Josiah Harmar Penniman, fourteenth Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on July 20, 1868. He was the son of James Lanman and Maria Davis Hosmer Penniman. His parents were of distinguished colonial ancestry, some of whom were among the founders of the town of Concord.
Josiah received his early education at home from his father, a Yale graduate who was noted for his interest in literature. Later he attended the William Penn Charter School inPhiladelphia and after his graduation from that school, entered the University of Pennsylvania. Penniman graduated from Penn with the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1890 and received Ph.D. from the same institution in 1895. When a student, he was editor-in-chief of the daily journal the Pennsylvanian.
Penniman became a member of the teaching staff at Penn in 1892 when he was appointed Instructor in English. In 1896 he was appointed Assistant Professor of English Literature and Vice Dean of the College and the next year made Dean of the College. He was promoted to be Professor of English Literature in 1903.
He resigned from the College deanship in 1909. Two years later, he was elected Vice Provost of the University. Upon the retirement of Provost Edgar Fahs Smith in 1920, Penniman was appointed Acting Provost. He was elected Provost of the University in January 1923 and for more than three years from July 1923 to late 1926 served as both President and Provost of the University. He held the position of Provost until 1939 when he retired.
Penniman was the author of two books--The War of the Theatres and A Book About the English Bible--as well as many articles on literary and educational topics. He was also the editor of Ben Jonson's Poetaster and Thomas Dekker's Satiromastix in the Belles Letters Series in 1905.
He received honorary degrees from a number of universities and colleges, which included the University of Alabama, Washington College, the University of Pennsylvania, Ursinus College, Juniata College, Lafayette College, Franklin and Marshall College, Swarthmore College and Muhlenberg College.
In addition to his academic and educational activities, Penniman had a keen interest in civic affairs. He was invited by many institutions for public speeches and addresses. In 1926 he was awarded the Kiwanis Medal in Philadelphia for distinguished civic service. In 1925 he was also appointed lieutenant-colonel in the Special Service Officers Reserve Corps of the United States.
Penniman was a member of many distinguished academic or civic societies, among them the American Philosophical Society, the Modern Language Association of America, the American Dialect Society, the American Society for the Advancement of Science, the English Association of Great Britain, the Society of Colonial Wars, the Sons of the Revolution, and the Royal Societies Club and the Pilgrims in London.
Penniman's brother, Dr. James Hosmer Penniman, was also a widely-known author and educator. He devoted much of his time to the study of the life of George Washington and to the development of memorial libraries at Penn, Yale and Brown universities in honor of his parents. In 1929, the United States Geographic Board honored the two brothers by naming two hanging glaciers in Alaska after them. James died in 1931.
Penniman was married in June 1929, to Ida Jutte Walther of New York City, a widow with three children. He was an affectionate son, brother, and husband.