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Warren Akin Candler's Firm Foundation

Warren Akin Candler, Class of 1875

President 1888-1898
Chancellor 1914-1920

In 1888, when Isaac Hopkins left the Emory presidency to establish the Georgia School of Technology (now Georgia Tech), the name of one candidate to succeed him rose more prominently than any other, that of Warren Akin Candler. It was not a position to which Candler aspired. He had been, for two years, associate editor of the Christian Advocate, Southern Methodism's preeminent publication, where he was able to hold forth with great influence on the more vexing public issues of the day. He found the work satisfying and his colleagues congenial. Moreover, with the apparently imminent election of the paper's senior editor, O. P. Fitzgerald, as bishop, the way seemed clear for Candler to succeed him to the editorship, which was viewed as a steppingstone to the episcopacy.

Emory College, in contrast, had an uncertain future. One friend wrote to Candler that the departure of Hopkins at just this point in the college's life appeared to the public like "the scampering of rats from the sinking ship." And although Candler's alma mater held a warm place in his heart, he had little vocational leaning toward the classroom. But he was willing to be guided by what he called, in a letter to his mother, "the most unmistakable providential indications that such was my duty."

Providence seemed to him to be speaking when, in June, he was handed a telegram advising him that he had been elected president of Emory College by a vote of twenty-three to three. Leaving Nashville immediately for Emory, he arrived in time to meet with the trustees, who were in session prior to the Commencement exercises. When he was introduced at Commencement, a rousing cheer went up from the crowd, and the band struck up "Dixie." The trustees conferred on him not only the presidency but also the degree of Doctor of Divinity—the first of four honorary degrees Emory would bestow on him. He was two months shy of his thirty-first birthday.

Born the tenth of eleven children, Warren came from a long line of distinguished soldiers, business entrepreneurs, and public servants. One great-great-great-grandfather had marched with Cromwell into Ireland, winning Callan Castle for his services, and other ancestors had led troops at Kings Mountain during the American Revolution. Something of that fighting spirit survived in Warren's father, Samuel Charles Candler, who unpopularly opposed Georgia's secession from the Union but then, when Georgia did secede, became as ardent an enemy of his former country. Warren himself may have been old enough to remember in later years the occasion recounted in family legend, when General Stoneman's Union cavalry pounded up to the door of the Candler household looking for Sam to hang him. The horse soldiers found Mrs. Candler instead. When she refused to tell where her husband had fled, the officer in charge asked, "Don't you know I can blow you to hell?" To which she replied, "There's not room enough in hell for me; it is too full of Yankees."

Schooled at Villa Rica, in west Georgia, Candler entered Emory College at the tender age of fifteen and graduated two years later. All of five feet six inches tall, he packed a lot of intellectual and persuasive power into his short, round frame, and he knew it. He once said that five feet six inches "is a favorite height in history. . . . Napoleon Bonaparte was just five feet, six inches tall. John Wesley was just five feet, six inches tall. Modesty forbids my saying there were other people five feet, six inches tall." One classmate in fact recounted that Candler was memorable not only for his brilliance as a student but also for his physique. "He was not angular as most youths of fifteen. On the contrary, he was about the roundest boy who had been seen at Emory in many a year."

He was also one of the best debaters, joining both of the literary societies and winning the championship debate at his Commencement on the question, "Ought the Right of Suffrage To Be Restricted to Man?" He argued yes, as he would do for the rest of his life.

Two months before his graduation, Candler received his preacher's license from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and began his ministry the next fall riding the circuit of Newton County. To help make ends meet on his salary of $115 a year, he boarded at the home of President Haygood, sharing a room with five others, and served as Haygood's secretary. Following marriage to Sarah Antoinette (Nettie) Curtright in 1877, Candler served several more churches before becoming assistant editor of the Christian Advocate in 1886.

