Mercer University Presidents

last modified 2020-06-22T09:25:26-04:00


Since 1833 Mercer University has been served by eighteen Presidents and five acting or interim Presidents.  For more information about Mercer University's presidents email us at

Billington McCarthy Sanders, 1833-1840
Otis Smith, 1840-1844
John Leadley Dagg, 1844-1854
Nathaniel Macon Crawford, 1854-1856, 1858-1866
Shelton Palmer Sanford, acting 1856-1858
Henry Holcombe Tucker, 1866-1871
Archibald John Battle, 1872-1889
Gustavus Alonzo Nunnally, 1889-1893
Joseph Edgerton Willet, acting 1893
James Bruton Gambrell, 1893-1896
Pinckney Daniel Pollock, 1896-1903
William Heard Kilpatrick, acting 1903-1905
Charles Lee Smith, 1905-1906
Samuel Young Jameson, 1906-1913
James Freeman Sellers, acting 1913-1914
William Lowndes Pickard, 1914-1918
Rufus Washington Weaver, 1918-1927
Andrew Phillip Montague, acting 1927-1928
Spright Dowell, 1928-1953, acting 1959-1960
George Boyce Connell, 1953-1959
Rufus Carrollton Harris, 1960-1979
Raleigh Kirby Godsey, 1979-2006
William D. Underwood, 2006-present




Billington McCarthy Sanders, 1833-1840


  • Teacher, clergyman, farmer (1789-1854); A.B. degree; married to Martha Lamar (1812) and Cynthia Holliday (1824)
  • Led in the establishment of Mercer Institute in Penfield, Georgia, in January 1833, and was unanimously elected the first president of Mercer University in 1838
  • Served as superintendent, teacher, steward, and farmer, as well as president (planning, teaching, clearing, fencing, cultivating, erecting buildings, soliciting financial support, administering discipline, and preaching regularly), aided by his wife and one assistant
  • Developed campus from two double log cabins, a garret to each for dwelling, and a dining room and study for both teachers and students to seven buildings at the end of his tenure
  • Increased the number of students from thirty-nine (seven of whom were studying for the Christian ministry) to ninety-five


Letter from BMS to Samuel Wait, October 15, 1833:

"We are always in school by sun rise, spend in study on an average more than seven hours per day—besides about two at night....I find less difficulty to get the students to labor than to study. I go with them myself—never hesitate to assist them in the most unpleasant part of it. I endeavor to have it considered honorable to volunteer in the most humiliating labor. If something is to be done more disagreeable than common I ask for volunteers. If they hesitate I volunteer myself and ask, 'Who will assist me?'"

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Otis Smith, 1840-1844


  • Clergyman, educator (1800-1865); A.B. degree; married to Martha Womack (1827)
  • Presented diplomas to the first graduating class in 1841 (Richard Malcolm Johnson, educator/author; Benjamin F. Tharpe, minister; Abner R. Wellborn, physician)
  • Gave strict attention to the morals of the students, keeping a record of their proficiency and deportment that was forwarded to parents and guardians and requiring attendance at morning and evening prayer services
  • Received $40,000 bequest of Jesse Mercer to the university in 1841
  • Saw enrollment drop from 132 in 1840 to 50 in 1842, due to a severe agricultural depression which was widespread, and accepted the resignation of the entire faculty in 1842 (Professors Sanford, Mell, and Pierce were reelected)


Circular, December 1840:

"Religious Worship. Every student is required to attend regularly morning and evening prayers; and preaching twice, and Sabbath school once each Sabbath."

"Labor. Each student is required to labor from 2 to 2½ hours, 5 days in each week. Those over 18 years, to receive 5 cents per hour for their labor, and the younger in proportion, to be paid at the end of each term."

