Founded to serve the needs of New York’s burgeoning German immigrant community, Wagner College was imbued with a sense of mission from the start.
Clarence C. Stoughton, the College’s first president who was not an ordained Lutheran minister, was a staunch believer in that mission. He served the College in many roles, ranging from instructor to dean, for 16 years prior to his presidency, which lasted from 1935 to 1945. “Dr. Stoughton was credited with having been the driving force behind Wagner’s emergence as a leading small liberal arts college,” according to his obituary in the New York Times on September 1, 1975.
In his inaugural address of November 1, 1935, Stoughton laid out his vision for the College. Of first importance, he said, was that a college education should develop the whole person, not just the intellect. “Brilliantly trained intellects without character will always be worse menaces than poison gas, high explosives, crippling disease,” he warned.
Stoughton believed that college education should have a higher purpose and a goal: “to seek God and his Purpose.” Yet Stoughton was not sectarian in his thinking. “We shall respect denominational differences,” he said. “Wagner will continue to aim to make better Lutherans from those who are Lutherans, better Catholics from those who are Catholics, better Jews from its Jewish students, better Protestants, better men and women.”
He hoped that Wagner alumni would be distinctive individuals, and that this distinctiveness “would show itself as an aptitude for and interest in moral and spiritual leadership. I would have Wagner men and women … strong-hearted captains in the never-ending fight for freedom, for nobility, for honor, for truth.”