James Burrill Angell was born to a farming family in Scituate, Rhode Island, in 1829. He attended Brown and graduated as valedictorian of the class of 1849. After his graduation, he worked as a civil engineer, traveling throughout the U.S. and Europe. However, Brown had not forgotten its talented graduate, and while he was overseas, Angell was contacted by Brown and urged to chair the Department of Modern Languages. He accepted this post, and in 1853, returned to Brown as a professor. During this time, his guest editorials for the Providence Journal gleaned the admiration of the paper's editor, Henry Bowen Anthony, who, upon his return to the U.S. Senate in 1860, offered his position to Angell. In 1866, the University of Vermont asked him to assume the presidency of the school, a position in which he served until 1871, when he left to become the president of the University of Michigan (again, at their request). He took several leaves of absence from this position in order to serve the United States as a diplomat. He served as United States Minister to China from 1880 to 1881, and United States Minister to Turkey from 1897 to 1898. He also negotiated the Fisheries Treaty with Canada and served as Editor of the Princeton Journal from 1860 to 1866. He retired from his academic posts in 1909, and died in 1916 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Angell's portrait was painted by Ernest Major, a Boston artist whose allegiance was to nineteenth-century styles and forms. His stylistic and aesthetic allegiances barely missed being anachronistic; he was born in 1864 and lived until 1950. During his lifetime, he taught at the Massachusetts School of Art in Boston. This large oil painting was completed around 1890.
Sarah Swope Caswell Angell
1831–1903 (m. 1855)