Franklin Winslow Johnson (President 1929-1942)

Franklin Winslow Johnson (1870-1965) was born in Jay, Maine. He graduated from Colby in 1891, served as principal of academies associated with Colby and the University of Chicago and was commissioned as a major in the Sanitation Corps during World War One. He became a Trustee at Colby in 1920. Colby granted him an honorary degree in 1926.

After the untimely death of  President Arthur Roberts in October 1927, the college was administered by a six-person executive committee chaired by Ernest Marriner while the Trustees deliberated on Roberts’ successor. Their unanimous choice was Johnson. He became President, and joined the faculty as Professor of Education, in 1929. He resigned as President in 1942, remaining a Trustee until 1955.

Great College - Franklin Johnson tribute

Students selling tickets for an event honoring President Johnson during his quest to relocate the Colby College campus to Mayflower Hill. The “great college” theme was central to Johnson’s campaign.

Johnson is remembered foremost as the visionary administrator who moved the college from its downtown campus to Mayflower Hill in the 1930s and 40s. His ability to inspire loyalty and build partnerships were central to his success. On the new campus, his creative use of limited resources included the suggestion in April 1946 to use voluntary student labor to plant close to 200 elm trees around Mayflower Hill. Arbor Day became an annual Colby tradition, serving as both an educational and community service event. Arbor Day was renamed Johnson Day in 1952 in honor of the former President.

The Man of Mayflower Hill, Ernest Marriner’s biography of Franklin Johnson (Colby College Press, 1967) is available online.


Johnson’s vision for a new Colby on Mayflower Hill coincided with Curator Carl Weber’s vision of Colby as a scholarly repository of rare books and literary manuscripts. In 1940, after receiving a sizable deposit of Edwin Arlington Robinson materials from Ruth Nivison, Weber wrote to Johnson that he would have impressive news to announce. Weber’s efforts as curator  continued to support Johnson’s campaign for Mayflower Hill. Johnson also acted as donor to the growing collections in the Treasure Room.

Works consulted:

Johnson, Franklin. Correspondence with Carl J Weber. Colbiana Collection. Colby College Special Collections.

Marriner, Ernest Cummings. The History of Colby College. Waterville, ME: Colby College Press, 1963. Print and web.

Marriner, Ernest Cummings. The Man of Mayflower Hill: A Biography of Franklin W. Johnson. Waterville, ME: Colby College Press, 1967. Print and web.