President Chandler’s transformation of William and Mary
Historian Rhys Isaac wrote of a great transformation in Virginia in the 18th century. I would like to talk about another great transformation—one that took place here during the Jazz Age and which, in its own way, also had a splendid effect on Virginia.
Julian Alvin Carroll Chandler, the 18th president of the College of William and Mary served from 1919 until 1934. Like a whirlwind sweeping across this campus, Chandler transformed this institution—from a small, struggling liberal arts college for men into a modern coeducational institution of higher learning.
This strong, vibrant president earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the College in the early 1890s. He then earned his doctorate in history at Johns Hopkins University in the mid 1890s. After an early teaching career at both Richmond’s Woman’s College and Richmond College, he served for a decade as superintendent of the Richmond public schools, overhauling and expanding that school system on the progressive model before returning to his alma mater.
Douglas Southall Freeman, journalist, author, historian and Pulitzer Prize winner, described his friend, J. A. C. Chandler:
“When he [Chandler] entered the room, the first impression was that of alert energy.”
“He always seemed ready for the next test, seemed in fact to be straining like a football player for another plunge at the line.”
He was a “driving, energizing executive, the modern college administrator incarnate.”
It is difficult to improve upon Freeman, but perhaps I can expand on his characterization.
During World War I, the College’s enrollment had dropped to 149 male students in 1917-1918. When the College became a coeducational institution in 1918, women were the great hope of William and Mary to rejuvenate enrollment. Yet in 1918-1919,the year before Chandler became president, there were just over 130 students at the College.
As soon as Chandler became president, he launched a vigorous enrollment campaign. By the end of his first year in office in 1919-1920, there were 333 students at the College, 106 of whom were women. Enrollment then spiraled to almost 1,100 students by 1925-1926, with more than 600 men and more than 450 women.
Enrollment peaked during the Chandler administration in 1931-1932. That year 1,682 students attended, including just over 800 women. The following year, 1932-33, women students outnumbered men for the first time in the history of William and Mary.
William and Mary was the only public institution in Virginia offering a four year liberal arts degree to women students during the Chandler era. Women who sought a true liberal arts education came to see the College as an educational haven.
In coordination with the College’s massive growth in enrollment, Chandler led a great building campaign at William and Mary. His legacy has given us much of the campus that we know today. During his presidency, he secured funding for all but one of the current academic buildings on the Sunken Gardens campus.
He built Washington Hall and Rogers Hall (our current Tyler Hall) as new classroom buildings. He greatly expanded the library and transformed it into what we now know as Tucker Hall. He built Ewell Hall as the Phi Beta Kappa Building and auditorium. Chandler began the planning for the construction of the current James Blair Hall which was completed in 1935, the year after his death in office in 1934. He also had initiated the planning for the Sunken Gardens, also finished the year after his death, which completed Chandler’s transformation of the academic campus.
To accommodate a much larger student body, Chandler orchestrated a dormitory building campaign. He constructed the first dormitories for women: Jefferson Hall, Barrett Hall, and Chandler Hall, the only building on campus which took his name, and also Brown Hall, which was supported by the Methodist Church. To house the increasing number of men students, he built Monroe Hall and Old Dominion Hall.
Chandler built other structures as well. He secured funds for Trinkle Dining Hall, Blow Memorial Gymnasium, and King Infirmary (now Hunt Hall), and arranged with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for the restoration of the Wren Building, the President’s House, and the Brafferton to their colonial appearance. Even the first sorority houses and Sorority Court were built during the Chandler era.
Always a progressive idealist, Chandler supported the view of a college curriculum as a preparation for a career. He expanded pre-professional and vocational training to prepare William and Mary students for graduate schools and what he called “some definite vocation in life.” He made teacher training a priority, but also expanded the number of pre-professional courses to help prepare students for post graduate study and careers in medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, engineering, agriculture, forestry, public health, social work, governmental service, business, economics, and even aviation.
Chandler even inaugurated several new professional schools on campus. The Marshall Wythe School of Government, which had its own law school (the School of Jurisprudence), plus the School of Education, and the School of Economics and Business Administration opened during the Chandler years.
Chandler advocated the extension of education to people beyond the Williamsburg campus. He expanded extension courses in Richmond, then united these offerings with the Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health and created the Richmond Division of the College of William and Mary (the foundation for the later Virginia Commonwealth University).
Chandler’s extension courses in Norfolk grew into the Norfolk Division of the College during his presidency, and led to the eventual formation of Old Dominion University. Chandler also expanded extension course offerings in Newport News and other areas around Tidewater Virginia.
One of the most significant changes at William and Mary during the Chandler years was the hiring of women faculty. In his last year as president, Lyon G. Tyler hired the first dean of women, a professor of home economics, and a women’s athletic director, but just as it was Chandler who made the student body fully coeducational, it was also Chandler who made women a true presence on the William and Mary faculty.
Chandler hired women to teach all across the spectrum of disciplines, including liberal arts, fine arts, and also mathematics and science. He recruited these women from the leading institutions of the day including Columbia University and its Teachers College, the University of Chicago, and Radcliffe College, in addition to William and Mary’s own alumnae. He also displayed a fairness in promotion and salaries. William and Mary became a leader in the state, the South, and even the nation in its hiring of women faculty during the Chandler years.
As our own current and greatly admired president prepares to retire, it is timely to consider the leaders who have propelled William and Mary to national prominence. As part of our annual President’s Day exercises here at William and Mary, it is appropriate to remember J. A. C. Chandler. His drive and determination transformed almost every aspect of this institution in only 15 years. Most importantly, he shares with our current president a life-long love and dedication to the College of William and Mary.