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John Leadley Dagg, 1844-1854


  • Educator, author, clergyman (1794-1884); D.D. degree; married to Fanny H. Thornton (1817) and Mary Young Davis (1832)
  • Led in the construction of four brick buildings, tripled the student body to a total of 181, and initiated a three-year bachelor of divinity degree under three full-time professors
  • Taught courses in natural and systematic theology, Christian evidences, and pastoral duties, involving a thorough knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, despite being lame because of an ankle injury, practically blind from studying Greek by candlelight, and only able to speak above a loud whisper (leading W. L. Kilpatrick, an 1850 graduate and later a trustee, to say, "He can't walk and he can't talk, he can't read and he can't write, but he is a very good president.")
  • Heard the first resolutions at the Georgia Baptist Convention for removal of the university from Penfield to a more central location in the state
  • Recognized as the representative religious thinker among Baptists in the antebellum South and known for his intellect, gentleness, honesty, and piety, though as one person noted: "If there ever was a great man who did not know it, or knowing, cared not for it, that man is Dr. Dagg."


Letter from JLD to Professor [Benjamin O.] Peirce [sic], February 19, 1848:

"You inquire, what books our Library needs. I answer, All books of all sorts....We except only works of fiction, and light reading, and those of an immoral tendency. In Theology, we need a complete set of the ancient Fathers, and of the Reformers and indeed the distinguished Divines of every age. Our Library at present is so small, that there is very little risk of its being supplied with more copies of any work, than will be found useful."

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Nathaniel Macon Crawford, 1854-1856; 1858-1866


  • Minister, theologian, educator (1811-1871); A.M. and D.D. degrees; married to Anne Katherine Lazar (c1840)
  • Accepted the presidency during a time of internal turmoil and denominational controversy
  • Supported the creation of a military company on campus in 1861, leading one student to write: "We have about one hundred & five in our company. Prof. [Shelton P.] Sanford is our Captain & he is an excellent drill officer too. I tell you what the old fellow marches us around these old fields here considerably every Saturday."
  • Ensured that classes continued throughout the Civil War and that the university survived, while numbers of other institutions closed and never reopened
  • Found it necessary to reduce the faculty to three in 1862, raised professors' salaries to $3,000 in 1864 during a period of inflation, and then found it impossible to pay the faculty in 1866 at the close of the war
  • Provided boarding for eleven students in his home in 1860-1861
  • Described by John Leadley Dagg as a man of learning, talent, and popularity, and by Henry Holcombe Tucker as a "living encyclopaedia who never failed to supply me with information"

Letter from NMC to B. P. Oneal, father of a prospective student/boarder, July 21, 1863:

"For admittance into college a boy must be acquainted with Arithmetic, have read a Latin Caesar, 6 books in Virgil, & four orations of Cicero; a Greek he must have read the Greek Reader."

"Board next term will probably be thirty four dollars (perhaps 40) a month, exclusive of lights, washing &c. It was down last term but money was lost by it. Our people have to buy every thing & the common necessaries of life are so high that those who have boarded will have either to raise the price or close their houses."

"My own house is all already full."


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Shelton Palmer Sanford, Acting President 1856-1858


  • Educator, mathematician (1816-1896); A.B., A.M., LL.D. degrees; married to Maria F. Dickerman (1840)
  • Served on the faculty for fifty-two years, and published a series of analytic arithmetic books which were helpful, when Mercer moved to Macon in 1871, in calling public and academic attention to the new era that had begun for the university
  • Led in organizing and equipping a voluntary corps of Mercer cadets during the Civil War, serving as captain of a military district that included Penfield and the Mercer student body and carrying a gold-headed cane inscribed with the names of the Mercer volunteers until his death
  • When the war made a meeting of the board of trustees impossible and the faculty reluctantly voted to close Mercer's doors, continued to teach with Joseph E. Willet until the trustees met and made formal arrangements to keep the school open
  • Remembered for being "dressed immaculately from youth to old age. He was tall, erect, a soldier in his appearance; fond of humor, pleasing in his speech and in his approach; gentle as a girl and firm as a rock in his convictions. He was liberal in his views, never dogmatic, always systematic."


Letter from W. D. Holland to Urban Rumble concerning the creation of a military company on campus led by Professor Sanford, February 21, 1861:

"I have joined a military company & I can tell you I have begun to put on quite a soldier like appearance since you saw me last. We have about one hundred & five in our company. Prof. Sanford is our Captain & he is an excellent drill officer too. I tell you what the old fellow marches us around these old fields here considerably every Saturday."

