The celebration of Dr. Christopher B. Howard as the 24th president of Hampden-Sydney College includes many programs throughout the academic year that recognize the College as a national treasure with a regional foundation and a global outlook. This first part in a series examines Hampden-Sydney as a national treasure. As the year progresses, future issues of The Record will feature articles that illustrate the position of this storied college in the community and the greater world. Our effect on the people and events around us may surprise you.
Just as our great nation was being formed, so too was Hampden-Sydney College. As our founding fathers assembled to form a more perfect nation from among the colonies of the British dynasty, Reverend Samuel Leake called a special meeting in February 1775 at Prince Edward County’s Slate Hill Plantation to formally organize the educational institution that has faithfully served the young men of this land for 235 years.
Among the first Trustees were Presbyterian ministers and prominent Prince Edward County citizens, many of whom where related by blood or marriage. College historian (and a personal treasure to many alumni) John L. Brinkley ’59 points out in his definitive history of Hampden-Sydney College, On This Hill, that all but one of these trustees were “stalwarts of the Revolutionary cause.” The philosophy of the Independence movement has been woven into the fabric of this institution.
Samuel Stanhope Smith, founding president
Charles William Dabney 1873 says of the Scotch and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of the South, from which Hampden-Sydney was born: “Their church had trained them in the methods of representative government. They were devoted to their church and to their school. They were thus ready to become citizens of a republic.”
Many already know that American patriot Patrick Henry was among the original trustees of Hampden-Sydney College and that many of his sons attended the school. Fewer, however, know of the rivalry between the Anti-Federalist Henry and the Federalist Reverend John Blair Smith, which had consequences far beyond Prince Edward County. Smith (Samuel’s younger brother and his successor as president of Hampden-Sydney College from 1779 to 1789)regularly attended public speeches at “courthouse days” at what is now nearby Worsham. Author Robert Meade recounts in his book Patrick Henry: Practical Revolutionary that Smith did not attend the February 1788 speech in which Henry announced his candidacy as a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention, but in his absence had someone take down Henry’s speech in shorthand. Later that week before a crowd of students—and Patrick Henry—one Hampden-Sydney student recited Henry’s speech, then another student delivered Smith’s rebuttal. Meade writes: “The young man delivering the shorthand account of Henry’s speech was described as one of the best student speakers. Yet there was a comic touch. Henry, however modest, was not likely to think that the student offered an adequate substitution for himself. In complaining to the Reverend Smith, Henry complimented the correctness of the stenographer but objected to the ‘tautness’ of the reply and the attempt to ridicule him before a large audience. Smith defended his action and Henry stopped attending his sermons.”
It must have been remarkable for students to witness the intellectual duel between their own highly educated and eloquent President Smith and Patrick Henry, an equally eloquent and nationally known statesman who played a significant role in the development of the state of Virginia and the United States. After Smith’s falling-out with Henry, he began a letter-writing crusade lambasting his Anti-Federalist rival. Among the recipients of these letters was his friend and Princeton classmate, later President of the United States, James Madison.
Probably the most famous student from The Hill is William Henry Harrison 1791, the ninth President of the United States. Although Harrison, like many students of his day, did not complete his Hampden-Sydney education, one could still argue that being a student here put him on the path to success. According to Freeman Cleaves’ Old Tippecanoe, Harrison, “whose sympathies for the weak and suffering were marked, was persuaded to prepare for the study of medicine. And so, in the fall of 1787 … [he] took the stagecoach for Hampden Sidney College in far-off Prince Edward County.”
Once here, Harrison’s interest turned from medicine to military history; he claimed to have read Charles Rollin’s 3,000-page Ancient History three times before the age of 17. He led a remarkable life leading up to the White House (Tommy Shomo ’69 gives a summary on page 11), as a soldier and elected official.
Sterling Price 1830, Governor of Missouri
Lest anyone worry that the tide of public service has turned, we can point to Monroe Leigh ’40, principal legal counsel of the U.S. State Department under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. William B. Spong ’41 was elected to both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate before joining the U.S. Senate. From the Class of 1968, Paul S. Trible, Jr., has served in the U.S. House of Representatives, in the U.S. Senate, on the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations, and now as President of Christopher Newport University.
Paul Trible 1968, U.S. Senator from Virginia
It seems Hampden-Sydney College has always been home to young men with political aspirations, or at least young men whose lives have ultimately led them to political office. We are fortunate to have among the ranks of our alumni one who has gone on to our nation’s highest elected office. Beyond these representatives, senators, and governors are countless local board members, town council members, city managers, and more who keep America’s communities—the places we call home—humming along peacefully. Though these men are not in the national spotlight, they efficiently work to keep our streetlights lit.
In the years before World War II, the U.S. Army and Navy recognized a need for more officers. Throughout much of 1942, the Navy developed and launched a program that utilized the facilities of colleges around the country—including buildings, grounds, faculty, and staff—to train naval officers. The V-12 program, as it was known, allowed young men to take college courses while training for duty in the Navy. John Paul Jones had told the 1775 Maritime Commission that a Naval Officer should be “a gentleman of liberal education, refined manner, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.” It seems only logical, then, that Hampden-Sydney College would be chosen to take part in this new program.
Seeing that the U.S. involvement in the growing war in Europe would lead to a devastating drop in enrollment at Hampden-Sydney, as well as at every other college in the country, the school was eager to join the program that would ensure enough students to keep it afloat. The V-12 program could provide those students, if the College met the Navy’s criteria. Not having a pool was a sticking point, but using the one at the nearby teaching college, now Longwood University, was considered adequate. College Historian Brinkley notes in On This Hill that Rear Admiral Luther Sheldon, Class of 1903, who was a friend and schoolmate of then-President Edgar Gammon 1905, was largely (if not completely) responsible for securing a unit for the College.
James Schneider, author of The Navy V-12 Program: Leadership for a Lifetime, says, “The nation needs to understand the vital wartime role shouldered by 131 of its colleges and universities . . . and the success enjoyed in later life and the important contributions made to the country by the V-12 trainees.” He adds, “The Navy, the colleges, and the trainees were not the only beneficiaries of the program. The entire nation has gained from the leadership provided by former V-12s in virtually every field, from education and government to business and industry.”
As important as Hampden-Sydney College was as a part of the V-12 program, the program was more important to the fate of the College. Before the war, Mr. P. T. Atkinson 1907, financial secretary, treasurer, and business manager, warned of dire consequences if enrollment dropped below 300. The V-12 unit provided enough income from the Navy to offset civilian enrollment that dropped to 36 in June 1944 and to only 28 a year later. Many of the V-12 seamen gladly counted themselves among Hampden-Sydney alumni.
Though many Hampden-Sydney men proved their courage during World War II, the story of one appeared in the July 1942 issue of The Record. Lieutenant Jack E. Manch ’42 piloted one of the planes in General Doolittle’s famous bombing of Tokyo. Lt. Manch was a popular student and promising basketball player at Hampden-Sydney, but left before graduating, like many talented young men during the war years.
Many Hampden-Sydney graduates so highly valued the education they received that they established their own colleges and preparatory schools. William Cabell 1800 worked with Thomas Jefferson to found the University of Virginia, despite Jefferson’s regular disparaging remarks about Hampden-Sydney. College president from 1796-1801, Archibald Alexander founded Princeton Theological Seminary in 1812 and for the first year served as its only professor. William Henry Harrison founded Vincennes University in 1801 while serving as the governor of the Indiana Territory.
There are many others. The Rev. James Blythe 1788 founded and was president of Transylvania University. Edward Baptist 1813 f