Thomas Cowan Bell

Thomas Cowan Bell

Thomas Cowan Bell "the qualities of learning"(1832 - 1919) was born near Dayton, Ohio. At the age of 23, he was one of the seven founders of Sigma Chi Fraternity. He is best remembered for his exemplification of the qualities of learning and friendship. He was full of enthusiasm; a leader and teacher of men. Bell was one of the "elder statesmen" of the founding group of Sigma Chi. Yet Bell's zest for life and good-natured personality belied his maturity and perhaps his main love, which was learning. He sought wisdom as a student, which he later helped to cultivate in others. As a student at Miami, Bell lived in the Oxford home of his Aunt Lizzie. Because all of the other members of the Fraternity at one time or another lived in Aunt Lizzie's place or took meals there, the house became known as "the first Chapter of Sigma Chi." Upon graduation, Bell immediately took up the life of teaching-a career that was interrupted only by service in the Union Army. Undoubtedly, his leadership skills as a teacher helped to account for his rise to the rank of lieutenant colonel (though characteristically Bell preferred to be addressed with a more modest rank, answering to "Major Bell." Bell returned to his career in education after the Civil War, and assumed leadership roles in schools and school districts as principal, superintendent and president of various institutions throughout the West and Midwest. But it was not merely a title that set Bell apart from others; it was his love of learning and teaching, along with a generous spirit and hospitality, that distinguished him. Bell's infectious warmth led Ben Runkle to describe him as one with "an expression of his face that made one instinctively reach for his hand." Brother Bell, an enthusiastic member of Sigma Chi into wise old age, died in 1919, the day after attending Initiation at Berkeley's Alpha Beta Chapter.

He graduated from Miami University in 1857, and began his life work of teaching. In 1861 he enlisted in the Union army, where hewas commissioned as a Colonel and received high commendation. Following the war he returned to his career in education, serving as the Superintendent of schools in Nobles County, Minnesota as well as the principal and president of several preparatory and collegiate institutions in the Western United States.

Bells jobs included County superintendent of public schools in Minnesota from 1872-77. He was publisher of journal from 1878-85 and was president of Philamath College from 1885-86 and was also the principal of La Creole Academy from 1887-92. Also he was the President of, Central Oregon State Normal School from 1892-96. In the military Bell was captain, and a major lieutenant colonel of the 74th Ohio Volunteer infantry and of the U.S. army from 1861-1863. His Memorial is in San Francisco, California.


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