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Henry Holcombe Tucker, 1866-1871


  • Clergyman, educator, editor (1819-1889); B.A., A.M., D.D., LL.D. degrees; married to Mary Catherine West (1848) and Sarah O. Stevens (1853)
  • Expected prospective students to "call on the President within twenty-four hours after their arrival in the village, and ... present satisfactory testimonials of good moral character, and, if from other colleges, certificates of honorable dismission"
  • Promoted a university library of five thousand volumes, libraries of four thousand volumes belonging to the literary societies, and a cabinet of minerals containing several thousand valuable specimens
  • Published the first university catalog in eight years in April 1869
  • On behalf of the university, accepted a six-acre parcel of land near Tattnall Square in Macon, which was bought by the city for $9,750 in 1870
  • Moved the university from Penfield to Macon, receiving considerable criticism for the move as well as for his philosophy of education
  • Arranged for faculty to conduct a semi-private school in downtown Macon in the spring of 1871
  • Admired by his students for the courage of his convictions and his sense of humor, known for his strong individuality, absolute sincerity, distinct positiveness, and a talent in debate and logic


Catalog, "Disabled Soldiers," April 1869:

"Any soldier of the late Confederate army, who is disabled from manual labor by reason of wounds, and who is unable to pay the expenses of education, is welcome to Mercer University as a student, and shall receive tuition gratis. This offer has been steadily made for the last six years, and is still continued. Many have availed themselves of the aid thus proffered, and it is hoped that many others will do the same."

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Archibald John Battle, 1872-1889


  • Educator, author, clergyman (1826-1907); A.B., M.A., D.D., LL.D. degrees; married to Mary Elizabette Guild (1847)
  • Served as president for seventeen years and described as tall, erect, immaculately groomed and dressed, distinguished, stern, genial, approachable, sympathetic, and beloved by those who knew him
  • Provided temporary classrooms on campus and began an ambitious program for an academic building, hiring G. P. Randall of Chicago as the architect who lost the drawings and plans for the building in Chicago's Great Fire in 1871
  • Purchased eight lots across Elm Street for construction of the Mess Hall, housing a dining room, kitchen, about thirty bedrooms for two to four students each, and classrooms
  • Weathered the difficulties of financial depression in 1873 and a campus epidemic of meningitis the same year
  • Was the first president to live in the Administration building, occupying the first two stories of the left wing
  • Established a school of law with a nominal relationship to the university arts program


Diary entries of Mercer student Aurelian Flavius Cooledge, related to the outbreak of meningitis on campus early in 1873:

Sunday, January 19, 1873
"Great deal of sicknes [sic] in the Hall. The physician comes out two or three times a day. Mr. Seago has gone home. The Dr. says that Mr. Gauldens [sic] case is a bad one. Mr. West has been delirous [sic] for two or three days, screamed like a madman last night."

Monday, January 20, 1873
"The physicians regard Messrs. Hamilton & Harverys cases as bad this morning. Mr. West died at a little after two this evening. Several of the boys have gone home & others are intending to go on account of sickness. Mr. W. parents came to-night."

Tuesday, January 21, 1873
"Set up from 12 ½ o'clock with the corpse until after 4 oclock [sic]. Some of the professors & physicians advised the students to go home. Packed my trunk & went & stayed at the Hotel & left Macon at ten minutes past 11."

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Gustavus Alonzo Nunnally, 1889-1893


  • Clergyman, educator (1841-1917); A.B., D.D. degrees; married to Mary Catherine Briscoe (1859) and Alla Holmes Cheney (early 1900s)
  • Reminded Georgians that there was a college in the town of Macon by traveling and speaking extensively in churches, court houses, and the state legislature
  • Raised funds to erect new buildings, doubling the capacity of the university
  • Supervised the construction and drew the plans for a chapel building, which contained six large recitation-rooms, six offices, a chapel with 800 sittings, and a library for 20,000 books
  • Increased the endowment, partnering with John D. Rockefeller and Georgia Baptists to raise $50,000
  • Oversaw the establishment of student organizations, including the athletic and glee clubs, and the Mephistophelean, a student newspaper


Macon Telegraph article, December 6, 1891:

"Mercer's young athletic club is rapidly progressing. A football team has been chosen to represent the college and with the permission of the faculty they hope to meet the team of the university in Athens sometime during the month of January [1892]."

