My Brother, Kenneth

Wofford has
always been characterized by characters. A professor who once walked the grounds of the campus and taught English
for some 41 years, Kenneth Coates was one of the legendary characters of the

A native of
Smithfield, North Carolina, Kenneth Daniel Coates graduated from the University
of North Carolina. After a few years of
teaching in the Tarheel State, Coates spent a summer in law school. After deciding he didn’t much care for law, he took a position as an English instructor at Wofford. He was married three days before he started his career at Wofford. That was in 1928.

Coates had a curmudgeon-ly (if that’s a word) reputation. He acknowledged that he was the “baby” of the
faculty, a position he held for years. When he came to Wofford, he wasn’t much older than his students. He took a master’s degree in English at UNC a
few years later, but never completed a doctorate. Coates quickly became involved with student
publications in the 1930s, helping to create an independent board of student
publications that still exists today. He strongly defended student freedom of the press and resisted any efforts at censorship. On four separate occasions, in 1933, 1937, 1952, and 1969, the Bohemian Staff dedicated the yearbook to him. Coates brought journalism and creative writing to Wofford, teaching the college’s first creative writing courses in the 1930s. He inaugurated the Helmus Award for student writing in 1958. 
During World War II, with most Wofford students away from campus, Coates became acting
editor of the Spartanburg Journal, the daily afternoon newspaper. He also edited the college’s alumni
newsletter, which helped alumni in the military, many of whom were serving far
away from South Carolina, keep in touch with each other and the college. At the end of the war, he chose to return to teaching, but continued to write and be active in community affairs.

Having been the junior member of the faculty for so long, he suddenly became one of its
senior members when most of the older professors retired right after World War
II. He became part of the college’s institutional memory, defending traditions loudly and vociferously whenever he felt them threatened. He loved students,
and although some of his former students went on to become generals and college
presidents, he said he was just as proud of “those with small talents who have
gone out and have not made Wofford ashamed of them.”

One of his former students, William E. Rone Jr., became the editorial page editor of the
State newspaper, and on Coates’ retirement, devoted a column to his old
professor. Rone called Coates “a bundle of eccentricities clothed in a rumples, tobacco-flecked suit… He loves to talk, and he’s not above listening. If there’s a subject that bores him, I don’t know what it is.”

“’‘fesser Coates,” as he was known to generations of students, was a bundle of contradictions. Though a traditionalist, he opposed mandatory chapel and refused to attend as a faculty member, but
according to Professor Lewis Jones, lamented its demise when it was abolished. He would always be working on a proposal or policy for debate at faculty meetings, but got to the point where
he refused to attend. He always wanted to know what was going on around campus, so he’d sit outside the room where the faculty met and listen in.

After his death, his brother, Albert Coates, compiled many of the stories about him into
a book, which he entitled “My Brother, Kenneth.” (If anyone wants a copy, let me know. We have extras.)

The college collected “final lectures” during the 1960s, and in his, Coates advised his
students: Take time to be curious, but about small things that have a way of giving color and perspective and excitement to life. You will find your life filled with little serendipities if you take time to be curious.
Sounds like good advice.

Below: The "Eric Hoffer Hat Full of Peas" Award that Coates frequently gave.



Buildings Faculty Photographs

Photos from the Snyder Papers

Below are a few photographs that I found as we began putting the final touches on the Snyder Papers.

We’ve completed the major weeding of some 20 file cabinet drawers of presidential records, and today, we looked through a few smaller boxes of materials, mostly donated in the 1950s by Mrs. Snyder, that were already on the shelf in the archives.  Most of the materials are what I classify as personal materials – articles by Snyder, some of his personal correspondence, biographical materials, and even his Phi Beta Kappa key from Vanderbilt University.  We’ll put the biographical materials, the articles, and some of his personal correspondence in order and wrap this project up shortly.  Hns002_3In the meantime, here are some of the photos of both Snyder, his house, and of him with other people.

The first photo is a small snapshot taken in 1916, when he would have been 51 years old.  The second simply reads “age 38, which would have put the photo around 1903.

Hns003The third image appears to have been taken in Andrews Fieldhouse, which means it had to have been taken after 1929.  Perhaps it’s at the college’s 75th anniversary celebration.

