Hugh D. Vail: "Volunteer Weatherman"


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Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy

Board of Instructors

A list of the Board of Instructors for the school year 1853-54, taken from the Catalogue of Officers and Students of Haverford College, 1853-54. Vail is listed as one of two teachers of Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Astronomy. 

Hugh Vail joined the Haverford College faculty in 1848 as professor of mathematics and natural philosophy. From 1845 to the spring of 1848, Haverford's Board of Managers had decided to temporarily close the school because of financial difficulties, meaning Vail had joined the Haverford community at a crucial moment in its history (Jones 24, 27). Vail was highly regarded as a great teacher who was able to clearly and helpfully explain mathematical concepts to his students. He came to Haverford nine years into his teaching career. He still possessed a youthful enthusiasm for teaching, but had also gained a wider breadth of experience necessary to make him a more successful professor. 

"He [Vail] came there in the prime of his faculties. Slender, active, agile, quick of observation, clear of judgment, he possessed a remarkable ability for precise explanation and ready illustration. Few teachers have been better fitted to impart habits of observation and precision....Master Hugh awakend the sense and aroused the energies" (History of Haverford College for the First Sixty Years of its Existence,193). 

Vail continued to serve as professor of mathematics and natural philosophy until 1854. In 1850 the Principal of Haverford College resigned, and Vail was offered the position. He declined, however, and eventually resigned in 1854, leaving his job to his former student and assistant from Westtown, Joseph G. Harlan (History of Haverford 193). Vail's time at Haverford inevitably helped to garner greater interest in the sciences and call attention to the need for improved technologies and equipment on campus (Jones 149-150). Despite retiring from his teaching position, Vail remained very much involved in the Haverford community through the observatory and the Board of Managers.

Minutes of the Board of Managers, 4th mo., 2nd, 1858

From the Minutes of the Board of Managers, March 2, 1858. Vail is recommended unanimously by the Board of Managers for Haverford's first honorary degree. 


On March 2, 1858, it was recommended to the Board of Managers that Vail receive Haverford's first Honorary Degree of Master of Arts; the honoro was approved unanimously. The degree was given in recognition of Vail's work as both a teacher and a scholar in mathematics and astronomy.

Just after receiving his honorary degree Vail joined the Board of Managers.


Jones, Rufus M. Haverford College: A History and an Interpretation. New York: Macmillan, 1933.

Haverford College Alumni Association. A History of Haverford College for the First Sixty Years of its Existence. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1892.

Haverford Years
Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy