William F. Lehmann (1820-1880)

Third President of Capital University
“He was a man gifted with the most enviable natural endowments I have had the pleasure or honor ever to meet. So well read was he in almost every branch of learning that his students loved to speak of him as the “walking encyclopedia”. -Lehmann’s Student

“On the open upper floor we all slept, Lehmann and I on a straw pallet.  Our board consisted mostly of cornmeal bread and potatoes … As Lehmann and myself were also destitute of the necessary bed covers in winter, we laid the cast-off clothing of other students upon us to protect ourselves against the cold.” 

Thus William Lehmann’s fellow classmate, C. Spielmann, related their poverty as students in the Seminary  on  Goodale Street in downtown Columbus, Ohio.

William Frederick Lehmann was born in Markgtoningen, Wuertemberg, Germany on October 16, 1820. He was one of 12 children. At the age of four, he came to the United States with his parents and made their home in Philadelphia, PA. Lehmann received his early education at the parochial school of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church. At the age of 14, he was sent by stage coach traveling on the National Road to the theological seminary  on Goodale Street in downtown Columbus. He  had received an endowment to aid young men in preparation for the ministry.

Living costs were low but so were incomes. The seminary charged $1.25 a week for room, board and laundry. No tuition was charged ministerial students, but they had to buy their own books and some food. They had to cut enough wood to supply at least minimal heat for their rooms.

In 1839, Lehmann was a candidate of theology at the meeting of the joint Synod at Columbus. The next year, he received a call from Fairfield County, OH to minister to a parish of eight congregations.  By 1843, he was called to Somerset, OH to a charge of six congregations, succeeding his friend, Reverend Speilmann. Then in 1845, Lehman began to work as the associate of Reverend Speillmann who was by now the editor of the Lutheran Standard.

A year later Lehmann was appointed to fill the vacancy of the chair of Theology in the Columbus Seminary. When Capital University was organized, he was appointed Professor of German. About the same time he built up a new congregation, Trinity German Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at Third and Fulton Streets, a charge he held for nearly thirty years.

In 1857, Dr. Lehmann became President of Capital University and served in that capacity until 1880.In addition to being president, he taught German, Theology and Latin to both graduates and undergraduates. As with many college presidents, Lehmann spent much time raising funds to support the faculty, students and buildings.  He was sometimes paid in goods: one parish in Pickaway County sent potatoes, apples and hominy. 

1876 Capital Faculty. Seated: Schmid, Lehmann,
Loy. Standing: Mees, Schuette, Schodde.

“Well, when my father moved out here, of course you had to have a horse and buggy and he didn’t have a buggy but had a surrey with the fringe on top.  I remember the horse, too.  The horse’s name was Barney.  Well, when we got out to the river [Alum Creek], they were tearing down the old wooden bridge [on Friend / Main Street] and we had to ford the creek.”

The school had one building which was used for classes, offices, dorms, commencement programs and church banquets.  Later it was named Lehmann Hall in honor of Dr. Lehmann. For many years it was the only building on campus.

The president built a grand brick Victorian home on 3 1/2 acres for his family on the south west corner of College Avenue and Friend (Main) Street.  It was once part of a tract of land set apart by President Thomas Jefferson for the purpose of satisfying claims of Canadian Refugees who helped in the War of Independence.  Dr. Lehmann purchased the acreage on February 27, 1873 for $3,000 and built his home. It was later remodeled with a third floor and a cupola.  The Theological Seminary now stands in that location.

Dr. Lehmann married Lucy Anna Conley of Miamisburg, OH in April of 1846. Lucy became ill and died in November, 1863 leaving William Lehmann with three daughters and one son. Four years later, Dr. Lehmann married Kate Oberlin of Canton, OH. From this union were born two sons and two daughters. Five of Dr. Lehmann’s children survived to adulthood; Fanny Lehmann Rassmussen, born to Lucy, and the four from his second marriage; William H. Lehmann, 1868-1971  (Doctor of Divinity) Bertha Lehmann Klingler, 1870-1951, Charles Frederick Herbert Lehmann, 1873-1893 and Clara Katharine Lehmann. 1876-1960.

Dr. Lehmann’s name and teachings lived on in the distinguished careers of his surviving children: William Henry, a Lutheran pastor and social worker; Katherine, president of the Women’s Missionary Federation of the American Lutheran Church; Bertha and Fanny, who both married Lutheran ministers.  Charles died while a seminary student at Capital.