Guide to the Robert G. McNiece Westminster College Dean's correspondence

Table of Contents

Collection Overview

Collection Inventory+/-

Biographical Note/Historical Note

Content Description

Collection Use

Administrative Information


Collection Overview +/-

Title: Robert G. McNiece Westminster College Dean's correspondence
Dates: 1891-1908 (inclusive)
Collection Number: ACC-003A
Summary: This collection contains the incoming, outgoing, and third party correspondence of Robert G. McNiece during his service to Westminster College (Salt Lake City, Utah) as an original faculty member, member of the Board of Trustees, and college dean. The materials in the collection date from 1891-1908.
Repository: Westminster College, Giovale Library
1840 South 1300 East
Salt Lake City, Utah 84105
Phone: (801) 832-2250

Collection Inventory +/-

series: Series 1. Incoming/Outgoing correspondence
box 1, folder 1: 1887 December 22 - 1893 November 13
box 1, folder 2: 1894 September 20 - 1896 February 11
box 1, folder 3: 1896 February 25 - 1897 April 20
box 1, folder 4: 1897 April 30 - 1897 March 26
box 1, folder 5: 1898 September 21 - 1899 November 1
box 1, folder 6: 1900 February 23 - 1900 June 15
box 1, folder 7: 1900 June 23 - 1901 January
box 1, folder 8: 1901 January 26 - 1901 May 31
box 1, folder 9: 1901 June 3 - 1908 April
series: Series 2. Third-party correspondence
box 1, folder 10: 1893 February 14 - 1895 January 30
box 1, folder 11: 1896 September 17 - 1904 April 28

Biographical Note/Historical Note +/-

Robert Gibson McNiece was born on 10 January 1839, on his family's farm in Topsham, Vermont. His family's humble circumstances and religious devotion would shape his character at an early age. He was raised and educated in the East, eventually becoming a Dartmouth College graduate.

Following his education, McNiece answered the call of the West; he was urged by his pastor to invest his religious zeal in the western territory of Utah and the State of California. McNiece arrived in Utah in 1877, and it is unclear if he ever had intentions of moving on to California. He sensed that he belonged in Utah, which at the time had relatively little Presbyterian presence.

Through misfortune came fortune. While McNiece was in Salt Lake City meeting with the Presbyterian congregations, the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Josiah Welch, died. McNiece rose to the occasion and took Welch's place as minister, becoming the Church's second minister. He would serve in this position for two decades (1877–1897).

As a pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, McNiece's duties extended into the Salt Lake Collegiate Institute. When attempts were made to secure the foundation of a new institute of higher learning (the proposed "Salt Lake College," later "Sheldon Jackson College," and finally "Westminster College"), McNiece again rose to the occasion and was able to secure a large grant from benefactor Sheldon Jackson (1834-1909; Presbyterian minister, missionary, and Alaskan explorer). This gave new life to the efforts of solidifying the foundation of the new college, including the construction of campus buildings. Despite dark economic times, this grant moved the processes forward.

Over the coming years, McNiece would maintain close contact with Jackson and the college's President General John Eaton. A great many obstacles were in their path, some of which would prove to be stumbling blocks that would all but doom the fledgling college. Because of financial problems, Jackson had to rescind his original grant and instead deeded his Washington, D.C. property to the Board of Trustees. Robert Gordon, the college's financial agent and representative, was appointed to handle the Jackson property. Gordon was given all of the rights that his position afforded him, including power of attorney. Gordon spent money recklessly and did not keep accurate records—in the end, his expenses nearly ruined the college. Not surprisingly, Gordon never sold the property. His capabilities were assessed (although it was already too late) through inquiries made by the Board of Trustees, and he was removed from his position. No charges were ever brought against Gordon, for fear that the negative publicity would be the deathblow to the college.

Meanwhile, McNiece refused to give up hope. In 1902, Park City resident and retired Union Army Colonel William Montague Ferry was persuaded to step in on behalf of the college. Ferry purchased the property which the campus currently occupies, which allowed for the construction of new campus buildings. This facilitated many important things: prospective donors could now see proof of an institute with great potential, classes could be held once construction was complete on the new college building (Converse Hall), and the founders of the college, McNiece included, could begin to heal the financial wounds of the past.

Alhough in the background during this great financial struggle, McNiece's loyalties and ties to the college never wavered. He served as Dean and Professor until the year Ferry intervened on behalf of the struggling college (1897–1913); subjects taught by McNiece included "Greek, Rhetoric, Apologetics and the Bible, Philosophy, Literature and Civics" (Nyman). McNiece also served on the Board of Trustees during these years, working with the board to solidify the future of the college despite his disagreements with the incoming President Stevenson. Over the following decade, McNiece would begin to slow his activities, but would never lose the fiery ambition that gave rise to Westminster College. McNiece was married to Sarah Irwin McNiece; he died on October 3, 1913 in Salt Lake City.

Works consulted:

Brackenridge, R. Douglas. Westminster College of Salt Lake City: From Presbyterian Mission School to Independent College. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1998.

Nyman, Emil. Deans of Westminster College. Westminster College Archives, Giovale Library.

Content Description +/-

This collection contains the incoming, outgoing, and third party correspondence of Robert G. McNiece during his service to Westminster College as an original faculty member, member of the Board of Trustees, and college dean. Materials in the collection date from 1891-1908. The letters are authored by only a handful of individuals and address a variety of subjects relating to the founding and early years of Westminster College. The collection consists largely of correspondence regarding the use of Reverend Dr. Sheldon Jackson's property in Washington, D.C., and the activities of Thomas Gordon, the college's floundering investment agent. The majority of these letters are either addressed to or from R. G. McNiece. Other authors include General John Eaton (the college's first president), Colonel William M. Ferry and Jeannette H. Ferry (college benefactors), Thomas Gordon, and Sheldon Jackson.

