The death of Mikhail Gorbachev on August 30 made me recall his visit to Emory University thirty years ago. It was May 11, 1992, and fifteen thousand graduates, friends, and family members filled the Emory Quadrangle to hear the Commencement address delivered by the last person to preside over the Soviet Union. It was the largest Commencement crowd in the University’s history, and that Commencement became the benchmark for all future Emory graduation exercises in terms of size, security—and celebrity (the last criterion not always met to the satisfaction of the students).
The year before, Eduard Shevardnadze had delivered the Commencement address. He had been foreign minister of the USSR until its dissolution and would later serve as first president of the Republic of Georgia. His granddaughter Tamuna Mosashvili was a student in Emory College, and a burgeoning academic and health-sciences relationship between Emory and Georgia paved the way for his appearance. Building on that experience, Emory President James Laney decided to invite Gorbachev as a follow-up act.
Out of power since 1991, Gorbachev had decided to go on a speaking tour of the United States, including a stop at Westminster College in Missouri, where Winston Churchill had delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946. Emory was able to lure Gorbachev by promising a meeting with President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Presidential Center might serve as a model for the kind of post-political career Gorbachev could have.
I was part of the delegation that met Gorbachev at the Atlanta airport, where he arrived on a private jet supplied by Malcolm Forbes, the publisher of Forbes magazine. The irony of name of the plane carrying this communist leader was lost on none of us waiting on the tarmac—Capitalist Tool.
Interest in hearing this former head of the Soviet Union was so intense that people with no connection to Emory and from as far away as Florida wanted to attend the event; the Quadrangle had to be fenced off for the first time to ensure that graduates and their guests would have seats. Even so, the graduates could receive only a limited number of tickets, making for a lot of unhappiness.
The day was magnificent. Senator Sam Nunn 1961C 1962L introduced President Carter, who in turn introduced Gorbachev. The audience listened to the speech twice—first in Russian and then in English, as Gorbachev and his translator alternated paragraph by paragraph. It did go on, and the audience was no doubt happy to stand and applaud the final words. Having received his honorary degree, Gorbachev departed the stage and went on to his next stop.
For more on this episode, see chapter 8 of my book Emory as Place: Meaning in a University Landscape (University of Georgia Press, 2019).
Mark is a former faculty member at Oxford College and is now a research scholar in anthropology at Brandeis University and visiting associate professor at Boston University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He spent years uncovering the documentary history of enslaved men and women who helped to build, operate, and maintain Emory College in its antebellum years, as well as tracing and celebrating the legacy of their descendants. The results of that extraordinary research became his book The Accidental Slaveowner: Revisiting a Myth of Race and Finding an American Family (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011).
UNCOVERING ENSLAVEMENT ON THE MAIN EMORY CAMPUS: TWO RECEIPTS FROM THE CIVIL WAR ERA
by Mark Auslander
Let us consider two receipts issued during the Civil War in the town of Decatur, Georgia. Both cast light on the structures and experiences of enslavement on the lands that would become, many decades later, parts of the main campus of Emory University.
The first document (Fig.1) is found in the Rose Library, in a scrapbook assembled and donated by the descendants of Washington Jackson Houston (1831–1911), a major landowner and entrepreneur in Decatur and Atlanta. The document reads:
1st Confed Cav Regt [regiment]
Near Decatur GA
July 18th ’64
Recvd of W. J. Houston
Two hundred and ninety bundles oats, forage for horses of this Regt [regiment] while on picket
J. W. Irwin Capt [Captain]
Co. G. 1st Confed Cav Regt
Kellys Cav Div [Division]
The 1st Confederate Cavalry Regiment had been organized in Tennessee in April 1862. After the Battle of Chickamauga, the 1st (also known as the 12th Cavalry Regiment) had been placed within the division of Confederate Brigadier General John Herbert Kelly, Army of the Tennessee, who had commanded units with distinction at Chickamauga (September 18–20, 1863) and the Battle of Pickett’s Mill (May 27, 1864), both Confederate victories. General Kelly would die six weeks after the receipt was signed, on September 2, 1864, while participating in an effort in Franklin, Tennessee, to cut off Union General Sherman’s supply lines during the final phase of the Atlanta campaign. As it happened, September 2 was the very day that Atlanta surrendered to General Sherman.
In mid-July 1864, the 1st Cavalry Regiment was assigned to the outer defense of Atlanta during the prolonged struggle over the city that would play a determinant role in the ultimate outcome of the Civil War. The regiment was under the command of General Joseph Wheeler, its mission to harass advancing Union forces and provide intelligence and reconnaissance reports to the Confederate command.
Who was Captain J. W. Irwin?
Captain J. W. Irwin was James William Irwin (1835–1914), who grew up in Savannah, Hardin County, Tennessee, the son of James and Nancy Sevier Irwin. He enlisted as a 2nd lieutenant on October 1, 1861, and served throughout the war, surrendering with his unit  in Gainesville, Alabama, on May 4, 1865. He was paroled May 11, 1865, and returned home. In 1870 he is listed as a dry goods merchant back in Savannah, Tennessee. In 1868 he married Cornelia Broyle; the couple raised six children. Captain Irwin held prominent positions in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and local Masonic chapters. It is worth remarking that both Captain Irwin and Washington Jackson Houston, who had such a brief encounter on the eve of the Battle of Atlanta, survived the war and lived well into the twentieth century, dying within three years of one another, in 1914 and 1911, respectively.
Who was W. J. Houston?
Houston’s great-great-grandson Richard Houston Sams, who resides near the Emory campus, recalls family stories that during the Civil War, Washington Jackson Houston routinely traveled back and forth between his home in Decatur, some six miles east of Atlanta, and his home in Atlanta, where he oversaw railroad logistics for the Confederate war effort. (For this reason, he was excused from military service.) As the war intensified and Atlanta became a likely target of Union military advances, he had arranged for his wife, daughters, and enslaved people to be transferred out to the Decatur area, which he anticipated, erroneously, would put them out of the line of fire. On December 24, 1863, he purchased a major tract of land north of present-day North Decatur Road, from his wife, Amanda’s, father, Dr. Chapmon Powell, and settled his family and enslaved people there.
Sections of this property later became part of the Clairmont Campus of Emory University and the Lullwater Preserve (home of the Emory president), as well as the Houston Mill House property owned by Emory and named in Houston’s memory. Washington Jackson Houston acquired the cabin in which his in-laws, the Powells, had lived, known as Dr. Powell’s “medicine house,” and built his home around it. (The original medicine house cabin was later relocated to Stone Mountain park, where it remains on display.) It was at this location that Houston presumably received the receipt for his oats.
