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William Joseph McGlothlin:
An Administration of Accomplishments
William Joseph McGlothlin

The period between World War I and the Great Depression was a time of recovery and progress for the country, and the post-war sense of celebration helped begin a period of great growth at Furman University. William Joseph McGlothlin served as president of Furman from 1919, just after the conclusion of the Great War, until 1933, when the country was deeply embedded in the Great Depression. Furman University’s 1934 Bonhomie staff described McGlothlin’s tenure as one that was “characterized by progress.”1 Furman University has become the nationally acclaimed university it is today, in part, because of President William Joseph McGlothlin’s improvement of the university’s academic standards, leadership during the Great Depression, and role in beginning the merger between Furman and the Greenville Woman’s College.

McGlothlin’s career in religion and education helped prepare him for his tenure at Furman University. Born on a small farm in Tennessee in 1867, McGlothlin’s educational background extends from Bethel College and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to the University of Berlin. Before coming to Furman, McGlothlin worked as a professor of church history at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.2 In 1918, Furman’s trustees selected William McGlothlin to be Edwin McNeill Poteat’s successor as president of Furman University in 1918, but McGlothlin turned down the offer because he felt that he was not ready. However, he accepted the presidency in May of 1919, coming to Furman “convinced of the necessity of keeping Christianity and culture united, fearful of the neutral or secular education which was current and the apparently increasing neglect of and even hostility of Christianity in some higher educational institutions.”3

McGlothlin had very strong opinions about Christianity and education, which were formulated in part by his experiences in Germany. In some of his various essays and books, McGlothlin expressed his fears of the state monopolizing education. He declared his opinion on the state’s secular education when he said, “the American theory of separation between church and state has degenerated into the practice of separation between character and intelligence.” McGlothlin was not against state education altogether; rather, he said, “the religious and the State schools are not rivals, but are mutually complementary.” By “mutually complementary,”4 McGlothlin meant that denominational schools could benefit from the increasing secularism of public schools; parents who felt that religious education was important would send their children to the denominational schools rather than the secular ones.5 Despite McGlothlin’s disillusionment with state run schools, he remained an advocate of public education because he believed education was “vital,” and that it shouldn’t be reserved only for the upper classes.6

Committed to enlarging the school and improving the academic excellence of Furman, McGlothlin took the position as president hoping to take advantage of the post World War I optimism. At the first Board of Trustees meeting, McGlothlin presented his immediate course of action for the University; he felt Furman needed a new dorm to accommodate the increasing number of students, an infirmary, an athletic building, and the raising of one million dollars for the school.7 McGlothlin succeeded in accomplishing all of the building projects for which he had hoped, in addition to a new Dining Hall and heating plant. With the hopes of improving Furman academically, McGlothlin raised the standards of admission for Furman, which resulted in Furman being admitted to the Association of Colleges of Southern States in 1924. This was a monumental event in the university’s history because Furman became an accredited university for the first time.8

McGlothlin worked diligently on expanding Furman University by adding new departments to the school. He established both a Law School as well as a new Education Department at Furman. Although he strived to keep the Law School running, McGlothlin was forced to close it in 1931, due, in part, to the financial difficulties associated with the Great Depression.9

The McGlothlin administration saw a lot of success in Furman’s athletic departments. In his first semester as president, the football team was the best it had ever been. Furman University’s football team, “The Purple Hurricane,” won the state championship four times during McGlothlin’s tenure, with victories against rivals such as The Citadel, University of Mississippi, and Clemson.10 Unfortunately, President McGlothlin had to diminish the athletic programs in order to reduce university spending during the Great Depression.

Along with expanding the academic programs at Furman, McGlothlin helped ameliorate Furman’s academic excellence by emphasizing the production of scholarship amongst the faculty. He placed more emphasis on having a well-educated faculty and also began requiring instructors to write a certain number of scholarly publications. McGlothlin even began teaching two classes himself; however, due to time constraints, he had to suspend his teaching. Knowing the benefits of student-instructor relationships, McGlothlin also began emphasizing student-teacher contact.11 Recruiting new, progressive professors, however, put a strain on McGlothlin’s administration because of opposition from many South Carolina Baptists.

