Charles Collins was born on April 17, 1813 in North Yarmouth, Maine to Joseph Warren and Hannah Sturdivant Collins. At the age of fourteen he became a member of the Church of Christ and went on to prepare for college at the Maine Wesleyan Seminary. He then entered Wesleyan University and graduated with the highest honors in his class in 1837, as well as Phi Beta Kappa honors. Following his graduation he took a job as the principal of a high school in Augusta, Maine for one year. In 1838, he became the first president, as well as treasurer and a professor of natural sciences at Emory and Henry College in Western Virginia. He would remain there for a period of fourteen years that saw the making of the reputation both of the institution and himself. This undoubtedly led in 1851 to the honorary doctor of divinity degree he received from Dickinson and his subsequent election, on July 7, 1852 at the age of 39, as the eleventh president of the College.
During Collins' presidential term, Dickinson College built an observatory with a telescope at the top of South College for the use of the students that would remain in use until 1927. Collins was also instrumental in the building, with a mortgage secured with College funds, of a second Methodist Church in Carlisle, at the corner of West and Pomfret Streets, called Emory Chapel. The introduction of water and gas mains was begun on the campus, although they were built sparingly during this early time. The number of students enrolled in the College rose under his administration even though Collins himself was not widely popular with the student body. This was largely due to his response to independent student activities like secret fraternities and "rough and tumble" football.
In 1860, President Collins resigned from his position at Dickinson citing his desire to explore ways to make further provisions for his growing family. After declining two other college presidencies, he took a position as the proprietor and president of the State Female College near Memphis in Tennessee. He would serve there for the remaining fifteen years of his life. Charles Collins died on July 10, 1875 in Memphis at the age of sixty-two.
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Collins, Charles, 1813-1875.