Although the parties to the receipt were unaware of the fact at the time, that week was to prove pivotal to the trajectory of the war. The day before, Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, relieved General Joseph Johnston of command for the defense of Atlanta, putting in his place General John Bell Hood. Sherman reportedly was pleased over the news, knowing Hood’s reputation for aggressiveness and impetuousness, which made it more likely that he would send troops beyond the sturdy defenses Johnson had overseen, meeting Sherman’s troops in open battle.
July 18 was also the day before Union troops, in the 23rd Army Corps of the Army of the Ohio, commanded by John M. Schofield, crossed the South Fork of Peachtree Creek and set up a command post, which served as temporary headquarters for General William T. Sherman. The headquarters was the subject of an illustration published the following month in Harper’s Weekly, by the celebrated northern artist and war correspondent Theodore R. Davis (Fig. 2).
These events were commemorated by a plaque along Clairmont Road, placed in 1954 by the Georgia Historical Commission but no longer standing:
“West of this point 75 ft., was the antebellum residence of James Oliver Powell (1826–1873), Sherman’s headquarters, July 19, 1864. Sherman traveled with Schofield’s 23d A.C. from the Chattahoochee River at Power’s Fy. July 17, & arrived here July 19. The house was used as a temporary hospital while the 23d A.C. was in his vicinity. Cox’s (3d) div. moved to the Paden plantation (Emory University); Hascall’s (2d) div., together with Dodge’s 16th A.C. occupied Decatur occupied Decatur after a spirited conflict with the defenders of the town — a detachment of Wheeler’s cavalry (CS).
The nearby Hardeman Primitive Baptist church (located beside the present-day Clifton School on the Clairmont Campus) was used as a field hospital for wounded Union soldiers. When the Union army made ready to depart, they burned the structure. Houston’s descendant Richard Sams believes the burning was likely a sanitation measure because of the large number of limbs that had reportedly been amputated within it by Union Army surgeons. Two days later, Sherman’s army would fight the Battle of Peachtree Creek, and then face Confederate defenders in the climactic Battle of Atlanta of July 22, commemorated in the Cyclorama at the Atlanta History Center.
On July 19th, as they set up temporary headquarters at the Powell place, these Union troops would certainly have informed the enslaved people on the Houston and adjacent plantations that under the terms of Emancipation Proclamation they were legally free. Many previously enslaved African Americans would choose to follow Sherman’s troops four months later on his March to the Sea across Georgia.
The fall of Atlanta in early September 1864 struck an enormous blow to the Confederate effort and virtually guaranteed Abraham Lincoln’s reelection in the November 1864 election, dashing Confederate hopes that the Federal leadership would ever sue for peace. It also helped doom the eventual fall of the slavery system on which the Confederacy was anchored.
Identifying Enslaved Persons
Who precisely were the enslaved people on the Houston plantation who must have produced, among other things, the 290 bundles of oats for the Confederate horses, referenced in the receipt? The 1860 slave schedule lists Washington Houston as owning only two slaves at his Atlanta residence, a girl age 10 and a woman age 50. It seems likely that when he purchased hundreds of acres of land from Chapmon Powell, he must have bought a number of enslaved people as well. (Chapmon Powell had owned sixteen slaves in 1850, and six slaves in 1860.)
The identities of these enslaved people are hinted at by the fact that six years later, when the 1870 census was enumerated, the W. J. Houston household (Dwelling #120), included an African American woman named Ophelia Powell, age 22, born around 1848, employed as a domestic servant. She appears to be the adult child of the African American couple Irvin Powell (b. 1828) and Ursilla Powell, who in 1870 lived with five children twelve households away from the white Houstons in Decatur (Dwelling # 132). It seems likely that at least some members of this African American Powell family had been owned by W. J. Houston during the Civil War period. It may be that Ophelia is a match for the unnamed ten year old child listed in the 1860 slave schedule as property of W. J. Houston in Atlanta, and had been with the white Houston family for an extended period, even while most of her family was owned by the white Powell family in Decatur. (In his 1857 will, Chapmon Powell indicated his desire to bequeath a girl child slave to his daughter Amanda, the wife of Washington Jackson Houston; he may have given or sold other slaves to Houston during the Civil War period.)
Washington Jackson Houston must have been confident he would be compensated in full for the costs of the 290 bundles of oats from the Confederacy at some point; it appears this never happened, since, as his descendant Richard Houston Sams notes, the receipt remained in the family possession until it was donated to Emory Special Collections. The Confederate military, after all, was occupied with the defense of Atlanta, and evacuated the city on September 1, 1864, so there was never an opportunity for Houston to redeem his receipt. The document remained among the Houston family descendants until Richard Houston Sams generously donated it to Emory’s Special Collections, as part of the W. J. Houston Scrapbook some years ago.
In contrast, Mr. Houston’s neighbor Thomas Noteman Paden, just up the road (living at what is now the intersection of North Decatur and Springdale Roads, in Druid Hills) was clearly reimbursed twice for providing the Confederate army with fodder earlier during that fateful summer. On June 9, 1864, he sold 1,750 pounds of fodder for $87.50. July 15, three days before the transfer of oats from W. J Houston to the 1st Confederate Cavalry, he sold 7,500 pounds of fodder for $300.00, and was clearly paid. 
A Receipt for Lucy
As it happens, Thomas Noteman Paden is referenced in a very different kind of receipt (Fig. 3), which dates to a few weeks before the official start of the Civil War. This document, preserved at the Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center, reads as follows:
“Georgia, DeKalb County. Received of my father James Paden a negro girl by name Lucy about seven years old of dark complexion and valued by Daniel Johnson and Robert Medlock at six hundred dollars, as part of his estate this 25th day of March 1861. Witness my hand and seal Thomas N Paden. Robert Medlock”
James Paden (c. 1792–1864), who gave seven-year-old Lucy to his son, was a Judge of the Inferior Court in DeKalb County, who owned a 700-acre plantation adjacent to the Powell and Houston properties. His lands occupied the lands that now house the core campus of Emory University and the Druid Hills Golf Club. His house was located at the northwest corner of what is now Clifton and North Decatur Roads. In 1860, he is recorded as owning twenty enslaved people. One of these was an enslaved female, age seven, who presumably was Lucy.
Lucy’s parents, Jerry and Grace, were enslaved by Judge Paden, as were her brothers Jerry (Jr.) and Sandy, and sisters Rose Anna and Sarah. Sarah had been transferred some years earlier, as a provisional gift, to Judge Paden’s daughter Caroline Lettice Paden Chandler, wife of W. B. Chandler; she was taken with the Chandlers to their home in Fannin County, Texas, about 700 miles from Decatur. (In his will, written in 1859, Judge Paden finalized this gift, formally bequeathing Sarah to Caroline.)