Robert E. Wilder's Gridiron Glory Days: Football at Mercer 1892-1942:

"Regular practice sessions were held and plans were made to outfit the team. The uniforms consisted of white canvas jackets, white cannon knee pants, black stockings, and caps of orange and black, Mercer's school colors."

"Since the game was to be played in Athens, most of the students, faculty, and many local citizens took the train for Athens. The fans who attended this game would actually witness the first college football game in Georgia, and one of the first in the deep South."

"The Mercer men drew praises for their hard fought battle, but they were no match for the 'varsities' as the game ended 50-0."

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Joseph Edgerton Willet, Acting President 1893


  • Educator, scientist (1826-1897); A.B., A.M., M.D., LL.D. degrees; married to Emily Sanders (1851)
  • Unexpectedly elected professor of natural philosophy and chemistry while attending commencement in 1847, a position he occupied for forty-six years, and becoming a mainstay of Mercer's faculty during the years immediately before and during the Civil War
  • Became acting president between Tucker and Battle, and then Nunnally and Gambrell
  • Known by Edwin S. Davis of Macon, a student in one of the last classes Willet taught at Mercer, as a "learned scientist, who was respected by the student body because of his abundant store of knowledge, and was admired for his genius to teach....With him a lesson in chemistry was also a lesson in courtesy."


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James Bruton Gambrell, 1893-1896


  • Editor, clergyman, educator (1841-1921); D.D., LL.D. degrees; married to Mary T. Corbell (1864)
  • Worked with his faculty, giving prominence to the "family idea"
  • Visited churches and associations, in an effort "to place the cause of Mercer, and of Christian education upon the hearts of the brotherhood," since the school was in financial need and "the value of education was not so generally recognized"
  • While president of Mercer, almost nominated as governor of Georgia because of his fight against liquor (he had not yet lived in Georgia for the required six years)
  • Began a department of pedagogy for training teachers in his second year of administration, as well as an informal "preachers' school," and announced class "electives" in the catalog of 1895
  • Openly supported the policy of co-education at the university, noting that seventy-five percent of teachers in the state were women


    "Words with Friends," concerning the financial situation of Mercer University and asking for donations (c1893-1896, prior to May 15)

    "As to the endowment, realizing the magnitude of the undertaking, nevertheless, it seems clear to me, that, by anything like the right effort, with co-operation, we can raise it. The Methodists have raised a like amount and we can do anything in Georgia the Methodists can do."

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    Pinckney Daniel Pollock, 1896-1903


    • Educator (1860-1905); LL.B., A.M., LL.D. degrees; married to Eva Selman (1895)
    • Was the first layman to hold the office of university president
    • Raised $115,000 for the endowment fund, doubled the number of faculty and students, and constructed three brick buildings, now known as Groover, Ware, and Wiggs halls
    • Placed emphasis on oratory, providing Mercer with victories and no defeats for a number of years
    • Abolished the sub-freshman preparatory school, making Mercer fully a college
    • Employed several young faculty members who later made national reputations at major universities, including William Heard Kilpatrick in education and Edmund Cody Burnett in history
    • Oversaw publication of the Mercerian, the Kinetoscope, and a student handbook


    "Mercer Rally Song," Mercer-Athens Champion Debate, May 28, 1898:

    "When you see our speakers come, fearless, on the floor,
    Just hold your breath a little—some'ns goin' to happen 'shore,'
    And when they both begin to 'argify' and speak,
    See proud Athens' knees a growin' 'kinder' weak."

    Mercerian, June 1898:

    "Resolved, 'That the breaking up of the Solid South would be conducive of the best interests of the South.' The question was well argued by both sides, but Messrs. [John Roach] Straton and [J. C.] Flannigan were too strong for Messrs. Walker and Weddington [of the University of Georgia], and the decision was rendered in favor of Mercer. The students of Mercer by their gentlemanly manners made a most favorable impression upon the people of Atlanta."

