Brushes with History Faculty

Seamus Heaney at Wofford

I’ve been digging in the files today for photos or clippings about Seamus Heaney’s visits to Wofford.  The Nobel laureate in literature and arguably Ireland’s most famous literary figure of the present day died recently.

Heaney spoke at Wofford on two occasions.  This poster is from his 1984 visit to the campus.

Poster from Heaney’s 1984 lecture

Heaney’s visits came about through his connections with Dr. Dennis Dooley, professor of English and founding director of the Wofford Writer’s Series.


Alumni Faculty Methodist

Bishop William Wallace Duncan

This article appeared in the April edition of the SC United Methodist Advocate.

One of South Carolina’s contributions to the Methodist episcopacy, William Wallace Duncan spent much of his life serving the Methodist Church.

Bishop William Wallace Duncan

When his father, David Duncan, joined the original Wofford College faculty in 1854, the 15-year old future bishop transferred from Randolph-Macon College.  Graduating from Wofford in 1858, Duncan returned to Virginia and entered the Methodist ministry.  He served churches in Virginia for sixteen years, and was also a Confederate chaplain.  Duncan returned to Wofford in January 1876 as Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, and he took on the additional duty of being the college’s financial agent, or chief fund-raiser.  Over the next ten years, Duncan traveled throughout South Carolina, speaking to Methodist churches in an attempt to raise the college’s endowment.  Duncan was active in Methodist circles, representing South Carolina in three successive General Conferences.  In 1881, he represented the Methodist Episcopal Church, South at the first Methodist Ecumenical Conference in London.  His work on Wofford’s behalf brought him increased attention throughout the region, and as a result, the 1886 General Conference elected him a bishop.

Though his elevation to the episcopacy meant he had to resign from the Wofford faculty, it did not end his relationship with the college.  He became a member of the Wofford board of trustees, and for the last nineteen years of his life, the bishop was the chairman of the board.  When he and his fellow trustees elected Henry Nelson Snyder to be the College’s fourth president, Duncan presented Snyder as president of “our” college, with emphasis, Snyder later remembered, on the word “our.”  Snyder later wrote of Duncan, “he looked more like a bishop than any other man I have ever known.”

In those days, the denomination had more annual conferences than bishops, and the bishops presided over multiple annual conferences each year. They did not necessarily preside over the same annual conference in consecutive years, either.  As such, Bishop Duncan served a number of different Annual Conferences across the South as bishop, and even had to travel to the far west as he presided over the Oregon Annual Conference six times.  When opening one annual conference, Duncan reportedly said, “I am glad to meet and greet you. I expect to be glad all the time I am with you, and possibly I may be glad when I leave you.”

Conferences did not provide episcopal residences for the bishops, and so Bishop Duncan made his office and residence in Spartanburg.  Around 1885, he started building a large home midway between the Wofford campus and downtown Spartanburg.  When he became a bishop, he altered some of the plans to accommodate many of the large meetings he might expect to host.  The house was the first in the city to have inside bathrooms with running water.  Wofford’s literary magazine reported in February 1889 that “Bishop Duncan’s handsome residence on North Church Street, second lot from the [Central] Methodist Church, is completed.  It is of English architecture with coat of arms on front.  The Bishop has been spending some time at home.”

At one point, North Church Street in Spartanburg must have been one of the most Methodist areas in the country – for Central Methodist Church, the Central parsonage, the Spartanburg District parsonage, the bishop’s residence, and Wofford sat all in a row. You have to feel a little sorry for Central’s ministers of the day, with their bishop and presiding elder both living on the same block.  From his home, Bishop Duncan could keep an eye on events at Wofford while he handled his responsibilities to the far-flung conferences he was serving.

The home remained in the bishop’s family after his death in 1908 and remained on the same site until 1999, when it was moved to make way for Spartanburg’s downtown Marriott.  The house now sits on a site between the city’s Magnolia Cemetery and the Carolinas campus of the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is restoring the house.

Documents Faculty Photographs

Joe Lesesne was installed as president 40 years ago today

On this day in 1973, Joab Mauldin Lesesne Jr. was officially installed as Wofford’s 9th president.

Presidents often have a formal installation or inauguration several months after they officially take office.  Joe Lesesne became the college’s president on June 30, 1972, but the formal ceremony did not take place until April.