Now, in March 1861, Lucy too was being separated from her parents and siblings. Thomas Paden’s plantation was about a mile west of Judge Paden’s house, a little south, as noted, of the intersection of present day Decatur and Springdale Roads, in the modern day Druid Hills neighborhood. She presumably was able to see her family from time to time, but the move must have been traumatic for the little girl and her loved ones.
Why did Judge Paden choose to transfer young Lucy to his eldest son Thomas on this day? The late days of March 1861 were ones of enormous national tension as the fate of besieged Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor remained uncertain and war loomed on the horizon. Open warfare would not officially begin until the morning of April 12, when Confederate batteries opened fire upon Fort Sumter, but throughout March pro-Confederate fervor ran high in Georgia and plans were already being made for military mobilization. Perhaps the Judge anticipated that his son would soon enter into Confederate military service and wanted to provide Thomas’s wife, Nancy Caroline Guess Paden (1819–1904), with household help during Thomas’ upcoming absence. Or it may be that the timing of the transfer was coincidental; many people in Georgia, after all, did not anticipate that the North would fight to preserve the Union.
In any event, a little more three years later, the day after W. J. Houston received the receipt for the oats was a momentous one for the enslaved people on the Paden plantations. General Jacob Dolson Cox, whose 3rd Division was part of Schonfield’s advancing army, occupied Judge Paden’s house as his temporary headquarters on the evening of July 19. Union soldiers camped that night in what is now the CVS parking lot in Emory Village. It seems likely that Union officers would have informed the enslaved people on the Paden plantations that under the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation they were now legally free.
True freedom, however, would be delayed for many months. After Judge Paden’s death, in December 1864, his property was divided among his heirs in January 1865; in the eyes of the DeKalb County Court, slavery was still fully operational. A dozen enslaved people were distributed, tearing apart several families, including Lucy’s relatives. Lucy, now owned by Thomas N. Paden, was not herself redistributed, but her parents, Jerry and Grace, were sent about seventy miles northwest of Atlanta to be enslaved by Judge Paden’s daughter Elizabeth Paden Strange. Lucy, then around ten years old, must have feared she would never see her mother again.
However, within five years, the family was reunited. The 1870 census records the following household living in Atlanta:
Jerry Paten age 63 (b. 1807, born in Virginia), farm laborer
Grace Paten, age 60 (b .1810 in South Carolina)
Jerry Paten 24 (b. 1846)
Rosanna Paten. 23 (b. 1847)
Lucy Paten, 16 (b. 1854), attending school
Sandy Paten, 12 (b. 1858 ), attending school
William Daniels, age 23 (b. 1847)
Aaron Williams, age 22 (b. 1848)
I am not sure if William and Aaron, residing in the Paten household, were kin to the Patens. Ammi Williams, a major Atlanta-Decatur property owner, owned a plantation immediately north of the Padens (on the grounds that now include the Emory north campus and the Centers for Disease Control) on which were enslaved a number of people. It is possible that Aaron came off of that property.
Life must have been challenging for the newly freed Paten family in the 1870s, as they negotiated the sharecropping system, the end of Reconstruction, and the mounting strictures and disenfranchisements of the segregation era. Yet we know that Lucy and Sandy were pursuing their education, and were together once more with their loved ones, facing the uncertain future together.
What’s in a Receipt?
Pondering these two brief documents, it is worth reflecting on what precisely is involved in a receipt. It is formally a minimal contract, ratifying a commodity-based transaction between buyer and seller, or giver and receiver, as property moves from one party to another. Yet, as we have seen, receipts can evoke a good deal more than that, including traces of lives lived in the relative shadows, whose full existence is not fully recognized by the legally authorized figures who receive and relinquish property in the recorded transaction.
Karl Marx long ago noted insightfully that property is not so much a relationship between a person and an object as it is a relationship between people through objects. Those people, whose labor makes possible the transferred objects, may not even be mentioned in the legal record; the enslaved individuals who plowed the fields, harvested the oats, and who perhaps were ordered to feed and tend to the horses, are nowhere noted in the July 1864 receipt. While Lucy is notated in the 1861 receipt, and her appraised value of six hundred dollars is recorded, her personhood is emphatically not acknowledged in the document. She is legally only chattel, a token of value to be transacted at the whim of her owners. Her value of course was bound up in her reproductive potential; the appraisers must have anticipated that she would give birth to many future enslaved children, who would in turn increase the wealth of Thomas Paden.
And yet, behind the receipts are the lives of so many people who performed uncompensated labor on behalf of their white masters, including the families of Irwin and Priscilla Powell, and Jerry and Grace Paten, who would see their families torn apart during the slavery era, and then struggle to preserve their families’ integrity against all odds.
Finally, we might give some thought to the horses themselves, being fed the oats that day, July 18, 1864, during a brief interim between hostilities. We do not know how many horses carried the cavalrymen of Company C of the 1st Georgia Regiment, but we can assume many of them did not survive the coming rifle and artillery fire, as General Wheeler’s regiments tried in vain to slow Sherman’s progress towards Atlanta. For some, presumably, those oats were their final meal, as they and their equine brethren on both sides of the conflict were sacrificed in the bloody maw of war. From that violent conflict, to be sure, would emerge the liberation of four million souls, and, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “a new birth of freedom.” Yet, as we honor the lives of the formerly enslaved Powells and Patens in freedom, and celebrate all those who built new worlds in the aftermath of Emancipation, we should also allow these two receipts to stand as quiet memorials to all those, human and nonhuman alike, who did not live to see the war’s conclusion in April 1865.
Acknowledgements: This research was made possible by support from the Ginger Smith University Archives Fund for the Travel Award from the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University. I am grateful to the staff at the Rose; the DeKalb County Historical Society; the Probate and Real Estate divisions of the DeKalb County, Georgia Courthouse; the Georgia State Archives, Georgia Division of Archives and History; and the Kenan Research Center (Atlanta History Center) for their assistance and guidance. Special thanks to Gordon Jones, Curator of Civil War History, Atlanta History Center, Ginger Hicks Smith, Emory University archivist emerita, John Bence, Emory University archivist, and Rev. Dr. Avis Williams.
For further reading on the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, the Battle of Atlanta, and the work of memory, please see:
 Marcus Joseph Wright, Tennessee in the War, 1861-1865; Lists of Military Organizations and Officers from Tennessee in Both the Confederate and Union Armies; General Staff Officers of the Provisional Army of Tennessee, Appointed by Governor Isham G. Harris (Williamsbridge, New York City: A. Lee Publishing Company, 1908).
 A brief regimental history records a Captain J. U. Irwin with the First Cavalry, slightly misidentifying the officer who signed the receipt. Tennesseans in the Civil War, Vol 1. 1964. Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee.