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    William Heard Kilpatrick, Acting President 1903-1905


    • Educator, author (1871-1965); A.B., A.M., Ph.D., LL.D. degrees; married to Mary Beman Guyton (1898), Margaret Marigault Pinckney (1908), and Marion Y. Ostrander (1940)
    • Served as acting president while teaching mathematics from 1897-1906
    • Stated at Charles Lee Smith's inauguration: "There is now at Mercer University an ideality, a spiritual force which takes such strong hold of the students as to make them feel forever indebted to the college for the best single thing in their lives....Our work, then, is to preserve this inheritance."


    Mercerian, "Editorial Views — Our President's Home-coming," December 1903:

    The president's entire duties, however, are not yet to be taken up. Part of the work will remain in the hands of Vice-President Kilpatrick, who, with the excellent cooperation of the other members of the faculty, has been the faithful leader for the students and the ready promoter of every business interest of the institution during Dr. Pollock's absence.

    Mercerian, "Editorial Views — Commencement Changes," March 1904:

    "Commencement exercises for the present collegiate year will mark the advent of the academic cap and gown at Mercer University."

    Mercerian, "On the Campus," February 1906:

    "Professor Kilpatrick (in Ethics class): 'Mr. Bernd, when Eve ate the apple was that a case of inner or outer intention?' 
    Bernd: 'I don't know, sir, but I think the apple was inner (in her).'"

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    Charles Lee Smith, 1905-1906


    • Lecturer, educator, author (1865-1951); Ph.D., LL.D. degrees; married to Sallie Lindsay (1889)
    • Elected president with an annual salary of $2,500 and inaugurated with much ceremony and broad representation of state and national educational institutions
    • Assumed leadership at a time when William Heard Kilpatrick would state: "There is now at Mercer University an ideality, a spiritual force which takes such strong hold of the students as to make them feel forever indebted to the college for the best single thing in their lives....Our work, then, is to preserve this inheritance."
    • Led the university through a year of prosperity, with an increase of the endowment and the construction of new buildings, yet failed to receive proper support from the trustees in carrying out his policies


    Mercerian, "From the Sanctum — The Carnegie Library," April 1906:

    "President Smith received a letter from Mr. Carnegie on April the fifth, saying that he would make a gift of twenty thousand dollars for a library building at Mercer, provided that twenty thousand dollars more be raised by the friends of the institution as an endowment fund for the support of the library. This generous gift is the result of a lengthy correspondence between Dr. Smith and Mr. Carnegie, and all join in congratulating the President upon such success."

    Catalog, "General Information — Climate," 1905-1906:

    "Macon has an almost ideal climate. Unpleasantly cold weather is exceptional, and snow and ice are rare. Many people find it a most desirable winter resort. Certainly, few cities offer more attractions to those accustomed to the rigorous regions of the north. During term time the change from the mountain regions to the milder climate of middle Georgia is not only agreeable but conducive to health. The city has an altitude of 380 feet above sea level."

    "Students wishing to pursue their studies in a mild climate, under sunny skies, will find Mercer University an inviting school."

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    Samuel Young Jameson, 1906-1913


    • Clergyman, educator (1859-1921); D.D., LL.D. degrees; married Etta Bibb (1884)
    • Accepted the office of president as an act of Christian duty in 1906, having declined it the year before
    • Increased student enrollment in the three schools of the university—arts, law, and pharmacy—by 50 percent
    • Constructed a dormitory, now known as Sherwood Hall, and a library
    • Began publication of the Cauldron, the student yearbook, in 1911
    • Enlarged the financial resources of the university by more than a quarter of a million dollars
    • Served as secretary-treasurer of the Baptist schools of Georgia, headed by Mercer and known as the "Mercer System"
    • Advocated moving the university to Atlanta, though the plan failed
    • Described by friend and former student and later professor, H. Lewis Batts: "In physique Dr. Jameson was tall and stalwart. His movements were energetic and firm. He was energetic in mind also. He had convictions, and by them he was utterly controlled. He was willing to defend them at any time and place. He was particularly effective before public assemblies, being able to convince his hearers by depth of feeling, by sincerity, and by a moral earnestness that would not yield."


    Orange and Black, "Seniors Were Guests of Dr. and Mrs. Jameson on Friday Evening at Magnolia Terrace," May 30, 1913:

    "The reception was informal, and every minute was full of the real kind of spirit that one so much desires to see at a reception. The terrace was made beautiful with lanterns and lights and the seats that were scattered in every nook and corner afforded a most delightful environment for the '13 men to tell their Macon friends how had [sic] they were made to feel in having to set sail."

