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Haygood's Halcyon Years

Atticus Greene Haygood, Class of 1859

President 1875-84
Atticus Haygood

Atticus Haygood was born in 1839 in Watkinsville, Georgia, not far from the college town of Athens. Reared by devout Methodist parents who valued discipline and piety, Haygood also had the freedom to read widely, and he had delved into the works of Byron, Macaulay, and Carlyle before the age of twelve. Plagued by epileptic seizures until adolescence, he prayed for a cure. He took it as a sign of answered prayer when the seizures stopped before his teenage years, and he grew into a robust and physically active young man.

Haygood's world opened still more dramatically when the Haygood family moved in 1852 to Atlanta, a young city booming. (The official census increased from two thousand in 1850 to ten thousand in 1860, making Atlanta the fastest-growing city in the state.) His father, Greene Haygood, one of the more prominent lawyers in Atlanta, supported a number of civic causes, working unsuccessfully to establish a state-supported system of elementary schools and seeking to open the region further to the railroads—themes that would ring through Atticus's years as Emory's president.

Arriving at Emory College in 1856, Haygood was, by all accounts, rather depressed by the place. Like many Methodists at the time, his parents would not countenance sending their son to the secularizing, devil-ridden, state-supported University of Georgia in Athens; nor would they send him to the established northern schools.

Emory, on the other hand, in 1856 comprised only an administration building, the two literary societies' halls (Phi Gamma and Few), and two dormitories (East Hall and West Hall) that accommodated ten students each. The rest of the hundred and fifty students boarded in homes throughout the town, and the resident landlords brooked no rowdiness. The college library owned fewer books than either of the collections housed by the two literary societies.

The youngest member of his entering class at sixteen years and nine months, Haygood performed well enough in his matriculation exams to be placed with the sophomores. Also enrolling that year was another future Emory president, Isaac Hopkins. For the next three years Haygood would record every expenditure for college, toting up, by the time he graduated, a cost of $915.40—fifteen dollars of which he had "good reasons to believe" had been stolen.

Something of a doubter of orthodoxy all his life, Haygood nevertheless formed a close and lasting friendship with Young J. Allen, a year his senior, who would lead one of the most memorable revivals of the nineteenth century on the Oxford campus, and who would go on to become one of the great missionaries to China. By the time of his own graduation in 1859, Haygood had shouldered the mantle of senior spiritual leader, had received his preacher's license, and had married Mollie Yarbrough, the daughter of his landlord, the well-known Methodist preacher John Yarbrough. (In the next sixteen years Mollie would bear eight children, four of whom lived to adulthood.)

After graduation Haygood served as minister of several churches before being caught in the turmoil of secession and war. Both his father and his father-in-law inclined toward union. Still, Haygood felt enough of the restlessness brought on by war to enlist as a chaplain, serving near Richmond and, later, with Hood during the backward march to Atlanta in the face of Sherman's juggernaut.

After the war, with the help of his mentor (and former Emory president) Bishop George Pierce, Haygood advanced rapidly in Southern Methodist circles, becoming at age twenty-nine a member of the bishop's cabinet. Elected secretary of the Sunday School Association at the end of 1869, Haygood edited one of the best-selling Methodist hymnals of his day, The Amaranth, and edited books for church libraries. But his greatest contribution at this time was his editorials for The Sunday-School Magazine, honing his casual but pungent style on topics of moment.

It was in his capacity as Sunday School Secretary and eminent alumnus that Haygood delivered the annual Address to the Alumni during Commencement week at Emory in July 1874. The day before, under the guidance of Bishop Pierce, their chairman, the college trustees had elected Haygood to the board. Just two months earlier, the first cornerstone of Vanderbilt University had been laid in Nashville, where the Sunday School offices were located. Here was a threat to Oxford's place as the center of Southern Methodist gravity, and Bishop Pierce's advancing of his protégé onto center stage may have been an attempt to ward off that threat. Haygood's Commencement speech lifted up denominational education—exemplified by Emory, of course—as the model of higher education to be preferred over secular models such as the University of Georgia. Even Vanderbilt, which gave lip-service to the church, owed its true allegiance to the patronage of the world, as represented by Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The timing of Haygood's Commencement address was significant. By 1874, in the wake of economic panic, the Rev. James O. Andrew Clarke, a former Emory faculty member and namesake of Bishop Andrew, was proposing that higher education in Georgia would benefit financially if there were efficient cooperation among the University of Georgia and the denominational schools—the Presbyterians' Oglethorpe, the Baptists' Mercer, and the Methodists' Emory. Such cooperation, he argued, had been the basis for the distinction achieved by Harvard, Brown, and Yale.