 DeKalb County Deeds; Richard Houston Sams (personal communication).
 Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861–65, National Archives. I am grateful to Gordon Jones of the Atlanta History Center for calling these transactions to my attention.
 United Daughters of the Confederacy Collection. MSS 765, Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center.
 A copy of James Paden’s will is in the Asa Griggs Candler collections, MSS 001, Stuart A. Rose Library, Emory University.
 Thomas N. Paden was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Company, DeKalb County, Georgia Militia on March 21, 1864, as the Atlanta Campaign loomed. (United Daughters of the Confederacy Collection, MSS 765, Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center).
To the best of my recollection, this is how the the statue of Dooley came to Emory.
The initial idea belonged to Lance Henry, an economics and music major who graduated from Emory College in 2007. He had an interest in Emory history and once proposed resurrecting the name of the first Emory student publication – The Collard Leaf, from before the Civil War – to create an alternative to the Emory Wheel and the Emory Phoenix. When he approached me about getting the new publication started, we got so far as designing a banner and recruiting writers, but waning interest and lack of funds meant that the Collard Leaf never sprouted.
Determined, I suppose, to leave his mark at Emory somehow, Lance next proposed erecting a statue of Dooley. His vision was to mount it on top of the old Dobbs University Center (replaced by the current student center) – like the statue atop the U.S. Capitol – with Dooley facing east, toward his home in Oxford. This seemed self-defeating to me – how would anyone see Dooley a hundred feet above them on top of a fairly flat dome? – but I agreed to help him see whether the notion of a Dooley statue somewhere on campus could get traction. Lance took the proposal to the Student Government Association, which offered encouragement but no funding.
To gauge campus interest, we created a survey to see which Emory students had any knowledge of Dooley and whether attitudes toward Dooley were mostly positive or negative. Unsurprisingly, far more undergraduates knew about Dooley than graduate or professional students, and while the undergraduates varied, a majority leaned positive.
After discussing the proposal with the Public Art Committee, and with the help of Linda Armstrong, Kerry Moore, and other members of the Visual Arts Department, the Traditions and History Committee published a national request for proposals in Art Papers and Sculpture magazine, asking sculptors for credentials and photographs of representative work. We received nineteen responses, and after reviewing all of the materials, a selection committee invited four artists to present models of their proposed statue of Dooley. The artists came from Maryland, Atlanta, Washington State, and Chicago; one was an alumna.
In early 2007 we brought the artists to the Visual Arts Studio to meet with the selection committee, who included members of the Visual Arts Department, the Public Art Committee, and the Traditions and History Committee. Of the four presentations, one clearly stood out – the model presented by Matthew Gray Palmer, of Friday Harbor, Washington. Among his many sample photos, we saw sculptures of birds and animals that were constructed of thin metal plates curved, cut, and attached in a way that suggested shape but also latent and kinetic energy. His model for Dooley used the same technique. The accurate representation of a life-size skeleton appeared to be hurrying forward and leaving in its wake an enlivening rush of wind and energy – just what one would expect from the “spirit” of a place. Whimsically, Matthew shows Dooley casting aside his skeleton costume to reveal that underneath, he is really — a skeleton! A mystery within an enigma.
Installation of the sculpture required approval of a series of committees as well as the board of trustees. We presented the model and the site proposal to the full Public Art Committee and to the Real Estate, Buildings, and Grounds (REBG) Committee of the board. The minutes of the May 23, 2007, meeting of the REBG Committee state:
Dr. Gary Hauk joined the meeting with a model of the Dooley statue designed by Matthew Gray Palmer. This design is the culmination of student surveys and a national sculptor search. The design has received affirmations by the Public Art Committee, the Art History Department, and the Visual Arts Program. The statue will be constructed in either bronze or steel and will be placed between the Anthropology Building and the roundabout on Asbury Circle. The Emory Alumni Association will be asked to support fundraising for the project, estimated at $85,000.
The committee approved the statue, as did the board at its meeting the following month.
We commissioned Matthew to complete the sculpture, which took about eight months. In addition to funds for the sculpture, we had to find money for the site preparation. Much of the funding came from donors, with the balance coming from a university landscape fund. The campus community gathered for the dedication of the sculpture in September 2008.
Campus reaction was mixed. One longtime faculty member, at Emory for more than three decades, told me that it was the best addition to the campus in years. Some admired the statue’s sense of grace and dash. Others, however, thought the statue was (like Dooley himself, in their view) “ghoulish” or disturbingly dark.
Almost immediately the statue became a mannequin to be adorned with costumes appropriate to the season, whether hearts for Valentine’s Day, a green headband for St. Patrick’s Day, beads for Mardi Gras, or whatever fit the theme of Dooley’s Week in a given year. His outstretched top hat often contained coins dropped in by passersby presumably inviting good luck.
One online commentator (at https://www.roadsideamerica.com/blog/lord-dooley-mascot-statue-no-boner/ ) remarked, “Immortal public art often takes time to be accepted. The same will likely be true for Lord Dooley. . . . Dooley is proof that college is still a place where ideas can flow and shape freely, even if the end result is a scary skeleton that reminds people that they will die. And when the cultural pendulum eventually swings and campuses again resemble a 1970s Grateful Dead concert, Emory students will say that they have the most freakin’ awesome mascot ever. And they will be right.”
The death of Hank Aaron on January 22 reminded me of his receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Emory at Commencement in 1995. When the University celebrated the man who broke racial barriers along with Babe Ruth’s home run record, the occasion seemed to call for the citation writer — me — to swing for the fences too. And if I couldn’t hit the ball over the fence with my words, at least I could summon an echo of poetry. Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” came to mind, with its line that “good fences make good neighbors.”
Home-Run King, Diligent Citizen:
A young man not yet able to vote,
you left family and home to follow your life’s great calling.
North and South you pursued, as well,
your nation’s destiny of colorblind opportunity.
Along the way you entered the large and consequential realm
of American myth. Through perseverance and fortitude,
you showed good fences make good targets.
In our springtime of anxiety about America’s pastime and future,
your career—in baseball and since—reminds us that,
however simple the games of our youth,
our collective history has no simple eras.
For your heart—its strength and striving toward good—
and for your hands—their power and building of good—
we confer on you the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
You can see more about Hank Aaron and his relationship with Emory here.
In a day when plenty of fences still divide us, our country owes great thanks to this American hero. Thank you, Henry Louis Aaron, for helping us to see that we can change society for the better without violence, but with courage, truth, and hope.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, many questions have come up about the impact of the 1918-20 pandemic on Emory. How did that terrible influenza more than a hundred years ago affect life on campus for students, faculty, and staff? What role did Emory’s new medical school play in battling the pandemic, if any? How did Wesley Memorial Hospital (later Emory University Hospital) respond in its location in downtown Atlanta? (The hospital moved to Druid Hills in 1922.)