Lesesne requested a smaller “installation” rather than a large “inauguration” because he wanted to speak more directly to the college community, and also partly to save money.  Dr. Lesesne went on to serve 28 years as president, retiring in 2000.

Here are some photos and programs from the day.  Click on each for a larger view.


Warren DuPre: Founder of the Sciences

While three professors started teaching at Wofford on the day the college opened, a fourth, who had been selected alongside the other three, received what we might call the college’s first faculty development leave.  That professor, Warren DuPre, received permission to travel in the North, buy scientific equipment, and study with other professors so that he might be able to teach all of the sciences.

Warren DuPre

At a time when the full curriculum was taught by four or five instructors, with a heavy focus on the classics, literature, religion and philosophy, each professor had to be something of a generalist.  In the original catalog, the scientist taught chemistry, geology, mineralogy, and also gave lectures in agricultural chemistry.  (The students also took astronomy, but that was taught by Dr. James Carlisle, the mathematician.)  No physics or biology classes appeared in the first catalog.

Into the role of founder of science education at Wofford stepped Warren DuPre. Born in 1816 in Mount Pleasant, SC, DuPre (then pronounced Dew-PRAY) had a good bit of experience in education by the time he got to Wofford.  He met his wife, Mary Sydnor, a native of Mecklenberg County, Virginia, during his association with Randolph-Macon College, then located in Boydton, Virginia.  When they married around 1843, he was assisting Professor Landon Garland in his work at the college.  They first moved to Mount Pleasant to be near his family, and then to Newberry, where he was the head of a large school for girls.  While he was at Newberry, in November 1853, he was called to the chair of science at Wofford.  He spent the first part of 1855 visiting colleges and studying chemistry with Yale professor Benjamin Silliman.

The DuPre family moved into the home just west of Main Building, and altogether five generations of DuPres lived there. Shortly after arriving on campus, the DuPre’s 9-year old son Sydnor died of typhoid fever. When the Civil War started, and the college lost most of its students, DuPre used his scientific knowledge to earn money for himself and the college.  He was sent to the coast to make salt from seawater.  He also made matches from some of the wood cut near campus.

A series of earthquakes in western North Carolina in 1874 prompted DuPre to take a group of students to the Hickory Nut Gap to investigate the commotion. He wrote to his father about the experience, including the fear the locals had of the unexplained trembling of the earth and the amazement at DuPre’s knowledge. One man reportedly said to one of DuPre’s students, “Ain’t that old man in there a very smart codger? He must have read a dozen books!”

Professor DuPre, probably because of his experience as principal of an academy for young women, was known around Spartanburg for holding Bible classes for young women, much in the same way that Professor Carlisle did for young men.  When he announced his departure from Spartanburg in 1876, to go become president of Martha Washington College in Virginia, the story is that the whole church burst into tears.  DuPre’s son Daniel Allston DuPre completed coursework in Edinburgh and returned to Wofford the next year to take over his father’s duties as the science professor.

Warren DuPre died three years later, and his widow returned to Spartanburg, taking up residence in her old house on campus with her son, who had taken over the house when he took his father’s professorship.


Academics Faculty

John Quitman Hill, Wofford’s fourth Rhodes Scholar

Wofford’s fourth Rhodes Scholar is also the only one to date that has returned as a member of the faculty.  Coming over thirty years after the last Wofford student or alumnus to be elected, Professor John Quitman Hill, took an unusual path to his scholarship.  A childhood illness prevented him from attending school until he was eleven years old.  Many children would never catch up after such a late start, but not only did John Hill graduate from high school seven years later, he went on to earn some of the highest academic honors in the world.

Professor John Quitman Hill

After he graduated from Gaffney High School, he took a job in a textile mill in Lyman, where he met and married his wife.  He became part of a substantial number of students who worked in textile mills while attending Textile Industrial Institute, now Spartanburg Methodist College.

During World War II, he enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corps.  In 1945, following  the end of World War II, he enrolled at Wofford as a sophomore and graduated at the end of the 1947 summer term.  The newly minted college graduate was 28 years old.  While at Wofford, he worked at night in the Pacific Mill in Lyman as a card grinder.  He completed his Wofford courses with all A’s and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.  A year later, he received his Rhodes Scholarship, and from 1948 to 1951, he studied at Oxford.  He earned his B. A. in the Honours School of Mathematics, working with such scholars as J. S. deWet,, E. C. Thompson, J. H. C. Whitehead, and E. C. Titchmarsh.  His primary fields of study were pure and applied mathematics and Riemanian geometry.