The emphasis of Christianity and morals at Furman remained a priority to McGlothlin even though he was more progressive than many South Carolina Baptists liked. Carl Wesley Wilkinson describes McGlothlin as being somewhere “between fundamentalist and modernist.”12 Along with adding a Law School and Education Department, McGlothlin also expanded the Christianity Department, emphasizing faculty religious life and reinforcing the idea that instructors were expected to attend chapel weekly.13 Any doubts of McGlothlin’s commitment to denominational education can be relieved when one reads McGlothlin’s books and speeches, such as “The Christian School, the War, and the Future,” Baptist Confessions of Faith, and A Vital Ministry.

William McGlothlin did not only contribute to Furman academically, but also financially. McGlothlin was chosen to be State Organizer of the Seventy-Five Million Campaign, whose goal was to raise $5,500,000 for the Baptist denomination, giving $750,000 to Furman. This money was used to increase instructor’s salaries as well as for the building projects McGlothlin planned in his first meeting with the Board of Trustees.14 The biggest financial gain during McGlothlin’s administration was that Furman became a beneficiary of the Duke Endowment. McGlothlin’s eventual successor, Bennette Eugene Geer, drew James B. Duke’s attention to the school, and Furman was put on the list of beneficiaries during McGlothlin’s administration.15

Although McGlothlin had left the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary reluctantly to come to Furman, he grew to love Furman University during his administration. In 1926, Furman University celebrated its centennial, and, in honor of this event, President McGlothlin wrote Baptist Beginnings in Education, which gave a detailed account of Furman’s history, including McGlothlin’s first years in office. 16

Although the beginning of McGlothlin’s tenure saw prosperity, he faced many financial challenges toward the end of his administration due to the effects of the Great Depression. Only fifty students of the original one hundred sixty-five in the class of 1930 actually remained at Furman for their senior year.17 Unfortunately, when McGlothlin died in 1933, the country was at the midst of the Great Depression, and Furman was also suffering.

Before McGlothlin’s death, his last major project was merging the Greenville Woman’s College with Furman University. The union of the institutions began slowly, first by Furman’s allowing juniors and seniors at the Greenville Woman’s College to take classes in order to receive a Furman diploma. Secondly, the administrations of the two institutions were consolidated so that McGlothlin and the Furman Board of Trustees were in charge of both Furman and the Greenville Woman’s College. The full merger, however, did not occur under McGlothlin’s administration because McGlothlin and his wife died suddenly in a car accident in 1933.18

Although the students of Furman today may not know the name of William Joseph McGlothlin, his contributions to the university can be felt in all facets of the university. Without McGlothlin, Furman University might not have survived the Great Depression to evolve into the institution it has become today. His impact on the University was so significant that a dormitory was erected in his name in 1958, so that all students of Furman will always remember the name of the man who changed Furman for the better.

Written by Miranda Flowers


Works Cited

1Bonhomie 1934. (Furman University Special Collections and University Archives, James B. Duke Library), 153.
2W. J. McGlothlin, Baptist Beginnings in Education (Nashville: Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1926), 204.
3Robert Norman Daniel. Furman University. (Greenville: Hiott Press, 1951), 139.
4Prof. W.J. McGlothlin. “The Christian School, the War, and the Future.” (Furman University Special Collections and University Archives, James B. Duke Library), 11.
5W. J. McGlothlin, Baptist Beginnings in Education, 204.
6Carl Wesley Wilkinson. The Life and Work of William Joseph McGlothlin. (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms Internation, 1981. Special Collections and University Archives, James B. Duke Library, Furman University, Greenville, SC.), 175.
7Robert Norman Daniel. Furman University, 140.
8Carl Wesley Wilkinson. The Life and Work of William Joseph McGlothlin, 192.
9Robert Norman Daniel. Furman University, 143-44.
10Courtney L. Tollison, Ph.D. Furman University. (Arcadia Publishing, 2004), 111.
11Carl Wesley Wilkinson. The Life and Work of William Joseph McGlothlin, 184-185.
12Ibid., 192.
13Ibid., 185.
14Robert Norman Daniel. Furman University, 140.
15Courtney L. Tollison, Ph.D. Furman University (Archadia Publishing, 2004), 27.
16Carl Wesley Wilkinson. The Life and Work of William Joseph McGlothlin, 195.
17Bonhomie 1930 (Furman University Special Collections and University Archives, James B. Duke Library), “Senior Class History.”
18“W.J. McGlothlin,” (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Library).