The fourth image comes from Commencement in 1939.  Hns004Snyder is in the left foreground.  Behind him is Wofford alumnus and United States Senator Ellison D. “Cotton Ed” Smith.  The photo shows that faculty members were wearing academic regalia by the 1930s.

The final two photographs are campus scenes.  One is of Dr. Snyder’s campus home, now called Snyder House.  The other is a winter scene, probably from the 1920s or 1930s.

Click on an image to bring up a larger version.  Hns006_2In the next week or so, we’ll post a new guide to the Snyder Papers, and perhaps copies of an address or two.


Dr. Snyder on Phi Beta Kappa

This is a selection from a radio talk by Wofford’s fourth president, Dr. Henry Nelson Snyder, in 1948.  Snyder was one of the five members of Phi Beta Kappa who received the college’s Phi Beta Kappa charter in 1941.  Several years after he retired, in 1948 and 1949, he presented a series of weekly radio interviews on Spartanburg’s WSPA-AM, hosted by Jane Dalton, the radio station’s woman’s editor.  In this talk, from April 23, 1948, he talks about Wofford’s recent celebration of Phi Beta Kappa day.  Since we’re celebrating our annual observance of Phi Beta Kappa day at Wofford today, I thought this would be appropriate to share.    This segment runs just under 5 minutes. 

Academics Faculty

A faculty talk from 1950 – David Duncan Wallace

David Duncan Wallace, who taught history at Wofford from 1899 to 1947, was in his day the foremost historian of South Carolina.  His four-volume History of South Carolina, published in 1935, covers the early history of the state in greater detail than any volume published before or since.  He was also the college historian, writing the History of Wofford College that remains the standard source for the college’s early history.  He wrote on other topics – the state constitution, the Revolutionary American leader Henry Laurens, and state government.

After he retired from the faculty, Wallace continued to teach and write.  In this talk on June 28, 1950, he addressed the Wofford summer teacher’s workshop, and touches on the beginnings of the Korean War, on the meaning of the past, and on South Carolina as a “new old state.”  These excerpts run about 6 minutes.

Documents Faculty

If I Were In College Now

President Henry Nelson Snyder’s advice to college students, presented in the 1938 College Handbook.

If college students read half of what is written about them, the kind of education they are getting, and the sort of world that is waiting for them, they would deserve our deepest sympathy.  They themselves do not know what they are doing and don’t seem to care; the education they are offered is all wrong and doesn’t fit them for anything; and the world they are facing is confused, disturbed, troubled, and heavy with colossal problems beyond the possibility of a solution—or so it is said.

If I were one of them now, I should try to get from my college course the things that could count in any sort of world, and the first thing would be the habit of hard, patient, persistent, intelligent work at the common tasks that college offers.  The habit of work has ever been the way of success.

In the second place, I should accept the mere routine of college as a blessed thing, holding me steady to the duties at hand, creating a controlling sense of obligation in meeting classes, the chapel hour, and any other daily responsibilities.  Any kind of life tomorrow is sure to have much of routine to it.
Then I should do my level best to make myself a well-informed man or woman.  I should be very busy getting acquainted with the fundamental sciences that are so intimately related to satisfactory living, and with what certain great peoples have contributed to that complex called modern civilization and culture – Jewish, Greek, Roman, Italian, German, French, Spanish, English.  To these I would add Sociology, Economics, and Political Science.  All this but hints that I should not like to go into whatever kind of world that may happen to be, ignorant of the forces that control it.  Surely there will be no place in it for the misinformed and the unenlightened!

Again, I should become interested in the arts that add beauty and grace, and dignity in human personality, – music, sculpture, painting, architecture, literature.  The world that will receive me when we are through with this college business will be a world of human beings, and therefore will always find joy and satisfaction in what are called the fine arts.

But the greatest of all the arts is the art of noble living.  I should for this reason do what I could in the process of my education to keep an unshaken faith in the enduring values of the ancient moralities – truth, honesty, honor, justice, kindness, and… gentleness of spirit.

What I have been trying to say is that I should not be bothered about what the critics seem to worry over, their lack of approval of the kind of education I am exposed to, their excitement over what the world is going to do to me and I to it,- if I were now a student in college.  Rather, I should lay hold with all my soul on these simple, essential, fundamental things, and gallantly face whatever the future may have in store for me.

Pictures: Snyder, the front gates, as drawn by student William Gladden.