The early 1880s saw the Society busily acquiring new items to help grow its collections. At the October 15, 1883 meeting, the Librarian reported the addition of 202 new items, all of which were books and archival materials except for one: an oil portrait of the Reverend Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert (1793-1853). This portrait, listed as a gift from the Misses Barr, was only the seventh portrait of a locally prominent individual to enter our collection.
Born in Lebanon, New York, Reverend Gilbert came to Delaware in 1817 when he was appointed Minister of the Second Presbyterian Church in Wilmington. In 1834, he went on to achieve prominence as the first president of Newark College (later the University of Delaware); an institution established the previous year through the efforts of the Presbyterian community in Delaware. Gilbert served as both the first and third president of the college and was instrumental in getting its name changed to Delaware College in 1843 to reflect a more state-wide focus.
A passionate educator and active faculty member, Reverend Gilbert was as concerned with creating a stable, disciplined academic environment as he was with scholarship, and set a solid example for later presidents to follow. He resigned from the college in 1847 to return to ministry and was appointed Pastor of the Western Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, where he remained until his death in 1853. The number of portraits in the Society’s collection currently stands at 212. It is interesting to look back at its early beginnings.