OREN B. CHENEY • NOTABLE NH RESIDENT
Oren Burbank Cheney (1816-1903) was the founder of Bates College and a Free Will Baptist clergyman.
He was born in Holderness, New Hampshire, to prominent abolitionist parents. Cheney was educated at the Parsonsfield Seminary (a Free Will Baptist school), Brown University, and Dartmouth College, graduating with the Class of 1839. Cheney had transferred from Brown to Dartmouth because he felt Dartmouth was more tolerant of abolitionism. Cheney later attended the Free Will Baptist Bible School in Whitestown, New York (later called Cobb Divinity School).
Influenced particularly by his mother, Cheney developed core beliefs in the causes of abolitionism and temperance, and these were unswerving values throughout his life as an abolitionist, teacher, Freewill Baptist minister, state legislator, editor of The Morning Star abolitionist paper and founder and president of Bates College. Cheney's father, Moses Cheney, was the original printer for the Morning Star newspaper. Cheney's brother, Person C. Cheney was a U.S. Senator from New Hampshire. Oren Cheney founded the Lebanon Academy in Lebanon, Maine in 1850. In 1851 Cheney was elected to the Maine legislature, where he was a strong supporter of the Maine law (in favor of prohibition). He had been elected as a Free Soil Party candidate.
In 1855, Cheney founded the Maine State Seminary, the school that would become Bates College. The school reflected his personal values: it was open to all students regardless of race, gender, wealth or religion. In 1863, Cheney petitioned the Maine Legislature for a change in the charter to permit a collegiate course of study. He changed the school's name to Bates College in honor of Benjamin E. Bates, the industrialist and philanthropist who made substantial early gifts to Cheney's school.
Cheney also played a major role in founding several other Free Baptist institutions such as Storer College, a school for freed slaves in West Virginia founded in 1867, and the Maine Central Institute (MCI), founded in 1866.
Cheney served as Bates' president for 39 years, retiring at age 79 in 1894. Cheney died in 1903, and his third wife, Emeline, wrote a biography of his life in 1907 using his diaries. Cheney's house became part of the Bates campus and is currently used as a dormitory.