Martin served as the last president of Indiana Asbury from 1875
to 1884 and then five more years as president of the new DePauw
University. Born in Nairn, Scotland, of which he wrote a charming
description during a visit there while a delegate to the London
Ecumenical Conference in 1881, he is said to have retained something
of a Scottish burr in his speech to the end of his life.
His early career was varied. Brought as a boy to Jefferson County
in Ohio, he spent three years as an apprentice in the tanning and
leather dressing trade. He managed to work his way through Allegheny
College, graduating at the head of his class in 1847. He took a
position as principal of an academy in Virginia and later returned
to his alma mater as professor of Greek language and literature.
Ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church, he preached and did
hospital work during the Civil War, becoming
the first president of West Virginia University in 1865.
Alexander Martin in his youth, probably during the period
when he taught at Allegheny College. He was president of
Indiana Asbury from 1875-89.
Martin turned out to be one of the most effective presidents Indiana
Asbury had ever had. His inaugural address revealed some of the
ideas for the expansion of the educational program that were implemented
in the DePauw period. Gaining the support of Washington
C. DePauw, who was president of the board of trustees, Martin
became the first of a new breed of university administrators who
went beyond the emphasis on piety and scholarship to a new concern
for efficiency and growth. His executive decisions were not always
popular, as in the case of the dismissal of three senior professors
in 1879. Though never adequately explained, this action made way
for the introduction of younger and more scholarly faculty members.
In 1883 the student paper said of him that he:
Possesses a sturdy, positive, Scotch character, great natural tact
and ability, a broad scholarship, and unusual force; in short, in
him unite all elements necessary for a successful college president.
After guiding the university through the transition from the Indiana
Asbury era to the new vision of an enlarged and reinvigorated DePauw
University, Martin resigned the presidency in 1889 at the age of
65. Until his death in Greencastle in 1893 he continued as professor
of mental and moral philosophy, completing a total of 18 years of
service to the university during one of its most momentous periods.