H.T Cook came to Greenville in 1869 but did not become a professor at Furman University until September of 1881. During his time at Furman, he earned a reputation as an outstanding professor, a renowned biographer, and a noteworthy editorial writer. His most lasting contribution to the university, however, was his creation of a collection of materials on Baptists in the South, a collection that has now become the Special Collections Department of the James B. Duke Library at Furman University.
Cook’s career at Furman began as a student. His father, a fairly wealthy man, was able to pay for one and a half years of college for Cook, but after that point, he had to pay his own way. Thus, Cook began working part-time as a teacher in Captain Patrick’s Academy. While working, Cook finished his degree in philosophy, completing it in a total of five and a half years. Cook continued to teach at the same academy while he earned a Master of Arts from Furman. Later, he was awarded an honorary degree as a Doctor of Philosophy, though he never took his title seriously, stating, “That’s when this business of calling me ‘Doctor’ started; I don’t think much of that” (newspaper clipping, undated).
In 1881, he joined the Furman faculty as a professor in Greek and Latin. At the time, Furman had only 4 other professors and about 85 students (Daniel 99). Cook appreciated the size of the school and voiced concern over the inevitable growth that it would experience. “Why, twenty years from now, a professor meeting one of his students of today will have to ask his name,” he said (newspaper clipping, undated). Cook’s fears were validated when, within a decade, the number of students had more than doubled to 182 by 1891 and the number of faculty had increased to 8 (Daniel 99). In addition, he worried about the overall growth of the Greenville community, citing special concern about the increased presence of what he termed “carpetbaggers.”
At the turn of the 20 th century, he stopped teaching Latin to focus on his work in Greek, and by 1918, he had retired from teaching completely. Before he left Furman, however, he served it in various positions. In the 20 th century, he briefly held the position of Proctor, an office created in 1895 to overlook the development of the grounds and buildings (McGlothlin 147). He also participated in the Furman Fitting School, which was founded in 1900 in response to the increased number of students who graduated from the university with no practical skills for how to succeed in the world. Though his salary was always modest, largely because of a lack of funds due to the free tuition policy that Furman instituted from 1876-1881, it was raised from $600 in 1881 to $1,000 in 1888 (Daniel 99).
Cook was celebrated for his publications, as well as his professorship. He wrote Education in South Carolina Under Baptist Control, which was, at the time, the most complete account of the founding of Furman (Reid 29). He also published a biography of James Clement Furman for The State, a prominent newspaper in Columbia, SC, in 1927. Most importantly, though, he began the Baptist Historical Collection in 1890. He collected the papers, books, and the annual records of Baptist associations throughout the South, with material dated from the 1700s (Reid 30). This collection was continued by Loulie Latimer Owens and is one of the most extensive collections of Baptist material in the world today.
Daniel, Robert Norman. Furman University: A History. Greenville: Furman University, 1951.
McGlothlin, W.J. Baptist Beginnings in Education: A History of Furman University. Nashville: Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1926.
Newspaper clipping, undated. “Biographical” folder. Box 1. Harvey T. Cook Papers. Special Collections and Archives. Furman University Library.
Reid, Alfred Sandlin. Furman University: Toward a New Identity, 1925-1975. Durham: Duke University Press, 1976.