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    James Freeman Sellers, Acting President 1913-1914


    • Educator, chemist, author (1862-1936); A.B., M.A., LL.D., D.Sc. degrees; married to Medora Fort (1888)
    • Served as acting president while teaching chemistry from 1893-1918
    • Purchased the fifty-acre Dempsey tract, providing room for future expansion and settling the agitation for moving the university from Macon
    • Raised four thousand dollars for improvement of the Mercer campus, including a system of walks and shrubbery planted by the president and his wife


    Orange and Black, advertisement for Mercer University, March 28, 1914:

    "Well equipped chemical, physical, biological and pharmaceutical laboratories; gymnasium with hot and cold baths; splendid Y.M.C.A. in beautiful building; Students' Hall, each room with modern ventilation; twenty professors; eleven buildings; ten thousand volumes and one hundred current periodicals in library and reading room. For information address J. F. SELLERS, Macon, Georgia"

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    William Lowndes Pickard, 1914-1918


    • Clergyman, educator, author (1861-1935); A.B., A.M., D.D., LL.D. degrees; married to Florence Martha Willingham (1886)
    • Called to the presidency during a most trying period of world war and an unsteady market
    • Broadened the curriculum, enlarged student enrollment from 357 to approximately 1,000, and increased the endowment
    • Worked toward strengthening the law course, making it a three-year program
    • Improved the offerings of summer school and recommended co-education
    • Benefited from the acquisition of the fifty-acre Dempsey tract, which provided room for future expansion and settled the agitation for moving the university from Macon
    • Expanded communication with the university alumni association, requesting an annual report to the trustees
    • Provided leadership as president of the Georgia Baptist Convention's board of education, encouraging the active participation of churches and associations in Baptist education in the state
    • Persevered despite a fire in the Administration building and the damage caused by water and the collapse of the steeple

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    Rufus Washington Weaver, 1918-1927


    • Educator, clergyman, author (1870-1947); A.B., M.A., Th.M., Th.D., D.D., LL.D. degrees; married to Charlotte Lewis Mason Payne (1911)
    • Elected president in 1918 and chancellor of Mercer University system of colleges and secondary schools from 1920-1925
    • Doubled the assets of the university and increased the annual income and student attendance
    • Added four professional schools—theology, commerce, education, and journalism
    • Built a dining hall with seating for 600 students, a home for the president, an apartment house for faculty, housing for forty married ministerial students with their families, and a new dormitory for sixty-five students, Gambrell Hall
    • Known for his interests in reading and Backgammon, and for being a Democrat
    • Proposed "The Mercer University Ideal" to be published in the annual catalogue: "Large Enough to Meet Every Standard, Small Enough to Meet Every Student"

    First women graduates:

    Mrs. W. E. Jackson, first woman to receive a degree (and a law degree) from Mercer University and president of the 1919 Senior Law Class. 
    In 1922 Mrs. L. G. Whitehorn was the first woman to receive the M. A. degree from Mercer University. 
    Caroline Patterson was the first woman to receive the A.B. degree from the university in 1923.

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    Andrew Philip Montague, Acting President 1927-1928


    • Latin scholar, educator (1854-1928); A.M., Ph.D., LL.D. degrees; married to May Christian (1881) and Florence Wood (1907)
    • Became vice-president of Mercer in 1924, an office especially created for him, after teaching for several years
    • Known to possess "indomitable energy and enthusiasm and strong personal magnetism and his distinctive qualities of courtesy, patience, gentleness and loyalty, his cultivated mind, chivalrous nature, and high ideals left their mark upon all who came under his influence."
    • Joined in service to the university by his wife, "Mother Montague," who retired in 1956


    Public speaking notes:

    "If then, I fortify myself thoroughly with information and learn my subject so that it is my very own, and believe in it whole-heartedly, the chances are 9 to 1 that I shall feel but slight nervousness and it is almost certain that such nervousness will disappear within five minutes from the beginning of my speech."

