Homer Martien Cook graduated from LaGrange College in Missouri before going on to the University of Chicago then graduating from the Columbia School of Expression. He pastored the Baptist Church in Maryville and also taught physical culture and expression at the Normal School until shortly before becoming president.
A noted orator, Cook is said to have been popular with the student body, but he had a troubled presidency beset with conflict and fiscal difficulties. The chronic financial crisis deepened in 1908 when Missouri's auditor cut off funds for educational institutions statewide, forcing the Northwest faculty to work without pay.
Cook quit in the summer of 1909, but there was a dispute over when his resignation took effect. The Board of Regents hired Henry Kirby Taylor as the school's new leader but allowed Cook to continue living in the Gaunt House (the official presidential residence) until Jan. 1, 1910. In essence, during the four months between Sept. 1, 1909 and Jan. 1, 1910, Northwest had two presidents.