When the virus hit in 1918, Emory college was still located on its original campus, in Oxford, Georgia, while the schools of theology, law, and medicine had barely gotten a start on the Druid Hills campus, which opened in 1916. The student body on both campuses was small, and both campuses were somewhat isolated from major population centers. Still, the 1918–20 influenza pandemic infected millions of Americans and killed more than 31,000 Georgians in 1918 alone.
Caelan Bailey, a first-year student at Oxford College of Emory University, has written the most thorough history of that earlier pandemic as well as the current pandemic in the context of Emory. I’m grateful to her and to the Emory Wheel, where the story was originally published, for permission to repost the story here.
Emory University Historian, Emeritus
The 1918 Pandemic: Then and Now
by Caelan Bailey
Copyright, The Emory Wheel
November 18, 2020
When a virulent disease upended Katherine Anne Porter’s life, the author turned to writing to process her experience.
“All the theaters and nearly all the shops and restaurants are closed, and the streets have been full of funerals all day and ambulances all night,” Porter wrote.
While the scene may sound familiar in 2020, that excerpt is from “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” Porter’s 1937 collection of short stories largely based on her experience surviving the 1918 influenza pandemic, commonly known as “The Spanish Flu.”
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
October marked 102 years since the deadliest month in American history when 195,000 Americans succumbed to the Spanish Flu. The peak of the pandemic came in the fall of 1918 and by the end of 1919, the disease left a total of 50 million deaths, 675,000 of whom were Americans.
Despite its immense toll, with influenza deaths surpassing those of coinciding World War I, Emory pediatrician and medical historian Dr. Hughes Evans noted that knowledge of the 1918 pandemic was not widespread until recent decades.
“For a long time, people called the 1918 epidemic America’s forgotten epidemic because it was as if it never happened,” Evans said. “No one talked about it, no one taught about it, no one read about it.”
Ten months into the COVID-19 pandemic, global deaths have reached one million worldwide. By press time, the New York Times estimated that 246,879 Americans and 8,740 Georgians have died of COVID-19.
“It’s useful to make a comparison [between 1918 and 2020] only to say that the virus is the public health crisis of the century,” said Dean of the Rollins School of Public Health Dr. James Curran. “We’ve not had anything like this in a hundred years that has such worldwide impact and such consequences — economic consequences, other health consequences, international consequences.”
While the specific origin of the 1918 strain of influenza is unknown, the first outbreak occurred in March 1918 at Camp Funston in Kansas, according to John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Plague in History.” Troop movement during World War I facilitated its spread throughout Europe and the world, likely mutating along the way to become deadlier to humans by its second wave.
The disease was later dubbed the “Spanish flu,” which was largely due to Spain’s reporting of the sickness when no other countries did, according to infectious disease expert Dr. Robert Gaynes of the Emory School of Medicine.
“When it began to occur in Spain, they reported it,” Gaynes said. “People erroneously believed it started there.”
Today, the World Health Organization uses “Spanish flu” as an “example to be avoided” in the naming of new diseases, advising against including geographic locations in names of viruses. President Donald Trump’s use of “China virus” to describe COVID-19 has endured similar criticism.
Unlike most viruses, including COVID-19, the 1918 influenza largely impacted young and healthy people. Gaynes said as fear grew about the swiftly acting disease, the phrase “well at breakfast, sick at lunch and dead by dinner” became popular.
Medicine at the time, according to Evans, was in its “pre-virology days.”
“They knew it was a respiratory infection,” Evans said. “They thought it was probably bacterial, although I think there was some vague understanding that there may be something else going on.”
In Georgia, the disease first appearedin September 1918 at Camp Gordon, a temporary military training camp outside of Atlanta. Military officials placed the camp under quarantine, with reports of “iron-clad sanitary precautions being forced on each man at the camp.” Nurses were in short supply.
However, by Oct. 4, 1918, the Georgia State Health Board issued a warning as influenza showed “a considerable presence,” advising that “the epidemic now sweeping the country must be intelligently met or a vast toll of suffering and many deaths will result.”
In Atlanta, doctors reported 230 influenza cases in early October and the city instated a “ban on public gatherings” as the police force was “instructed to keep vigilant watch over persons who expectorate in the streets.” As the Red Cross opened work rooms to sew masks, health authorities assured the public that there was “no reason for alarm.”
The Atlanta History Center noted public outcry in October 1918 as movie theatres closed to prevent the spread, citing former President Woodrow Wilson’s own continued patronage. Outdoor entertainment like the Georgia state fair and college football games, however, continued with masked crowds, as they do today.
By the end of October 1918, The Atlanta Constitution ran the headline “Influenza Showing Decrease in State.” A health official credited the “early closing of schools, churches, theaters, and other places of public assembly” for the “relatively small number of cases in Georgia.” By November, the Atlanta city health officer announced the threat had subsided.
In the Georgia State Board of Health report for 1918, officials wrote, “We will never know how many succumbed to the disease in Georgia, but the death rate has been high.” With 30,768 instances recorded, influenza was listed as the leading cause of death.
According to Oxford College’s Dean of Campus Life Joseph Moon, Emory College chose its original location in Oxford, Georgia, because it was away from coastal marshes that harbored diseases like malaria, although influenza spread would theoretically not have been impacted.
In 1918, when it was still a white men’s college, Emory began its last school year on Oxford campus. There is a gap in University records for that time, for which archivists credit the move to Atlanta and World War I. Oxford campus partially converted into a military training camp during this time.
At the end of the school year, Atlanta University, now Clark Atlanta University, extended its academic calendar by two weeks in the summer “to make up for time lost in the fall on account of the influenza.”
In June 1919, however, The Atlanta Constitution reported on “the historic final Oxford commencement of Emory college,” writing it was “delightful.” The paper made no note of influenza.
The newly amalgamated Emory University School of Medicine and School of Nursing were active in treating the outbreak both in Atlanta and abroad, mobilizing medical resources as Emory’s schools are today with COVID-19.
The School of Nursing’s 1918 annual report stated “very few cases” of influenza were recorded among nurses at the school and “none were serious,” although the house physician “contracted the disease and died.” The school was “very much handicapped this year for want of lecturers,” although the report was unclear about the purpose of doctors’ absences.
University Historian Emeritus Gary Hauk wrote about a group of Emory doctors and nurses dubbed “The Emory Unit” who established Base Hospital 43 in France, where they treated influenza patients during the third global wave in 1919.
