Matthew Lyle Spencer

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Matthew Lyle Spencer (7 July 1881 – 10 February 1969) was an American minister, writer and professor. He also is a former president of the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, United States.

Birth and early years[edit]

Matthew Lyle Spencer was born near Batesville, Mississippi. He was the eldest son of Methodist Episcopal minister Reverend Flournoy Poindexter Spencer and Alice Eleanor Manes. Alice was the daughter of Henry Manes of Thomasville, Georgia.[1] Matthew had two sisters and one brother: Eleanor Elizabeth (1883–?), Leslie Louise (1887–?) and Flournoy Poindexter (1885–?).[2] In regard to lineage, Spencer was able to trace his American ancestry to some 55 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

During the 1900 decade[edit]

In 1903, Matthew graduated from Kentucky Wesleyan College with an A.B. (bachelor's) degree. Later in 1904, he obtained his A.M. (Master's degree) from the same college.[1] While completing these degrees, he worked as part-time instructor and later professor (1903–1904) in the college's English department. In 1905, Matthew attended Northwestern University where he received an additional A.M. degree. Between 1905–1906 and again in 1909–1910, Spencer also served as fellow of English at the University of Chicago, earning his Ph.D. from the university in 1910. Prior to that, in 1906, Spencer began teaching at Wofford College (Spartanburg, South Carolina) as an assistant professor of English.[3] While teaching at Wofford, Spencer met and married Ms. Lois Hill, the sister of Mrs. Coleman Bailey Waller of Spartanburg.

Journalism in Washington[edit]

Spencer left Woman's College in 1911 to assume a position as English professor at Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin. He stayed at this position for seven years during which time he also served as reporter and copy reader (1913, 1917–1918) for the Milwaukee Journal.[1]

According to Emory Magazine, "his purpose [both as writer and professor] was to write a trilogy to separate the teaching of journalism into news writings, copy and editorial writing" (Spencer, 1970). In 1917, shortly before leaving the college, Spencer became chief editor of the Milwaukee Journal. This position was short-lived as Spencer felt it his duty, as war raged in Europe, to enlist in the military.

During the later part of the First World War (1918), Spencer became a captain in military intelligence for the United States Army. After the war, Lyle maintained his Army ties and in 1929 was appointed lieutenant colonel, in the special reserves[4] He retained this rank until his retirement some ten years later.

In September, 1919 Spencer resumed teaching, accepting a position as Director of the School of Journalism at the University of Washington. A year later, Spencer married Helen McNaughton, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander McNaughton. Lyle and Helen went on to raise a family which consisted of three children: Orton Flournoy, Judson and Helen (another son, Lyle Manly Spencer was from a previous marriage to Miss Hill). His first marriage had ended, rather bitterly, some years before. The reasons however, remain a mystery as Spencer refused to discuss, even privately, his early life.

On January 11, 1926, Spencer was appointed dean of the school of journalism. In September the following year, Spencer accepted the position as president of the university.

According to Charles M. Gates' book, The First Century at the University of Washington, the political climate at the university (under Governor Hartley's administration) became so intolerable that the then president of the university, Dr. Suzzallo was forced to resign.

The presidency was then passed to Dr. Spencer, former dean of the university's college of journalism. Faculty and staff favored the new administration since more attention was given to salary increases and promotion opportunities.

Spencer supported the efforts of the administration in providing a higher level in scholarship and standards. During his inaugural address he stated, “When the Universities in any country cease to be in close touch with the social life and institutions of the people ... their days of influence are numbered.”

Spencer also advocated admission requirements be stiffened and that elective and so-called "sop-courses" be dropped. He felt arts and sciences should be the heart of higher education thereby greatly diminishing the role of technical and vocational training. After a short time, opposition to Spencer's programs began to grow. One of the first groups to express dissatisfaction was the Seattle High School Teacher's League. The league felt that the university and especially the president were being biased toward the graduate school, and were preventing new students from enrolling. The university's policy, according to League members, served to be discriminatory toward students who possessed merely average ability.[5]


In 1932, a new governor was elected by the state of Washington. The year 1932 also marked an important change in university administrative autonomy and student accessibility. With the new direction of state government and university procedure, it became evident that there must be changes on the highest level of the university's administration. For these, and other reasons, Spencer tended his resignation as president of the university.

After leaving the University of Washington in April 1933, Dr. Spencer traveled to the University of Chicago where he taught one year. In 1934 Spencer organized the school of journalism at Syracuse University, believing journalism was a specialized form of English deserving its own curriculum. That same year, he was appointed the university's first dean of the school of journalism.[6] During this period Spencer wrote several major journalism textbooks, including News Writing and Editorial Writing.