    Description of "Mother Montague" from student O. Norman Shands:

    "There were no strict rules for residents of Sherwood Hall. The widow of the late Dr. Montague, a member of the faculty, had an apartment in the dormitory and was affectionately known as "Mother Montague." She didn't attempt to exercise any control, but her presence and the respect students had for her exercised a gentle restraint against excesses of behavior."

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    Spright Dowell 1928-1953 and Interim President 1959-1960


    • Educator (1878-1963); A.B., A.M., LL.D. degrees; married to Camille Early (1898)
    • Assumed the presidency just prior to the Great Depression when the university's survival was in considerable doubt, and served in this capacity for twenty-five years
    • Established sound fiscal practices, borne from his own personal frugality, doubling the university plant and replacing the deficit with a fund balance of more than $200,000
    • Modified the university structure from seven schools to a liberal arts college and a law school, an organization more compatible with the university's resources, and led in the accreditation of Mercer by the National Association of Colleges and Universities; during his interim, added the Southern School of Pharmacy located in Atlanta
    • Emphasized educational excellence pursued from a Christian perspective, and developed supportive relationships between the university and the Baptist constituency
    • Guided the university through a heresy trial in 1939, with charges brought by thirteen ministerial students, supported by some local Baptist pastors, against five faculty members who were accused of teachings inconsistent with the Bible and Baptist beliefs (the professors were exonerated)
    • Before financial aid for students was established, maintained a personal loan fund that enabled countless students to remain in college
    • Frequently referred to the university as the "Mercer family"
    • Dropped intercollegiate football in 1946, requiring a strict non-subsidized inter-collegiate athletic program
    • Described in this manner: "Though small of stature, Dowell tackled difficult problems with such resoluteness and fearlessness that he loomed large as a leader of indomitable will and strength. Strength and firmness, however, were balanced by human warmth."
    • Wrote the only published history of the university, covering the period from 1833-1953
    • Built Mary Erin Porter Hall, the first dormitory for female students, containing reception parlors, sorority chapter rooms, an infirmary, a dining room and kitchen, and bedrooms with cedar closets


    Letter from H. A. Barge to Spright Dowell regarding publicity for football games, c1935:

    "Here is my plan to get a 3 to 5 piece mandolin orchestra or group in 1 car & a group of Mercer students in another car. Let this crowd go out of Macon southward. In another group — a car of saxophone & whatever to go with that in another direction. Map your towns out, playing at each one 15 or 20 mins. Have a compact speech & tell the people of S. Ga. That Mercer is S. Ga's. college & and rest of the south has supported its teams better than this area. — Furthermore this will be the 1st. football game to be played under lights. (3rdly) that when this area shows that it can be counted on to support a college team regularly, better teams will be brought in....Don't let the 2 smashing defeats ruin your season."

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    George Boyce Connell 1953-1959


    • Educator (1905-1959); A.B., A.M., LL.D. degrees; married to Doris Collier (1929)
    • Served as vice-president under Spright Dowell from 1946-1953
    • Inaugurated as president in a joint ceremony with B. Joseph Martin of Wesleyan College
    • Provided leadership as the university was invited into membership on the Southern University Conference, one of the finest distinctions that could come to the university, and acquired membership in the American Association of University Women; elected the first president of the Georgia Foundation for Independent Colleges
    • Built a student center, the humanities building, an annex to Porter dormitory, a physics/math building, and six faculty homes
    • Renovated the Christianity building, turning it into an economics building; added onto Shorter Hall, a men's dormitory; and converted the old co-op in Penfield Hall into a girls' gymnasium
    • Added one and a half million dollars to the endowment fund
    • Feared that Mercer "would be consigned to mediocrity" unless Baptists met the challenge and decided "to attempt the job of quality education"
    • Heard to say: "I don't know exactly what it is in Mercer that makes everyone who comes here love it, but I know it is so. They love this institution, and they can be called upon to promote the institution's welfare."