Barry underscored that during those past epidemics, “governors and mayors, and nearly all the newspapers insisted that this was influenza, only influenza.” Meanwhile, the Public Health Service sent out six million copies of an informational flyer whose “warning to avoid crowds came too late to do much good.”
According to Gaynes, the recurrence of influenza to this day is due to changes in molecules on the outside of the virus that specifically trigger mammals’ immune responses. In 1918, the shift of both at the same time caused such a virulent strain. The virus then causes a “cytokine storm,” where immune cells leak too much typically helpful liquid, which leads those afflicted to “essentially drown in their own fluid.”
Medicine was ill-equipped to respond. In the Georgia State Board of Health’s original statement, it incorrectly identified the cause of influenza as “influenza bacillus,” a bacteria scientists could inconsistently isolate from patients. Scientists developed a vaccine to treat the bacteria, and the board wrote that their “laboratory forces cannot begin to supply the demand for this vaccine.”
Barry wrote that “no medicine and none of the vaccines developed then could prevent influenza.” He added that due to the presence of improved antibiotics today, “modern medicine could likely prevent significantly more than half of those deaths” in a modern-day 1918 pandemic.
Despite such improvements, the danger of a potential epidemic still loomed.
“We were worried about a H1N1 flu epidemic a few years ago and no one thought it was going to be as bad as 1918 but we were concerned that it was going to be quite a disruption,” Curran said. “COVID has really been as bad as we were worried about H1N1 flu. … We have a new organism which seems to, in some cases, defy treatment and has kind of taken over the world.”
Evans highlighted that medicine has been “decreasing the deadliness” of COVID-19 by tailoring treatments for those infected. Curran emphasized that the over 5,000 patients admitted to Emory Hospital “do really quite well compared to the national average with COVID.”
In a recent interview, Barry underscored that COVID-19 is a slower spreading and less deadly disease than influenza, although they share similarities in respiratory transmission, ability to affect various organs and novel demands on public health.
Regarding long term effects, Barry added, “In 1918, there were complications that didn’t surface at all until the 1920s. We just don’t know.”
Doctors have reported strokes and seizures associated with COVID-19. Recent research has documented a range of neurological effects in hospitalized patients and there have been recent instances of “brain fog” after those infected recover.
Evans noted that masks in 1918 that were often made out of gauze or other thin fabrics likely did little to protect people. PBS’s American Experience compared wearing a mask to combat the 1918 influenza to “trying to keep out dust with chicken wire.” In contrast, modern masks significantly reduce COVID-19 spread.
Distancing procedures, however, have remained as effective a century later.
“The main method has always been there,” Barry said. “Social distancing is more important than anything else.”
World War I was a critical cultural context for the influenza outbreak as well. Barry wrote, “the preservation of morale itself became an aim” for the Wilson administration. When the pandemic threatened the war effort, Wilson “express[ed] concern about shipping troops to Europe,” but otherwise “continued to say nothing publicly.”
Wilson contracted influenza in the spring of 1919 amid peace negotiations, leading some to draw parallels to Trump’s recent contraction of the virus after dismissing ts threat.
When state and city health officials spoke on the virus, they denied the severity of influenza to maintain wartime morale, quickly losing the public’s trust.
“It is impossible to quantify how many deaths the lies caused,” Barry wrote.
Curran expanded on this lack of government transparency, saying, “Public health is always political because we’re trying to save the lives of groups of people. … [There] are different political considerations that require consistent leadership at the state and federal level to bring people together.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, inconsistent directives on mask-wearing have stood in the way of establishing mask-wearing as the public-health norm. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp filed a lawsuit against Atlanta’s mask-mandate over the summer before dropping it in Aug. and shifting his position to allow local mandates. Georgia local governments have since passed 25 mask mandates.
In 1919, influenza receded despite the lack of an effective vaccine. According to Evans, influenza viruses “kind of just peter away.” With COVID-19, numerous people have asked Curran: When’s it going to be over? Where’s the magic bullet?
“It’s very clear the vaccine is not going to be the answer, it’s going to be hopefully another tool,” Curran said. “We don’t really know exactly what’s going to happen.”
Curran noted Emory’s ability to control COVID-19 case numbers, largely due to the accessibility of asymptomatic testing, contacting tracing, mandated masking and distancing on campus.
In September 1919, The Atlanta Constitution published an excerpt from the U.S. Health Service’s Flu Warning: “The most promising way to deal with a possible recurrence of the influenza epidemic is to sum it up in a single word, ‘preparedness.’ And now is the time to prepare.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is not our first. Yet even after 102 years, Americans were ill-prepared for another.
“This is the public health crisis of my lifetime and our century,” Curran said. “I think there will be a recognition of the shortcomings and needs for public health going into the future. Save your masks. I think that they’ll come in handy after COVID is over.”
Caelan Bailey (22Ox, 24C) is from Charleston, South Carolina.
John Lewis’s death on July 17 marked the passing of a great American and a good friend to Emory. He was our representative in Congress and a frequent visitor to campus, where he delivered the Commencement address in 2014 and the Oxford Commencement address in 2019. An endowed chair in the law school honors him.
His leaving us prompted me to dig out the citation I wrote when he received the Emory President’s Medal in 1999. Unthinkingly, I had scheduled his speech and the award ceremony for the first Sunday afternoon in February, the beginning of Founders Week at Emory–oops, also Super Bowl Sunday! Happily, the program was scheduled before the big game, and Glenn Memorial filled with an audience eager to hear this American hero.
The reference to his “cooped-up compassion” was an inside joke for him, who recounts in his autobiography, “Walking with the Wind,” that he used to preach to the family chickens in the hen house when he was a child.
John Robert Lewis
Son of Alabama, Midwife of a Revolution, Walker with the Wind:
Thank God for the adamantine hardness of your head,
upon whose fractured skull broke waves of arrogance—
arrogance that saw its doom in the patient marching,
the willing endurance
of those who did not have enough
but by God had surely had enough.
Thank God for the caged-bird heart of you,
in whom childhood’s cooped-up compassion grew large
to embrace the one wielding a weapon against you
as well as the beaten-down.
Thank God for those sturdy feet
that walked the fifty-four miles from Selma to Montgomery
and trod the floors of Woolworth’s and W. T. Grant and Kress
in search of lunch-counter hospitality—
those feet that know the halls of Congress
and remember the furrows of a sharecropper’s cotton field.
Thank God for the ears that listen for the Spirit of History,
the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.
Built for the long haul, built for holding on to truth,
you clasp to you the moral outrage bursting from your soul
but also the hope that infuses the weak with strength,
with power as a mighty river of truth.
Make it clear, John Robert Lewis:
You have had your rides in paddy wagons,
those freedom chariots.