The work of leading Emory College at the end of the last century must have felt at some points like a missionary enterprise—one with little luxury, continual financial strain, endless appeals for assistance, and an often indifferent, sometimes hostile audience. It was a job for which Candler felt ill prepared. Some months after his election to the presidency, Candler was riding the train between Atlanta and Oxford with the noted Methodist preacher Sam Jones. Himself a man of letters and a speaker of considerable genius, Jones gibed with Candler and asked what could have possessed the trustees to make them award Candler a Doctor of Divinity degree. Candler told Jones, "After the trustees elected me president at Oxford, they realized that the peg was too little for the hole, and so they decided to wrap some padding around it."

But his large personality and his prodigious memory for names made him almost one of the forces of nature on campus. As was customary, the president of the College taught mental and moral science and biblical literature. One of Candler's students, Edgar H. Johnson, who would later become dean of the College and of the business school of Emory University, recalled that Candler's "was the most interesting classroom" on campus. Stewart Roberts (1900M, 1902C), later president of the alumni association, said, "I suppose in the technique and terminology of modern education Warren A. Candler would not rank as a modern educator. Yet to his students his person and personality were course and campus and life itself. He never walked on the campus that some of us did not walk and talk with him. His remarks and manners on those occasions still ring in my ears and linger in my memory after more than forty years. . . . His personality rose above standards and understanding above grades."

That Candler could win the affection of his students while being a stern disciplinarian is perhaps a commentary on the times as well as the man. With little else to do in Oxford than to play pranks and subvert the rules, Emory students found in their president an apparently enticing antagonist in their games, one who believed that rules were made to be strictly enforced. Behind his back they referred to him, no doubt with some admiration for the stature of his character, as "King Shorty."

The story is told by Alfred M. Pierce, Candler's biographer, that one afternoon when the faculty had not yet shown up for daily chapel well past the appointed hour, the students began to cry "Cut, cut" to assert their freedom to leave. At last, however, the faculty appeared, led by Candler. Still the noise of the students persisted, as they tried to cajole an hour's freedom. Candler would have none of it and took the lectern: "Since I was late, you are entitled to an explanation. I was searching for a certain text of Scripture. 'Kish said to Saul, Go seek the asses.'

"Lo," said Candler, "I have found them."

In addition to his personality, however, Candler also had a power of mind that could find the way to effect change. He wanted to make Emory as good as the best colleges in the country. During the first years of his administration he raised faculty salaries to a minimum of $2,000 (still less than most of the best colleges were paying) and upgraded buildings and equipment. In 1892 he instituted the first major curriculum change, offering three full four-year courses—the traditional one steeped in the Classics and leading to the A.B. degree; one emphasizing history and leading to the B.Phil. degree; and one requiring more scientific study and leading to the B.S. degree. In his first year he upgraded offerings of law courses into a formal curriculum leading to the awarding of Emory's first bachelor of law degree in 1889, and he lobbied the state legislature to give Emory law graduates equal standing with those of the University of Georgia School of Law. Emory's first formal theology department was also established during Candler's administration.

Like his predecessors, Candler undertook prodigious work to build up the quality of the campus and the size of the endowment. In 1888, the year Candler became president, the library consisted of about five thousand volumes on the third floor of Seney Hall. In 1898, as Candler was leaving Emory to begin new duties as bishop, he dedicated a new library building containing twenty thousand volumes and capable of housing seventy-five thousand—the College's first separate building devoted to use as a library. Recognizing their president's role in making the building possible, the trustees insisted against his wishes in naming it Candler Library (now Candler Hall).

Under Candler's presidency, for the first time Emory College would become financially solvent. Inheriting a college debt of $5,000, he worked to make the college debt-free for the first time in its history, although it took seven years to do it. National economic depressions in 1892 and 1897 made the going difficult. At one point he spent six weeks trying to raise $6,000 to repair the College's deteriorating buildings, "most of which," he pointed out, "were paid for by Northern men." He was able to raise only $2,000. Contrasting the largesse of philanthropists in the North and East with the "niggardliness of the South," Candler wrote, "What I have asked is but a pitiful matter when compared with that which colleges in other parts of the country are daily receiving. Harvard College is worth more than all Southern Methodist Colleges combined. . . . Begging for such a small sum [six thousand dollars] is humiliating."