    Joint Inauguration Program, 1954:

    "The Inauguration of B. Joseph Martin as Eighteenth President of Wesleyan College and George Boyce Connell as Sixteenth President of Mercer University, Macon, Georgia, January 21, 22, 23, 1954"

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    Rufus Carrollton Harris, 1960-1979


    • Educator (1897-1982); A.B., LL.B., Juris.D., LL.D., Litt.D., D.C.L., L.H.D. degrees; married to Mary Louise Walker (1918)
    • Served as dean of the university's law school from 1923-1927, prior to returning as president for nineteen years
    • Led Mercer to become one of the few private colleges in the South to admit qualified students without regard to race, before being required to do so by the 1964 Civil Rights Act
    • Gave firm positive leadership to the university on the decision of accepting federal grants
    • Constructed the Stetson Library and the Willet Science Center
    • Merged Atlanta Baptist College into the university in 1972
    • Laid the groundwork for the Mercer School of Medicine
    • Moved the School of Law in 1978 from the main campus to its new home, the former Insurance Company of North America building on Coleman Hill in downtown Macon
    • Provided leadership in national and international organizations and foundations, and published writings on numerous legal and educational topics in many professional journals


    Letter from RCH to an alumnus who opposed the integration of the university, November 6, 1962:

    "I think any institution that receives tax exemptions, a public charter to operate and other public support is public enough to bring it within the Constitutional prohibition against racial educational discrimination. Besides, as a Christian, there is a matter of conscience involved, I think, in the seemingly un-Christian act of drawing a color line in education."

    Medals presented to RCH:

    Medal of Excellence, Mercer University
    Order of the British Empire, Queen Elizabeth the Second of the United Kingdom, August 18, 1969
    French Legion of Honor, Republic of France, October 10, 1953

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    Raleigh Kirby Godsey, 1979-2006


    • Educator, theologian, author (1936- ); B.A., B.D., M.A., Th.D., Ph.D., L.H.D. degrees; married to Joan Stockstill (1959)
    • Committed the university to academic integrity and Christian purpose and stated, "Unless a person dreams, he becomes a victim of the way things are....Unless our activity is punctuated with the vision of where we are going, we will begin very quickly to go nowhere."
    • Established schools of business, medicine, engineering, education, continuing education and professional studies, theology, and nursing, as well as a university press and an engineering research center; increased the endowment from $16.5 million in 1979 to $225 million in 2001; raised student enrollment from 3,800 to more than 7,300 during the same time period
    • Constructed a 230,000 square foot university center, a library, a music building, a religious life center, a dormitory, a learning center, the Greek Village, and apartments for students on the Macon campus
    • Constructed student apartments, academic buildings for business/education/nursing/theology, a gymnasium, and a pharmacy teaching and research center in Atlanta, as well as academic centers in Douglas and Henry counties
    • Restored the Administration building, the W. G. Lee Alumni House, Newton Chapel, the Woodruff House, the president's home, the law school, Groover Hall, Knight Hall, Penfield Hall, and the Tift Alumnae House
    • Created the University Commons, focusing on helping students recognize their life's calling in light of their faith, education, and abilities and strengthening the university's connections to its Baptist heritage by identifying and supporting a new generation of servant leaders
    • Led in outreach to the Mercer community and development of downtown Macon, aimed at neighborhood revitalization and university research on issues bearing on social, economic, and educational improvements in the community
    • Assumed responsibility for the Grand Opera House, broadening the community's access to the arts and reflecting the diverse interests of Middle Georgians by presenting a multitude of quality arts and cultural experiences
    • Believing that "plain talk about our faith is hard to come by," published When We Talk about God, Let's Be Honest, a controversial, thought-provoking book that Will Campbell said "tells us things our preachers should have told us when we were growing up but often didn't"


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    William D. Underwood, 2006-present


    • Educator, lawyer, author; Juris.D.; Married to Lesli
    • An accomplished educator and scholar, Underwood was designated a Master Teacher at Baylor in recognition of extraordinary classroom teaching and was named an Outstanding University Professor in 2005
    • Served at Baylor University as Interim President and held the Leon Jaworski Chair at the Baylor School of Law. He took a leave of absence from his faculty duties from 1997-98 to serve as Baylor's General Counsel.
    • Published extensively on a range of topics and has presented a number of papers on how faith relates to higher education
    • Elected a member of the American Law Institute and the American Bar Foundation
    • Summa cum laude graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law, which awarded him the Juris Doctor degree. He graduated as class salutatorian and was an editor of the University of Illinois Law Review. Clerked for the Honorable Sam D. Johnson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit


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