Later, while on leave, Spencer traveled to Egypt in 1936 and again in 1945 and became visiting professor at American University in Egypt.[7] During his first five-month visit he founded the university's department of journalism.[8]

During the war years Spencer also established the War Service College at Syracuse University. The college provided hard core courses in math, science and language for men about to enter military service. It was also during this time that he was instrumental in establishing propaganda as a specialized journalistic form.


Before retiring from Syracuse in 1951 as dean emeritus, Dr. Spencer had also lectured at Oriental Culture Summer College in Tokyo (1940), received the Columbia Scholastic Press Association's Gold Medal (1946), and Syracuse University's Distinguished Service Medal.[7] He also possessed honorary doctorates from Northwestern University (1928), College of Puget Sound (1932), Kentucky Wesleyan College (1942), and Syracuse University (1951). Upon retirement, Dr. Spencer moved to Clearwater, Florida where he later died at the age of 87 [9][10]


During his professional career, Spencer authored several academic works including: William Gilmore Simms's The Yemassee (editor), Corpus Christi Pageants in England, Practical English Punctuation, News Writing, and Editorial Writing. Spencer was also active in various societies including: the American Association of Schools and Journalism Departments, Tau Kappa Alpha, Sigma Delta Chi, Alpha Gamma Delta, Phi Beta Kappa (April 24, 1931), Rotary Club,[1] Sons of the American Revolution, Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (Eng.).[2]


  1. ^ a b c d Cook, 1946
  2. ^ a b Mackenzie, George N. (1966). Colonial Families of the United States of America. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. pp. 425–27. 
  3. ^ Published by, the Senior Class (1909). The Bohemian. Wofford College, Richmond: Everett Waddey Co. pp. 9 & 10. 
  4. ^ Cattell, 1941
  5. ^ Gates, 1961
  6. ^ "Syracuse to Open School of Journalism; University Obtains Dr. Spencer as Dean". New York Times. February 25, 1934. Retrieved 2008-06-07. Dr. Matthew Lyle Spencer, former dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Washington and president for a time of that university, has accepted ... 
  7. ^ a b The Jaques Cattell Press, 1964
  8. ^ Spencer, 1970
  9. ^ Kritsberg, 1990
  10. ^ Foard, 1990

Further reading[edit]

  • Cattell, J. M., Cattell, J. and Ross, E. E. (1941). Matthew Lyle Spencer. Leaders in Education. New York: The Science Press.
  • Cattell, J. (Editor) (1942). Matthew Lyle Spencer. Directory of American Scholars. Lancaster: The Science Press.
  • Cook, R. C., et al. (1946). Matthew Lyle Spencer. Who's Who in American Education. Nashville: Who's Who in American Education, Inc.
  • Foard, D. W. (1990). Phi Beta Kappa Society (letter), 30 November.
  • Gates Charles M. (1961). The First Century at the University of Washington - 1861-1961. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • ( Hill-Spencer. (1908). The Spartanburg Herald, 23 December: 2.
  • The Jaques Cattell Press. (1964). Matthew Lyle Spencer. Directory of American Scholars. New York: R. R. Bowker Company
  • Kritsberg, D. (1990). Office of Human Resources, Syracuse University (reply letter), 3 December.
  • Lindgren, C. E. (1996). The Life of Matthew Lyle Spencer: Educator, administrator, writer, and journalist. Oxford, MS: North Mississippi Antiquarian and Historical Society. (ISBN 0-9652490-2-6.). Copy resides with the Spencer Foundation
  • Lindgren, Carl Edwin. Matthew Lyle Spencer. [1999]. American National Biography. Cary, N.C.: Oxford University Press.
  • Lindgren, C. E.. (1991). Mathew Lyle Spencer. Le Despencer, Volume 15, Number 3:124-28.
  • Lindgren, C. E.. (1991, August). The Spencer family. Le Despencer, Volume 15, Number 4:178-81.
  • Lindgren, C. E. (1991) Distinguished Career of Mathew Lyle Spencer. The Panola Story. Panola County Historical and Genealogical Society, July–September, No. 3, 26-8.
  • Lindgren, C.E. (1992). The Spencer-Hill wedding - a time of joy. Wofford Today (Wofford College), Volume 24, Number 3:2.
  • Local Department. (October 1910). Wofford College Journal. Spartanburg: The Calhoun, Carlisle and Preston Literary Societies, 45.
  • Mackenzie, George N. (1966). Colonial Families of the United States of America. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 425 27.
  • Obituary Section. (1969). M. Lyle Spencer Educator, Dead. The New York Times, 12 February:39, cols. 2 & 3.
  • Professor Spencer to be Married. (1908). Wofford College Journal (Holiday Number), 155.
  • Spencer. (1970). Emory Magazine, Emory University, November–December:77.
  • Spencer, Orton F. (1991). Private correspondence to author, April 20.
  • Yearbook. (1905–06). Methodist-Episcopal Records.

External links[edit]