You have had your forty arrests,
your forty years in the wilderness,
your forty days and nights on the mountain
in a drama of good and evil, no less.
We do not come to sanctify you today, however;
we will not make of you a stained-glass saint.
Our day, no less than a generation ago, requires
that ALL be mobilizers,
that ALL clarify blurred vision,
that ALL reject self-interest and seek the common good.
Our day requires the principles of nonviolence and democracy.
Our day requires that decency rise above difference,
honesty above pride,
and conscience above the world’s beguilement.
By this award we pledge not adulation but common cause
in the effort to live as the Beloved Community
on a scale that encompasses all.
Humbly acknowledging the humility that motivated you,
The 1915 birth of a new university named Emory relied heavily on Methodist connections. The first board of trustees of the new university comprised members of the Educational Commission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS), and a number of them continued as trustees when a new board was elected in 1916. Even before the university received its charter on January 25, 1915, the theology school of the university began operations in September 1914 at Wesley Memorial Methodist Church, built by the North Georgia Conference of the MECS in downtown Atlanta in 1910. Bishop Warren Candler, former president of Emory College, guided the design and completion of the edifice.
Not far from the church was Wesley Memorial Hospital, which had been established in 1905 by the North Georgia Conference with significant funding from Asa Candler; in 1922 this Methodist-founded hospital moved to the new Druid Hills campus of Emory to become Emory University Hospital. Along with the hospital came a nurses-training program, which later became the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. Another part of the health sciences center at Emory with links to Methodism is the Rollins School of Public Health, established with the support of a family of prominent Georgia Methodists whose patriarch, O. Wayne Rollins, designated his first gift to Emory to the Candler School of Theology.
After the move of Emory College to Atlanta in 1919 to join the professional and graduate schools already growing on the Druid Hills campus, Emory continued its entwinement with Southern Methodism through the first half of the twentieth century. The first three presidents of the university—Harvey Cox, Goodrich White, and Walter Martin—all had roles in local, state, and national Methodism, while two deans of the theology school—William R. Cannon and Mack B . Stokes—were elected bishops of the United Methodist Church in 1968. The first three chairs of the university board of trustees—Asa Candler Sr., Charles Howard Candler Sr., and Henry Bowden Sr., who served for a combined sixty-four years, from 1915 to 1979—all were prominent Methodist lay leaders in Atlanta.
Methodist faculty members in the theology school played critical roles in debates over the reunion of the southern and northern branches of Methodism in 1939 and later played a still more important role in helping the university move toward integration in the late 1950s and early 1960s. One of the arguments in favor of opening the doors to African American students was that the 1952 Discipline of the Methodist Church stated, “There is no place in the Methodist Church for racial discrimination or racial segregation.”
Founded by Methodists who were keen on educating their children through a Methodist lens, Emory nevertheless has always been open to believers (and nonbelievers) of every stripe. Presbyterians and Baptists, while scarce, enrolled in the college during the nineteenth century. Jewish students began enrolling in the late nineteenth century and became a growing presence from the early twentieth century on, after Bishop Candler—the university chancellor from 1915 to 1920—excused the children of Orthodox Rabbi Tobias Geffen from Saturday classes.
In time, Roman Catholics and, later, adherents of the world’s other major religions would come to outnumber Methodists among the student body. The openness of the campus to this religious multiplicity reflects the Methodist tradition of seeking unity within diversity.
John Wesley himself expressed this attitude. He recognized his own fallibility and sought to learn how other traditions practiced holy living, even as he held fast to his belief in the truth of Christianity. In a sermon titled “A Caution Against Bigotry,” Wesley encouraged his followers to support whatever activity advances the love of God in the world, even if that activity is the work of other sects or other religions.
This article of the Methodist creed was tested at Emory in 1997 when controversy erupted over the question whether same-sex commitment ceremonies could be performed in Emory chapels. An employee of Oxford College had requested use of the chapel on that campus for a commitment ceremony with his male partner. The dean of Oxford College initially granted permission but later rescinded it over concerns about the university’s relationship with the church. The Book of Discipline prohibits use of United Methodist churches for same-sex ceremonies and prohibits United Methodist clergy from performing them.
After extensive discussion, the university adopted a chapel policy that relied on Emory’s nondiscrimination policy but also called on the Methodist tradition of respecting the practices of other religions—including the right to perform ceremonies that might not comport with the United Methodist Discipline. This chapel-use policy was approved by the board of trustees, including all of the United Methodist bishops on the board.
Once nurtured in part by a somewhat Methodist-heavy hierarchy in the university administration, over the past quarter of a century the relationship between Emory and the church has lost much of that unofficial connection—what Russell Richey, former dean of the theology school, has called “embodied presence and unified leadership.” Today the relationship of church and university depends largely on the theology dean, development officers, chaplains, counselors, and other administrators whose work in various niches of the university overlaps with the interests of the church. (This month, Emory President Claire Sterk appointed the first non-Methodist chaplain in the university’s history, the Rev. Gregory W. McGonigle, a Unitarian-Universalist minister.)
The Emory University charter and bylaws do not mandate Methodist representation on the Emory University Board of Trustees. By custom, however, a number of the positions on the board are filled by United Methodist bishops, including the resident bishop of the North Georgia Episcopal Area. Moreover, one of the vice chairs of the trustees traditionally has been the senior bishop on the board.
As confirmed by the Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code, regulations of the Internal Revenue Service, and historic activity of the Emory University Board of Trustees, the university is a separate and self-sustaining corporation not controlled by the United Methodist Church. Nevertheless, the university’s work and self-understanding continue to respect a traditional relationship between the church and the university.
Different institutions with different missions, the church and the university collaborate and inform each other as independent entities. Their shared history suggests that the church has learned as much from the instruction and example of Emory as Emory has benefited from the church, each institution balancing and nourishing the life and commitments of the other.
This week the United Methodist Church Southeastern Jurisdiction Historical Society will meet at Emory, so it seems appropriate to reflect on the long history between Emory and Methodism.Both the Pitts Theology Library and the Stuart A. Rose Library at Emory are storehouses of archives and books that fill out the story. This post is the first of two; look for the second one tomorrow.
The relationship of Emory University to the United Methodist Church and to Methodism generally often surprises casual observers and visitors, even Emory students and faculty members. Emory’s Methodist heritage has no prominence on university websites or in official publications. The make-up of both the student body and the faculty has long demonstrated a mutually respectful mix of the world’s great religions as well as the greater secularization of Western society.
Yet the historic connection between Emory and Methodism is long, deep, and complicated. It is somewhat like that of a dear, benevolent aunt and a headstrong, independent niece who is embracing her maturity and setting her direction in life.
