Charles Forster Smith, an early faculty star

Charles Forster Smith had a long and distinguished career as a professor of Greek, and he got his start at Wofford, where he and a new generation of colleagues began to add academic rigor to the college’s curriculum.

Charles Forster SmithSmith, who was not related to Professor Whitefoord Smith, was born in 1852 in Abbeville County, SC, and graduated from Wofford in 1872. His address at commencement was entitled “Unity of Culture.” He then went on to do graduate study at Harvard. While there, he met Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in another student’s room, and became convinced that he needed to study abroad. And so, in 1874 and 1875, he ventured to study at the Universities of Berlin and Leipzig in Germany. He was evidently the first Wofford graduate to undertake graduate work in Germany.

He returned to Wofford to teach Greek and German in October 1875, in part to relieve the aging Professor David Duncan of some of his Greek courses. He thus, at least as far as I can tell, became the first Wofford graduate to return to teach at the college. He was 23 years old, and had the title “Junior Professor of Greek and German.” The next June, the trustees promoted him to Professor of Ancient Languages and German, four days shy of his 24th birthday. (However, a few years later, someone would take his place as the youngest full professor in the college’s history by only a few months.)

Smith, wrote D. D. Wallace in his History of Wofford College, was a scholar of a new type at Wofford, and he represented a new generation who wanted to have a thorough university education. The next year, he persuaded the college to bring William M. Baskervill, a Randolph-Macon alumnus who had been with Smith in Germany, to teach Latin, and Baskervill accepted. Wallace also noted that Smith and Baskervill were among those who instituted written examinations in their courses which, Wallace noted “were sometimes quite severe.”

Smith remained at Wofford until 1879, though the catalogue shows him on leave until 1881. During part of that time, he was studying for his Doctor of Philosophy degree at Leipzig, and after that, he taught for a year at Williams College.

Smith, along with Baskervill and James H. Kirkland, went on to teach at Vanderbilt, where all three taught a young Henry Nelson Snyder. Snyder wrote of the influence each of them had on his education and on his career, having studied Latin, Greek, and English with the three German-educated PhD’s. No doubt they encouraged Snyder to come to Wofford, and he was certainly following in their footsteps when he ventured to Germany to work on his PhD after a few years at Wofford.

In 1894, The University of Wisconsin came calling, and Smith journeyed north to head the Greek department in Madison. He remained there until 1917, but maintained friendships and connections in South Carolina.

By Phillip Stone

I've been the archivist of Wofford College and the South Carolina United Methodist since 1999. I'll be sharing college, Methodist, and local history, documents, photographs, and other interesting stories on this blog, which I've been keeping since December 2007.