Increasingly frustrated by what he considered the indifference of wealthy friends of the college, Candler even took to scolding the trustees. After the students had contributed from their own small funds to outfit a new gym in 1890, he reported to the trustees:

"If a few schools boys can raise $1,000 for a gymnasium without missing a recitation, what might not thirty prominent gentlemen, charged with the management of this great Church interest, with all Georgia and Florida before them, do in a week, if their hearts were free to it?

"I will not be understood as lecturing the Board. . . ."

Indeed, Candler lectured as much by example as anything. Like his brother Asa, Warren Candler had a lifelong tendency to depression. Nevertheless, in the face of personal loss and great obstacles to the success of his college, he bore on. Contracting typhoid fever in the summer of 1890, he was barely able to resume work the next fall. During his presidency two of his five children died—his sons Warren Jr. and Emory. Candler had come to the presidency at a reduction in salary of $600 a year, and he never charged the trustees for traveling expenses except when he had no funds of his own. The $900 inheritance he received from his father's estate he directed to an emergency loan fund that had been established for indigent students by President Haygood. When the board insisted on awarding Candler a thousand dollars in 1897 "for services rendered as Financial Agent," he gave it back to the endowment, the library, and financial aid.

What may have gained Warren Candler the most notoriety in collegiate circles was his obdurate banishment of intercollegiate sports from Emory. It was not that he detested athletics. Indeed, in his first president's report he recommended that two acres "be cleared up and put in suitable condition for a recreation ground for the students" where "their sports will not disturb others nor be disturbed by others." In the second year of his presidency the college completed construction of a new gym, and the board authorized appointment of a director of physical education. Athletic activity itself was good for the mind as well as the body.

No, it was not athletics but all the attendant "evils" that Candler sought to banish, especially the tendency for onlookers to bet on outcomes. Writing in the Atlanta Constitution on March 26, 1892, Candler said:

While Emory College encourages all wholesome sports among its students, it looks with no allowance upon what we call 'intercollegiate sports,' believing that such games involve hurtful absences from the college, useless expense to the students, excitement before and after a game which are unfriendly to habits of study, more or less gambling and other immorality, and in the end do not even promote healthful sports. The match games tend to give excitement to a few students, while they make mere spectators of the majority of the student body, thus defeating the ends of sport and bringing the perils I indicated.

Despite the president's prohibition of intercollegiate competition, which was gaining steady momentum nationally, enrollment in Emory College rose from 230 to 325 during Candler's presidency.

There is, apparently, a tradition in Methodism that all candidates for the episcopacy, especially those campaigning quietly to be elected to it, disavow any interest in the job until it is offered. Thus, although Candler's election to the episcopacy in 1898 surprised no one, he had met every expression of the idea between 1893 and 1898 with avowed uninterest. When he returned to Oxford from the General Conference in Baltimore, where he had been elected bishop, three hundred Emory students greeted him at the train station, unhitched the horses from his carriage, and pulled him in the carriage the mile to Oxford.

The Phoenix that year, in its farewell to President Candler, had this to say, in rhetoric not at all uncommon for the day:

To recount the innumerable services and numberless good deeds of Bishop Candler while he was president of Emory were a task that only the holy recording angel could properly perform. The wonderful love and personal supervision which he has exercised upon and over us boys—his boys—would make a story at which the angels would be delighted and the hearts of men would gain fresh inspiration and new confidence in the capacity of man for good. Such a life makes us proud that we are of the race of man and sons of God.

Although Candler moved to Atlanta upon his election—fearing the temptation to meddle in the work of his successor, Charles Dowman—Emory was never far from his heart and mind, and Candler would return to help redefine Emory sixteen years later.

Source: A Legacy of Heart and Mind: Emory Since 1836. Gary S. Hauk, PhD


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