Of the generation of faculty that taught at Wofford in the first half of the 20th century, Dr. William Leonard Pugh seems less well-remembered than some of his colleagues. Perhaps his quieter demeanor kept him in the shadows of other faculty, for unlike most of the others of his era, he didn’t have a nickname. He shared the English department in this era with the college’s president. Henry Nelson Snyder, so that may also account for his lower profile.
William Leonard Pugh was born in 1874 near Lenox, Iowa. He graduated from Parsons College, a Presbyterian-related college in Iowa, in 1897. He later earned an MA at Parsons in Latin and Greek, and taught those subjects at the preparatory school he had attended before college. He was a high school principal and later superintendent of schools in Corydon, Iowa from 1902 to 1907. Later, he continued his education at Northwestern, where he earned another MA in 1908, this one in English, and at Harvard, where he completed his PhD in English in 1911. He joined the Wofford faculty in the fall of 1911, becoming one of a quartet of doctoral-degree holding professors. Drs. Wallace, Waller, and Chiles were the other early PhD-holders in the 20th century.
In 1954, Dr. Pugh recalled how he came to Wofford and Spartanburg, places he’d never heard of before a telegram arrived from one of his doctoral advisers telling him to go South. The professor made favorable remarks about President Snyder, that he was a fine English scholar and that it would be good for the Midwesterner to learn something about the South. So, with only a few weeks before the start of school, in August 1911, Pugh and his wife packed their suitcases and traveled on the train to South Carolina, expecting to stay just one year before going elsewhere. But, once Dr. Snyder met the Pughs at the train station and showed them such warm hospitality, the Pughs later recalled that they fell in love with the campus. They also enjoyed the warm winters on top of the warm hospitality. Pugh did later report that once the students arrived that fall, he had to learn a separate set of names, as he started hearing the student nicknames for professors.
Interestingly, and perhaps a little unusually for early 20th century Spartanburg, Dr. Pugh’s wife was also Dr. Pugh – but in her case, she was a physician. Dr. Ruth Frank Pugh served for a number of years as the college physician at Converse College, and had been a Presbyterian medical missionary in India.
Dr. Pugh became active in Spartanburg’s First Presbyterian Church, showing that not all members of the faculty had to be Methodists. He was a Sunday school teacher in the church for many years, and a ruling elder of the church from 1919 until his death in 1957.
Students remembered that Dr. Pugh talked like he had a mouthful of marbles. He hammered his points across in lectures until students got them. He was known for his lectures, parallel reading, and homework. One student remembered writing mounds of themes for Dr. Pugh. Students also knew him for riding a bicycle to campus and around town, very stiffly, they recalled. Later, he had a Saxon roadster automobile – one of the many different types of automobiles in those early days of car manufacturing. He was regarded as a reserved, dignified, and somewhat aloof professor. He retired with a large group of longtime professors in 1947, when the college instituted an age limit for serving as a professor. He remained in Spartanburg for just over ten more years, dying in August 1957 in the town he’d arrived in 46 years before, intending only to stay one year.