W. J. McGlothlin (William Joseph) was born on November 29, 1876, in Sumner County, Tennessee to William James Alexander McGlothlin and Elizabeth Ellen McGlothlin. His father was a struggling farmer, so McGlothlin taught in an elementary school while still in high school to earn enough money for when he went away to Bethel College in Kentucky. He had no way of knowing at the time how useful this teaching experience would be later in his career.
McGlothlin grew up surrounded by several theological views, but he became a Baptist just before leaving to attend Bethel College. He worked hard in the classroom and made exceptional grades, and he worked hard outside the classroom to pay his tuition. After graduating in 1889, he left to teach Math and English at the Bardstown Male and Female Institute in Kentucky. McGlothlin taught there for two years before leaving to answer the Church’s call. He was ordained on September 24, 1891, and began taking classes at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY the following week.
During his first few years at the Seminary, McGlothlin’s intelligence and dedication won him the admiration of many. He was selected to be the Assistant Instructor in Old Testament English and Hebrew in 1894, following his summer studying German at Amherst College. He was promoted again in 1896 to Assistant Professor of Old Testament Interpretation, and in 1897, the position of Professor of Biblical Introduction was added to his duties. At this time, McGlothlin married May Belle Williams on June 8, 1897, and they had five children, three girls and two boys.
McGlothlin had numerous other duties during his time at the Seminary, including Treasurer of the Seminary from 1890 to 1904. He was also quite busy academically, having earned his Ph.D. from the University of Berlin in 1902.
McGlothlin was very dedicated to the Seminary, but he chose to leave in the summer of 1919 to become the President of Furman University. He came in with a vision to increase Furman’s size and to elevate its academic standards. His first major projects were to improve existing buildings and to purchase land around the existing campus to provide academic buildings and accommodations for more students. Furman began having higher admissions standards and started a very successful Summer School program that several other colleges emulated.
Along with the higher standards for incoming students, McGlothlin’s expectations for the faculty were just as high. All new faculty members were expected to have a doctorate, and he made sure that all professors taught in their discipline alone. He also brought to fruition an expanded curriculum, starting with a Law School in 1921, a goal of the University since 1851. Furman’s athletics and clubs increased in importance with the increase of the student body.
All of these improvements and expansions created financial stress on the institution. After many failed plans to alleviate debt, James B. Duke gave Furman an endowment of about $2,000,000 in 1924 at the urging of Bennette E. Geer. McGlothlin was elated, to say the least. The needs of the students, faculty, and buildings could be met, and the University was no longer financially dependent on outside sources, such as the Baptist Convention, alumni, and local citizens. Soon after receiving Duke’s gift, Furman became an accredited college, much to McGlothlin’s relief. In 1930, McGlothlin’s boundless energy enabled him to accept the position as President of the Southern Baptist Convention in addition to his duties as Furman’s President.
In 1932, Furman took over the trusteeship of the Greenville Woman’s College (GWC) due to financial difficulties at the GWC. The juniors and seniors at the GWC were now able to take thirty hours of classes at Furman. In 1933, both Furman and the GWC were to be run by Furman’s administration, but the GWC was to maintain its own identity within Furman University and take care of its own finances.
Unfortunately, on May 16, 1933, McGlothlin and his second wife were in a head-on car accident on their way to Washington D.C. Mrs. McGlothlin was killed instantly, and W.J. McGlothlin died on May 28. Dr. W. J. McGlothlin’s contributions as President of Furman University have had a lasting impact on the University’s history and continued success.