Biographical / Historical
Charles Augustus Strong was born in 1862, the son of Dr. Augustus Hopkins Strong, president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Rochester and author of Systematic Theology, a text that remained in print for more than a century. His father's position in the church led to a friendship with John D. Rockefeller, whose daughter Elizabeth would later marry Strong. The young Strong went to The University of Rochester, then to Hamburg to learn German, and then to a Westphalian gymnasium. He arrived at Harvard in 1885 where he studied philosophy, graduating summa cum laude. Strong's friendship with philosopher George Santayana began at Harvard with an agreement to share Strong's $1,000 fellowship for advanced study in Germany.
Strong accepted a professorship in psychology at Columbia University in 1903 with the freedom to teach there or research abroad. Elizabeth died in November 1906, leaving Strong to care for their nine-year-old daughter Margaret. After his wife's burial at the Rockefeller Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York, Strong, against the wishes of John D. Rockefeller, returned to Europe, settling there permanently with his daughter. In 1912, he engaged two English architects, Geoffrey Scott and Cecil Pinsent, to build Villa Le Balze in Fiesole, where he lived until his death. In 1915, Strong developed a tumor on his spine that left him able to walk only with great difficulty, and he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. After his wife's death, Strong seems to have devoted himself entirely to philosophy. He welcomed Santayana, his classmate from Harvard, and other American philosophers to the Villa. He also wrote six new books, and most of his extant letters are essentially long philosophical essays for his colleagues with virtually no reference to people, places, or events. Later, facing old age, his attention turned to where he might bequeath his wealth, and after various changes of mind, a number of philosophy fellowships were endowed in 1939.