WHEELER, Benjamin Ide

Biographical Information

Born 15 July 1854, Randolph, MA, to Benjamin, a Baptist clergyman, & Mary E. Ide W.
Died 3 May 1927, Vienna, Austria..
Married Amey Webb, 27 July 1881.


A.B. Brown, 1875; A.M., 1878; Ph.D. Heidelberg, 1885; LL.D. Princeton, 1896; Harvard, 1900; Brown, 1900; Yale, 1901; Johns Hopkins, 1902; U. Wisconsin, 1904; Illinois Coll., 1904; Dartmouth, 1905; Columbia, 1906; U. Kentucky, 1916; Ph.D. U. Athens, 1912; L.H.D. Colgate, 1915.

Professional Experience

Tchr. Providence (RI) HS, 1875-7; instr. Germ. Harvard, 1885-6; actng. prof, class, philol. Cornell, 1886-7; prof. comp. philol., 1887-8; Gk. & comp. philol. & chair Gk. dept., 1888-99; pres. U. California, 1899-1919; ann. prof. ASCSA, 1895-6; vis. lctr. Harvard, 1898; Roosevelt prof. U. Berlin, 1909-10; corr. mem. Kaiserliches Archaeologisches Inst.


"Der griechische Nominalaccent" (Heidelberg, 1885); printed (Strassburg, 1885).


Analogy and the Scope of Its Application in Language (Ithaca, NY, 1887); Introduction to the Study of the History of Language, with H.A. Strong & W.S. Logeman (London, 1891); Die Organisation des höhern Unterrichts in den Vereinigten Staaten von Nordamerika (Munich, 1897); Dionysus and Immortality (Boston, 1899); Alexander the Great: The Merging of East and West in Universal History (New York, 1900); Unterricht und Demokratie in Amerika (Strassburg, 1910).


Wheeler's chief contribution to philology is the discovery of Wheeler's law regarding the accentuation of compound adjectives in Greek, a discovery he made while pursuing his doctorate at Heidelberg. He was a close friend of Gildersleeve and, following his year in Athens, agreed to begin a Gildersleeve-Wheeler series of textbooks, which was never realized. Instead, while still at Cornell, Wheeler was offered the presidencies of Colgate, the University of Wisconsin, and Rochester. He turned them down and succeeded Martin Kellogg, also a classicist, as president at Berkeley. During his 20-year presidency, he exercised a strong hand to bring the University of California to the forefront; the student body grew from 2,300 to 20,000, he began a Sanskrit department, and most importantly he persuaded Mrs. Jane K. Sather to endow the Sather Professorship of Classical Literature. After his Roosevelt year, which produced his lectures Unterricht und Demokratie in Amerika, a society to study pedagogical methods was established in Berlin bearing his name. His specialty was philology, which he continued briefly to teach at Berkeley. A popular lecturer with a rich musical voice, he taught Sanskrit, Gothic, and Balto-Slavic, and gave well-attended lectures (with slides) on the private life of the Greeks. His longest work, his life of Alexander, was researched during frequent trips to Europe and was completed shortly before Wheeler assumed the Berkeley presidency.He had a taste for well-made clothes and many photographs show an exceptionally elegant gray-mustachioed figure in a Prince Albert coat of very fine cut (thanks to a tailor imported to San Francisco) and the richest material. A vigorous man who captained the Brown baseball team, rowed on its crew, was president of the Cornell Athletic Council, and accompanied its crew to Poughkeepsie, he interrupted his trip to Greece in 1895 to join the Cornell crew at Henley. He rode his horse to football games and exhorted both the California fans and team on horseback as he coursed up and down the sidelines


Sources Ivan M. Linforth, DAB 21:44-6; Monroe C. Deutsch, The Abundant Life: Benjamin Ide Wheeler (Berkeley, 1926); Sterling Dow, Fifty Years of Sathers: The Sather Professorship of Classical Literature in the University of California, Berkeley 1913/4-1963/4 (Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1965); Fontenrose, 28-30; Farnham P. Griffiths, "Wheeler and Stephens at Cornell," California Monthly (Mar.-Apr.-May 1953) 12-3, 18-9, 41-2, 30-1, 51-3; NYTimes (4 May 1927) 25; WhAm 1:1327
Author Ward W. Briggs, Jr.