives a descriptive portrayal of his physical stature. Prettyman traveled to Germany in 1910 to study and was issued a passport on October 28th of that year for this purpose. On his passport was a physical description of him at that time at the age of thirty-eight. He was described as having a high forehead, brown eyes, a Grecian nose, brown hair, a medium mouth, a firm chin, a full face and a fair complexion. He was measured at five feet, nine and a half inches tall (C. William Prettyman). Prettyman kept a journal daily where he listed his activities throughout the day. He would often get together with his younger brother Virgil and a few friends and play cards or dominoes to pass the time. The brothers even had a picture taken one evening: prettyman:dominoes (Prettyman, C. W.).
             Prettyman attended Newark Delaware prep school as a child and then continued his education at Delaware College. He studied at Del. College for two years, entering the program in 1886 (Reed 310). He then furthered his knowledge with a degree from Dickinson College in 1891 (Dr. Prettyman, Dies). Upon his graduation, Prettyman went directly into a teaching career, however his many activities and accomplishments made during his time at Dickinson are worth noting.
             Prettyman was an active student through all of his college years, but his Junior and Senior years seem to be when he acquired the most leadership positions and active roles at the college. Prettyman spent his Junior year as Vice President of class, as a member of the Tennis Club, and as editor of the “Alumni Personals” section of the college paper titled The Dickinsonion (Microcosm ‘91). For both his Junior and Senior years of college at Dickinson, Prettyman was a member of the Alpha Sigma Chapter of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity and a member of the Union Philosophical Society (Microcosm ’91 & ‘92). In his Senior year he gave a speech at Class Day Appointments entitled “Address of Welcome.” He was also on the committee of membership for the College Y.M.C.A., and was on the Board of Editors in association with the Union Philosophical Society (Microcosm ‘92). His senior year, Prettyman also gave a speech at commencement which was part of his requirements to graduate, it was entitled “Collegiate Education” (Microcosm ’93). It was Prettyman’s academic and extracurricular success and leadership at Dickinson that allowed him to enter the workforce on track to a bright career in education. This fact is well-stated by several of Prettyman’s professors from whom he received glowing job recommendationsi.
             In 1891, the very same year of his graduation, Prettyman became an instructor at Mount Holly Academy in New Jersey. He left the Academy a year later to become a teacher at the Davis Military Academy in Winston, NC and he taught there until 1895. In 1896 Prettyman moved on to become a Fellow in German and a Student Assistant at John Hopkins University for a year, before leaving again to become an Assistant Instructor in German at the University of Pennsylvania until 1899, when he joined the faculty of Dickinson College (Dr. Prettyman, Dies). Prettyman was a well liked and respected member of each of the faculties he was a part of, and received glowing job references from all his employers, praising his work and spiritii.
             Dickinson College proved to be Prettyman’s final career move; he was a respected member of the faculty until his forced retirement and then death in 1946 (Dr. Prettyman, Ex-College Head). While at Dickinson, Prettyman moved up through the ranks and accomplished many outstanding achievements. Before all his promotions and added responsibilities, Prettyman decided to further his education and studied in Germany for a year in 1910. He studied at the University of Berlin and while there also published a book on the higher education of women in Germany (Dr. Prettyman, Dies). Prettyman’s studies in Germany resulted in more than just a book published, he also brought back a wife. He arranged the marriage in 1910, returned to the U.S. and then returned to Berlin again in 1912 to marry his second wife Charlotte Hopfe on January 3 of that year ( The Dickinsonion). Prettyman’s first wife Clara Bains, whom he married in 1892 (Reed 310), died in 1908 (Dr. Prettyman, Educator 14).
            In 1900, as a professor, he became an Alumnus member of the honors society, Phi Beta Kappa at Dickinson College (Bell). Upon his arrival back to Dickinson, Prettyman was employed as a German Professor. He was well liked by both the faculty and the students. This is evident by the fact that he was promoted throughout his career as well as by the fact that the Microcosm was dedicated to him twice during his service at Dickinson College, once in 1909 and again in 1940 (A List). He held his job as Professor of German until 1944 when he became President of Dickinson (Dr. Prettyman, Ex-College Head). In 1917 he was promoted to Dean of the Senior Class and remained in that position, on top of teaching, until his second promotion in 1938 (Dr. Prettyman, Dies). In 1936, the President of Dickinson, Corson, appointed a committee to find ways to modernize Dickinson’s curriculum. Prettyman served on this committee, referred to as the “Committee of Eight” for two years, at the end of which, a formal list of suggested changes in curriculum were submitted to the college for consideration (Dickinson Chronicles). In 1938 Prettyman was again promoted, this time to Head of the Department of Modern Languages and remained in that position until his presidency (Dr. Prettyman, Dies). In 1946 Prettyman gave up teaching to accept a final promotion. He became President of Dickinson College in 1944. He remained President until 1946, when he was forced to resign because of illness (Dr. Prettyman, Dies). He died that same year and was deeply missed and fondly rememberediii.

See pictures of Dr. Prettyman throughout his adult life: pictures of Prettyman


  i. Prettyman’s Modern Languages Professor at Dickinson College, O. B. Super, wrote a glowing recommendation for Prettyman in his graduating year. “It gives me pleasure to bear testimony to the excellent reputation of Mr. C. W. Prettyman both for scholarship and character. He is one of the best students on our present graduating class and I can cheerfully recommend him to any one wishing to employ a teacher…” (14 Letters)

  ii. As Prettyman entered the workforce he was able to equally impress his employers. “You have won the esteem of all who are associated with you in school-work… you have already developed an aptitude for teaching that seems destined to take you from us to higher fields of labor… I am hoping however, that we may retain your services.” This quote was taken from a job recommendation given by Prettyman’s employer at Mt. Holly Academy, Henry M. Walradt, Principal. (14 Letters)

  iii. The Harrisburg Telegraph reported that “Out of respect to Dr. Prettyman, who was 74 years old, the college will be closed Monday.” At Prettyman’s funeral the eulogy was given by his student, colleague and friend Bishop Fred Corson. Corson remembered this about his friend in that eulogy: “But the zenith of his power as a creative scholar must be looked for in the influence he had upon his students. Professor Prettyman’s approach to teaching was person-centered; but he was not the person. His classes revolved not around him but around his students. His subject was, to be sure, the German language and literature, but he taught boys and girls, and his students, in turn, took German in order to get Prettyman. Those who studied with him got much more than the knowledge of a language. They got, in fact, a liberal education” (President Dies After 47).

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