Returning with his family to South Carolina, he taught high school in Duncan (seriously!) before going on to teach at the University of Tennessee.  He returned to Spartanburg, where he taught briefly at Converse before joining the Wofford faculty in 1953.  In 1955, he was awarded the Oxford Master of Arts degree, entitling him to sit and vote as a member of Oxford’s Convocation.

A devoted teacher, Hill became one of the college’s first John M. Reeves professors in 1958 at the same time he was named chairman of the mathematics department.  He received the college’s inaugural distinguished teaching award in 1961. Students in the yearbook noted that he always had time for students, and claimed that “everything looks easy when he explains it.”  No small compliment for a mathematician.

Professor Hill died after a long illness in 1972 at the young age of 53.  Known for his interdisciplinary interests, Professor Hill conceived of an interdisciplinary seminar for faculty to examine the first principles of the various disciplines taught at Wofford.  That interest was reflected in the creation of the John Q. Hill memorial lecture series at the college.  The math department’s award for its most outstanding senior is also named in his honor.

Documents Faculty Founders Photographs

William Wightman and the cornerstone

William M. Wightman, First President of Wofford College and original chairman of the Board of Trustees

The laying of the cornerstone of Main Building took place on July 4, 1851, and as part of the ceremony, The Rev. William May Wightman, the chairman of the new college’s board of trustees, gave a somewhat lengthy address.  With thousands present, Wightman, who had been named to the board in Benjamin Wofford’s will, proclaimed, “We make this beautiful grove classic ground. For posterity emphatically we lay this cornerstone. Generations unborn are interested in the transaction of this hour.”

Wightman went on to announce that the college would “combine temple and academy; will be sacred at once to religion and letters… It is impossible to conceive of greater benefits, to the individual or to society, than those embraced in the gift of a liberal education…”

In writing a piece about President Wightman for the upcoming Wofford Today, I came across the handwritten version of his address in the Wightman Papers.  Someone asked me to share, so I am including it below.

The address from the laying of the cornerstone, July 4, 1851
Alumni Faculty

“Uncle Gus” Gamewell and his 65 years of service

Joseph Augustus Gamewell

It’s hard to believe someone could serve on the faculty for 65 years, but we had one professor who did just that.

Joseph Augustus Gamewell was born in January 1850, the same year that Benjamin Wofford died.  He was probably pre-destined to enroll at Wofford, as his father and grandfather were both Methodist ministers in South Carolina; his father was a member of Wofford’s original board of trustees.  As his father was the minister of Central Methodist in Spartanburg when the college opened, he could say that he was present as a small child at the very beginning of the college.

Young Gamewell enlisted in the Confederate army in the waning months of the war (at age 15), and later, prepared for entry into Wofford’s freshman class in the college’s preparatory department.  He enrolled in the college in 1867.  He was one of the charter members of Kappa Alpha when the fraternity came to Wofford in 1869, and he played on one of the early Wofford baseball teams.  He was president of the Calhoun Literary Society during his senior year, and he also was a speaker at Commencement.  After graduating with the class of 1871, Gamewell taught for four years in Kentucky before returning to teach at his alma mater.

In his first years back at Wofford, he taught in the preparatory department, but soon moved to teaching college courses as professor of Latin.  In 1879, he became the secretary of the college (we’d call him the secretary of the faculty today), a position he held for the rest of his tenure.

A very elderly Gamewell with his grandson.

“Uncle Gus,” as he came to be known, stands out in the history of Wofford for two reasons.  One was simply his longevity.  He was on the faculty from 1875 to 1940, or for 65 years. That’s the longest period of service for anyone in the college’s history.  And the fact that his father was a founding trustee, that he was literally present at the beginning, and that he could claim to have encountered everyone who had been connected with the college for over eighty years make him a distinctive figure.  In its November 7, 1938 issue, Life Magazine identified him as one of the oldest college professors in America, running a picture in its magazine. In addition to his longevity, Professor Gamewell founded the Wofford Lyceum, a type of lecture series popular in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Gamewell considered the Lyceum “my most successful and profitable work for the college and the community.”  Under the auspices of the Lyceum, numerous speakers with national reputations came to speak in Spartanburg.  College historian D. D. Wallace, his long-time faculty colleague, also cited the Lyceum as his greatest contribution to the intellectual life of the college.  The advent of radio made it gradually more difficult, as Wallace noted, to attract good speakers.  In the early years, though, the college was able to attract Woodrow Wilson, Lyman Abbott, George Kennan, Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, and William Jennings Bryan. It’s also reported that Booker T. Washington spoke as part of the Lyceum.  Many of these guests stayed in Gamewell’s campus home, which is now the Hugh R. Black Wellness Center.  Wallace said that while there was a Lyceum committee, Gamewell did all the work and let younger members of the committee know that he knew better than they what the public and college audiences wanted.

