Willamette Presidents

1941-1942: Carl Sumner Knopf

Carl Sumner Knopf

Dr. Carl Knopf was born in Ohio in 1889, and received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Southern California; he also earned doctorate and theological degrees at Yale University. Knopf was unanimously elected to the presidency on August 11, 1941, entering the school in its centennial year of existence. He was perhaps the first contributing scholar and writer appointed to Willamette University’s presidency, being recognized at the time as one of the great American scholars in the fields of Old Testament interpretation and Middle Eastern archaeology. His career at Willamette was cut short, however, as a result of events following the attack on Pearl Harbor. During his registration under the selective service act, Knopf, who was a pacifist, caused upset within the Salem community stemming from his willingness to sign up only for non-combat duty. The Board of Trustees resolved to distance the university, which had given full support to the war effort, from Knopf’s personal convictions, and he was asked to resign following the 1942 commencement. At that time Knopf oversaw the planting of the Star Trees, five sequoias he had brought himself from California. Shortly thereafter, on June 23, 1942, he died as a result of a heart attack.

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