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Francis Andrew March

Section N, # 214-216

Born: October 25, 1825

Died: September 9, 1911

Francis A. March was the first to hold the title “Professor of English Language and Literature” anywhere in the United States or Europe. He taught at Lafayette College for over 50 years, retiring at age 80 in June 1906 and also served as the college’s first librarian.

March graduated Amherst College in 1845, thanks to financing by a local philanthropist who came to his rescue after his father’s cutlery business had failed.

After graduation March taught school, studied the law, and was admitted to the bar in 1849. He opened a law office in New York but soon gave that up and returned to teaching, this time in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he met Margaret Mildred Stone Conway whom he married in 1860. He also met Dr. G. Wilson McPhail, the principal of his school and later the minister of the Brainerd Presbyterian Church in Easton. After McPhail became the President of Lafayette College, McPhail recommended March when a teaching position opened in 1855.

In 1857 March was made Professor of English Language and Comparative Philology. He taught English in the same way as Latin and Greek, a revolutionary idea at that time. His method “philology”, today called linguistics, referred to the study and analysis of both language and literature. His literary masterpiece “The Comparative Grammar,” was published in 1870 after ten years of work. An incomplete list of his publications, compiled in 1906 contains 115 items.

The Marches had nine children, several of whom went on to distinguished careers, including his namesake (1868-1928) who also taught at Lafayette. A street and an elementary school on College Hill are named for him.