J. A. Gamewell spent most of his life in a relationship with Wofford.  Commenting on the time he spent growing up in Spartanburg and on his life in the community, he explained “If I was not on the campus, I was always in sight of the towers. These twin towers are an inspiration to anyone traveling on any road that today leads into Spartanburg.”

Academics Faculty Photographs

Whitefoord Smith: The professor with the odd name

Whitefoord Smith has one of the most unusual first names of any of our early professors, and it lived on for a long time in the name of the college’s first library – the Whitefoord Smith Library.

Prof. Whitefoord Smith

Born in Charleston in 1812, Smith he took his name from the family name of his father’s mother.  His great-great grandfather, Sir Adam Whitefoord, had been a Scottish baronet, and his great-grandfather, Col. Charles Whitefoord, was an officer in the 5th Regiment of Foot.

He attended the city schools in Charleston before moving on to South Carolina College. He was a student in Columbia during the presidency of Thomas Cooper. While at college, he found that he could not accept all of the teachings in the “Shorter Catechism” and left the Presbyterian Church of his ancestors for the Methodist Church. Methodism was, at the time, a denomination of the common people

At the same time, while he was a student at South Carolina College, he found his passion in the debating societies. He became a master of both parliamentary rules and of rhetoric, and it was said that he was the master of any assembly. He graduated from college in the Nullification era, and his speeches and debates gave some evidence that he might have a future in politics.

He studied law in the traditional manner, in the office of an attorney, but it was there that he felt a stronger call to the ministry. And so, in 1833, he joined the South Carolina Conference, beginning a period of some twenty years in various pulpits.  He was elected as a delegate to the Louisville convention that split the Methodist Church into northern and southern branches, and three times more was elected as a General Conference delegate.  On the death of Senator John C. Calhoun in 1850, he was asked to be the principal eulogist, but declined the honor, saying that he had not known the deceased well enough to perform the task.

Prof. Smith's spectacles, from the Archives

In 1855, the trustees of Wofford College, then in its second year, elected Smith to the chair of English language and literature. Smith had declined professorships before, but his health had begun to suffer from the overwork of the pastorate. He believed that he still had a service to provide, so he accepted the position and came to Spartanburg. He remained until 1859, when he was elected as the first president of Columbia College. The burdens of the presidency were quite heavy, and he resigned just a year later and returned to Wofford, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Though his oratorical skills and preaching ability were highly regarded, Smith was described as a humorless and nervous man. One report is that he was terribly afraid of thunderstorms, and that when a student wanted to bring a quick end to one of his lectures, he would comment that it looked like a storm was coming. This would send Dr. Smith scurrying to his home to his campus home next door to Main Building. In the event that it actually did storm, Professor Smith would gather his family in a room, close the blinds, and light a lamp to obscure the flashes of lightning, and pray loudly and fervently while the rain fell.  It’s also reported that Dr. Smith had a very old horse, Old Baldy, who was so slow that when he offered Professor David Duncan a ride in his carriage, Duncan declined, saying that he was in a hurry.

All joking aside, Smith was, by all accounts, a very good teacher of rhetoric, and in an oral culture such as the 19th century South, where effective public speaking was an expected part of a student’s public life, learning the skills of giving a public address was crucial. Dr. Charles Forster Smith, one of the college’s most distinguished early alums and later a professor at the University of Wisconsin, later wrote of how much he learned from Professor Smith’s courses on rhetoric and elocution.  The mature Charles Forster Smith did note that the courses on English literature were somewhat lacking, and that the professor neglected the more modern British and American literary fields altogether. That would not have been unusual among the college’s early faculty – they were all called to be generalists, and as much as teaching subjects, they were teaching ethical and moral leadership alongside the liberal arts.