Once a powerful influence in the daily life of Emory College, the church has become a more distant presence while maintaining a proud interest in Emory; the university in turn has continued to acknowledge the church’s legacy while recognizing that any university worth its charter must adapt to changes in society and to increased knowledge.
Emory University has its roots in the founding of Emory College by the Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) in 1836. Half a century had passed since the formal organization of Methodism in the United States at a conference in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1784.
Methodism provided a solid foundation and rationale for a new college. John Wesley—an Anglican priest and founder of the Methodist movement in England—was above all things an educator of great energy and vision. He built schools, started publishing enterprises, wrote prolifically, and preached and taught tirelessly, all with the aim of transforming English society by the education of hearts as well as minds, or what he called “religion and reason joined.”
Wesley’s brother Charles, also a leader of the movement, phrased the aim somewhat differently as the union of “knowledge and vital piety, truth and love.” At Emory today, this heritage translates into “a legacy of heart and mind,” as Emory has long spoken of educating the whole person, body, mind, and spirit.
In the American context, the Methodist movement planted seeds of social uplift not only through the establishment of churches and Sunday schools but also in the founding of academies and colleges. The founders of the Methodist church in America had heard themselves addressed by a gospel promise that the truth would set them free, and in their minds freedom, education, and religious faith all relied on each other to some extent. They established dozens of academies and colleges throughout America in the nineteenth century; in Georgia alone, these included not only Emory College but also Wesleyan College, LaGrange College, Andrew College, Young Harris College, Paine College, and Reinhardt University.
Emory College’s namesake, Bishop John Emory, from Maryland, had played a role in founding Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, and had chaired the board of trustees of Dickinson College, in Pennsylvania, until his death in 1835. Set within a new town laid out specifically to house the new college—a town called Oxford to honor the university that had educated the Wesleys—Emory quickly became a center of intellectual and spiritual life among Methodists in the South.
From the beginning, the faculty, presidents, and trustees of the college demonstrated a conviction that faith and science were not at odds, and that education should embrace all of human experience. In their view, a traditional education heavy in Latin, Greek, and the Bible should expand to include modern languages and up-to-date understanding of the natural sciences.
Tragically, within a decade of the founding of the college, some of its leaders figured prominently in the division of national Methodism over the issue of slavery, which John Wesley had abhorred, and which the American movement initially had prohibited in its Book of Discipline. The details of this split are told in many chronicles of Emory history, but the gist of the matter is that leaders of the college, defending the institution of slavery, helped lead the Methodist churches of the South to secede from the MEC and create the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS). This rift would not be healed until 1939.
In the meantime, the Southern Methodist church came to view Emory College as the institution where its most talented clergy should serve as faculty members and presidents. Many of the faculty and nearly all of the twelve presidents of Emory College until 1915 were Methodist clergy, and four of those presidents were elected to serve as bishops.
The church also viewed Emory as the place where future leaders of society would mature, and Methodist alumni of Emory College in many respects justified this expectation. They included, before 1915, the most renowned Methodist missionary to China, a future government minister of Korea, a US Supreme Court justice, a future vice president of the United States, the founding president of Georgia Tech, many presidents of other colleges and universities, the founders of Paine College for freed African Americans, the first state superintendent of education in Georgia, and countless lawyers, doctors, clergy, and business leaders who returned to their home towns from Oxford to lead their communities.
The establishment of the university in 1915 changed the mission of Emory to a significant degree, but not the institution’s Methodist identity. The sole impetus for the founding of Emory University in Atlanta was the role of the church in education. The MECS had created Central University in Nashville shortly after the Civil War. A gift of a million dollars to the university from Cornelius Vanderbilt, in 1873, led to the renaming of the institution in his honor. Over the next four decades, a growing dispute over policy decisions and the locus of authority led the church to part ways with Vanderbilt University and create a new university — Emory.
Stanford professor David F. Labaree, a social historian who writes about education, has published a short and engaging book about American higher education. He sums up his take on the industry with the book’s title–“A Perfect Mess” (University of Chicago Press, 2017). His thesis is that the rise of American colleges and universities to a position of dominance in the ranks of the best in the world could not have been predicted in the nineteenth century. True, by 1880 the US had five times as many higher ed institutions as all of Europe, and Ohio alone had three times as many as the UK. Yet these American colleges held about as much promise of triumph as a go-cart at the Indy 500.
Unsurprisingly, the story of most American colleges through the nineteenth century sounds like much of the history of Emory back then. Scores of small colleges founded by religious denominations were isolated in rural areas or tiny towns. Presidents and faculty members wrestled with a constant shortage of funds and relatively small enrollments. The faculty often were clergy first and scholars second, many of them having attained little more than a BA degree and rarely a doctorate. As many as half the students failed to graduate, not necessarily for want of brains but for the need to earn a living as farmers, merchants, or even professionals in work that required less formal education in those days (law and ministry especially).
The location of Emory College in little Oxford, Georgia, and then the establishment of Emory University in Atlanta underscore two observations Labaree makes.
The first observation is that the founders of the liberal arts colleges in the nineteenth century often chose rural areas or small towns for their schools out of a belief in republican (small r) values–the integrity and individualism of the small landholder, the family-like ethos of community, the nurturing of civic and religious habits, and a suspicion of the corrupting influence of commercial centers in large cities.
All of these principles seem to have motivated the founders of Emory College, who not only set their college two miles from the center of Covington but also created a new town as a buffer against intruding vices. (Initially each residential lot in the college’s town, Oxford, was offered on a lease of 999 years, with stipulations that the lease would be forfeit if the property were used for games of chance or selling of “spirits.”)
Labaree’s second observation, though, points to a curious and often-unremarked-upon fact about the location of Emory University. He comments that many nineteenth-century colleges were founded by civic boosters who wanted to increase the value of their property. “Settle in East Podunk–we have a college!” I think something of that strategy was at work in Asa Candler in 1914.
By 1914, when the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was looking for the site for a new university, wariness of city vices still persisted among many Emory supporters, and they made a strong case for keeping the college at Oxford while allowing the university’s new professional schools to take advantage of access to lawyers, doctors, business leaders, and clergy in the city. In the end, the trustees thought it made more sense to have the college and the professional schools on the same campus in Atlanta.
Curiously, though, that campus in Atlanta began with seventy-five acres that Asa Candler carved out of his suburban development in Druid Hills. What better way to ensure the marketability of his massive real estate plan than to carve a bucolic university campus from the woods and fields right next door?
This is not to minimize Candler’s genuine philanthropic impulse or his indispensable largess. But his biographers have always noted that his deep and extended civic engagement with Atlanta, as well as his commitments to church and university, never diminished or got in the way of his always-functioning business savvy. He was ever, in the apt title of Kathryn W. Kemp’s book about him, “God’s capitalist.”