Third party correspondence consists mainly of letters concerning Gordon and the financial status of the college from Presbyterian organizations, prospective donors, and community members.

On the whole, this collection accurately describes the financial situation of the early college. It presents a chronicle of the struggle of the college founders in trying to secure necessary funding to create a strong financial foundation and an endowment. The most central focus of this collection is the property in Washington, D.C. The property was originally owned by Sheldon Jackson, but donated to the college when he was unable to fulfill his original commitment to provide the college with a $50,000 grant (i.e., Jackson deeded the property to the college in place of his grant). It is believed that Jackson's inability to fulfill the original agreement allowed the college to change its name from Sheldon Jackson College to Westminster College (the name change was solidified in the provisions of Ferry's donation). The original agreement, based on Jackson's grant, was broken by Jackson himself.

Complications arose when the college's financial agent, Thomas Gordon, was discovered to have abused his power of attorney for personal gain. The end result of Gordon's misappropriation was a substantial monetary loss for the college (amounting to about $35,000). No lawsuit was ever filed against Gordon, for fear that the negative publicity generated would doom the college.

In 1902, trustee William M. Ferry would step in and provide the college with the funding it desperately needed, buying the property that the campus currently occupies. An outgoing letter (May 1898) from McNiece to Mrs. Jeanette H. Ferry mentions the plan to consolidate Sheldon Jackson College and the Salt Lake Collegiate Institute and informs Ferry that both Dr. Eaton and Dr. Jackson have given their approval.

Collection Use +/-

Restrictions on Access:

Open to public research.

Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.

Twenty-four hours advance notice is encouraged.

Restrictions on Use:

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances.

Permission to publish material must be obtained from the director of the Giovale Library.

Preferred Citation:

Robert G. McNiece Westminster College Dean's correspondence, 1891-1908, ACC-003A, Giovale Library Archives, Westminster College, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Administrative Information +/-


The correspondence is arranged chronologically within each of two series:

  • Series 1. Incoming/Outgoing correspondence;
  • Series 2. Third-party correspondence.

Processing Note:

Processed by Joshua Ivie in March 2006. It is unknown when the bulk of these records were acquired by the Archives, but early inventories (1980s) have identified them as part of its earliest holdings. In May 2005, the College transferred to the Archives previously unknown records which had been held by the Vice-President of Finance. This series largely consists of property and real estate records and other financial documents, but also included some significant correspondence. Twelve letters appeared to have originally been part of McNiece's correspondence. They were removed from the property records and returned to their proper location. The letters are as follows: 29 Feb 1892 (outgoing), 20 Sept. 1894 (outgoing), 18 Jan 1896 (incoming, from Sheldon Jackson concerning a campus architect), May 1898 (to Jeannette H. Ferry), 15 Sept. 1899 (incoming, from Gordon), 4 Aug. 1900 (outgoing), 11 Aug. 1900 (notice of Gordon's dismissal), 13 Aug. 1900 (incoming, from Eaton; addresses the revocation of Gordon's power of attorney), 14 June 1901 (outgoing), 20 June 1901 (outgoing, to Thompson, regarding Salt Lake Collegiate Institute Principal Caskey's policies), 27 June 1901 (incoming, Charles L. Thompson, secretary of the Board of Home Missions, expressing his hope that the college and the Institute will be able to work together in "harmony"), and April 1908.


McNiece, Robert G. (Robert Gibson), 1839-1913


Collection materials are in English.


0.3 linear feet

Language of the Finding Aid:


Author of the Finding Aid:

Finding aid written March 2006 by Joshua Ivie.

EAD Creation Date:

2010 November 16 by Sarah Shaw


Describing Archives : A Content Standard (DACS)



Related Material:

Related collections and photographs in Giovale Library Archives:

Related photographs and biographies of General John Eaton, president of Sheldon Jackson College, can be found on these websites (viewed March 20, 2017):

Subjects +/-

Corporate Names:

Salt Lake Collegiate Institute--History--Sources
Sheldon Jackson College (Salt Lake City, Utah)--History--Sources
Westminster College (Salt Lake City, Utah : 1902-1983)--Administration
Westminster College (Salt Lake City, Utah : 1902-1983)--Faculty--Correspondence
Westminster College (Salt Lake City, Utah : 1902-1983)--Finance
Westminster College (Salt Lake City, Utah : 1902-1983)--History--Sources
Westminster College (Salt Lake City, Utah : 1902-1983). Board of Trustees--Correspondence
Westminster College (Salt Lake City, Utah : 1902-1983). Dean's Office--Correspondence

Subject Terms:

College trustees--Utah--Salt Lake City--Archives
Deans (Education)--Utah--Salt Lake City--Archives
Educational fund raising
Presbyterian Church--Education--Utah
Presbyterian universities and colleges--Utah--History--Sources

Form or Genre Terms:


Personal Names:

Eaton, John, 1829-1906
Ferry, Jeannette Hollister, 1828-1917
Ferry, William Montague, 1824-1905
Gordon, Thomas, Rev.
Gordon, Thomas, Rev.
Jackson, Sheldon, 1834-1909
McNiece, Robert G. (Robert Gibson), 1839-1913--Archives
McNiece, Robert G. (Robert Gibson), 1839-1913--Correspondence
Thompson, Charles L. (Charles Lemuel), 1839-1924

Geographical Names:

Salt Lake City (Utah)--History--Sources