Charles F. Smith also noted that Whitefoord Smith’s prayers in chapel were exceedingly long, remembering a fellow student with tired knees exclaiming during one prayer “Lord, will he never stop!”

I am sure that none of us remember any of our professors being a little long-winded.

Academics Faculty Photographs

The Wofford Faculty, the 1912 version

The college’s faculty has certainly grown over the years.

In 1854, on opening day, only 3 professors were on campus. The next year, that number grew to 5. Even as late as the 1890s, that number was about 8 or 9, and they were teaching about 150 students in most years.

But by 1912, that number had grown to 13. Together, they taught about 308 students.

Wofford's 1912 faculty
Wofford's faculty in 1912

That’s President Snyder in the middle, and he’s flanked by 4 senior professors.  I’ve written about some of them.  Those four, Rembert, Gamewell, Daniel DuPre, and Clinkscales, would continue through the 1920s, and some well into the 1930s. Gamewell was in his late 80s when he finally relinquished his Latin duties in the late 1930s.

Some of the others, Wallace, Mason DuPre, Shuler, Waller, and Pugh, would still be teaching in the late 1940s. Professor Shuler lived on into the early 1980s. Some of the others weren’t around for quite as long.  Colwell taught German and French from 1908-14. His replacement would have been James A. Chiles. Edwards taught chemistry and physics from 1909-1917. And Keaton taught gym from 1910-14.

Many of these professors worked together for twenty or thirty years, and most of them lived in campus homes or close by. Some had students living with them as well, and they formed quite the tight-knit community.

A hundred years have seen a lot of changes around campus. The faculty is larger and certainly more diverse.  The professors no longer live on campus, but they still develop strong working relationships with each other and with their students – even if they no longer have student boarders living in their houses. It’s a great testament to the strength of the faculty that students want to develop and maintain those ties to the ones that taught them here.

Academics Faculty

Charles Pettis – the forgotten physicist

Charles S. Pettis served on the Wofford faculty for some 34 years, but he’s almost part of a “lost generation” of professors.

He arrived after long-time professors such as D. D. Wallace, Coleman Waller, John Clinkscales, and James A. Chiles, and was more of a contemporary of Kenneth Coates, John L. Salmon, and W. R. Bourne.  All of these professors came in the 1920s and served into the 1960s, except for Pettis himself.

Born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1892, Charles Semple Pettis was educated at the University of Wisconsin, where he took his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics and physics.  He also did graduate work at Duke, UNC, and Harvard. Later in life, he was an officer in the Harvard Club of Western South Carolina.  He was a college administrator early in life, serving as dean at Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia, and then as president of Morris-Harvey College in West Virginia, both before he was 32.

He joined the Wofford faculty in 1924 as a professor of physics and chemistry, though for the most part, he taught physics.  He was also a mathematician, and was involved with the American Mathematical Society.

Kenneth Coates, his longtime colleague, recounted a story of Professor Pettis’s generosity during the Great Depression.

“It was in the dark days of the Depression, ‘those gray and haggard days,’ as Dr. Snyder described them.

“I was standing on the steps of the library, wondering where I could get a few dollars to buy groceries. I was the baby of the faculty at the time, having been at Wofford only three or four years.

“Professor Pettis came up the steps, spoke to me, and went on into the library. Whether he sensed my difficulty I do not know.

“When he came out of the library with a magazine a few minutes later, he came up to me and put something into my hand, concealing it with his own and folding my fingers over it. Then he said, ‘I won’t take any argument about this. You can pay me back when you can, but don’t pay me until you are able.’

“I started to protest, but he would not hear it and hurried on down the steps. When I opened up my hand, there was a crumpled five-dollar bill.”

            A mass of faculty retirements right after World War II meant that Professor Pettis went from being one of the junior to one of the senior professors.  He continued to teach physics through the spring of 1958, when he died suddenly at age 65.  His colleagues remembered him for his breadth of knowledge – they noted that he enjoyed history and literature, with a special interest in the Civil War, as well as his own fields.  He died too soon to see the new Milliken Science Hall completed.

Perhaps instead of being part of a lost generation, we ought to remember him as part of a bridge between the older generation of President Snyder’s professors and a younger generation who taught into the later 20th century. He was around to teach the GI generation in the immediate postwar years, often, if the stories are true, being led off topic to talk about one of his favorite things – Virginia ham.