Pierce engineered Haygood's election to the Emory board to help torpedo the plan, which carried the strong endorsement of prominent Georgian Presbyterians and Baptists. Throughout early 1875 Haygood published a series of articles in the Southern Christian Advocate attacking the plan in an attempt to keep Emory independent. Haygood had three prejudices: he hated un-Methodist behavior, thought Southern Methodism the only true Methodism, and had no respect for the University of Georgia. Most of these biases he would moderate in later years, but he never did wear red and black.

Meanwhile, as the national depression deepened, enrollment at Emory declined to fewer than a hundred, endowment income fell, and the harried President Osborn Smith looked with increasing yearning for a graceful way to resign.

Haygood himself sought a way out of his Sunday School position, and in November 1875 he bought for $3,000 the old Few home in Oxford, now the home of the dean of Oxford College. On December 2 that year, the Emory trustees, meeting in Griffin, Georgia, elected Haygood president of Emory College.

Only thirty-six when he was elected president, Haygood threw himself into the financial difficulties of the college with vigor and optimism. The obstacles were great. During Haygood's administration about a third of the students at Emory College were charged no tuition. The College gave free tuition to two students from each of the Methodist districts in Georgia and Florida, and sons of Methodist preachers attended Emory free, regardless of where they called home. Moreover, Haygood and the faculty personally paid the expenses of a number of the students, and no one was refused enrollment because of financial need.

Mindful of the invidious comparisons that students often draw when confronted with differences in wealth, and hoping to find ways to make the college more affordable, Haygood in 1876 established the first of four "helping halls"—co-op living quarters in which students lived and ate for $10 a month. Not satisfied with this arrangement, two years later Haygood himself took in five student boarders for even less fare, allowing them to work off the difference in his garden and kitchen.

Beyond trying to improve the circumstances of the college, Haygood reformed the curriculum, introducing modern languages, vocal music, and English philology and literature. It fell to him, as president, to teach mental and moral science, and his experience as Sunday School secretary impelled him to make biblical studies a cornerstone of the curriculum. Reading widely—everything from Tennyson to Popular Science Monthly—he showed in his lectures, as he had in his editorials and sermons, a healthy willingness to examine, though not embrace, the potentially dangerous tenets of Darwinian biology and Spencerian materialism.

More than any other president since Longstreet, Haygood elevated Emory in the consciousness of the region, and to a real degree he transcended the tight provincialism of Southern Methodism, achieving a national platform. The stature of the Board of Trustees grew with the appointment of men prominent in state and regional affairs, including the governor of Georgia, Alfred H. Colquitt. Moreover, Haygood's selection of speakers for Commencement marked the College green as the locus of intellectual ferment in a denomination that held sway over a large section of the country. Although some of the addresses would last two hours, the audience always eagerly anticipated the announcement of the principal speaker in a given year.

Haygood had said in 1861 that "a great editor is a very great man." Little wonder, then, that among his friends—and one of the powerful influences on his own thinking—was the great editor of the Atlanta Constitution, Henry Grady. In 1878, Grady delivered at Emory his last commencement speech before his untimely death in 1889, at the age of thirty-nine.

Grady had been, for a number of years, the region's voice of conscience and vision as editor of the Atlanta Constitution. With some controversy, the paper—Grady—advocated greater commerce and industry in the South (attributes of the "Unholy" North); reconciliation with the North, including greater trade with the former enemy; and full citizenship for the former slaves. All of these positions appealed to Haygood.

In Haygood's own remarks to the graduating class of 1880—just after the awarding of diplomas but before the keynote address—he hinted at his own views on these matters—a foretaste of the speech that would make him a national figure. He hoped for, he said, an ethical aristocracy in the South, without the old social classes that had made Southern institutions and relationships destructively formal and rigid. Something of this hope had animated much of his editorial work for the Southern Christian Advocate from the fall of 1875 to the spring of 1878, and of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate from June 1878 to 1882. In 1877, for instance, noting that New Hampshire still had voting restrictions against Jews and Catholics, Haygood called for the South to outdo the North in allowing "all men" to exercise their citizenship at the polls.

Despite these public expressions of his progressivism, however, perhaps no one was prepared either for Haygood's sermon at Thanksgiving in 1880 or for its result. Titling his sermon "The New South"—a phrase introduced probably by the Atlanta Constitution in the 1870s—Haygood began conventionally enough. He gave thanks for agricultural bounty, the greater creature comforts of a more prosperous time after the devastation of war, and good political order in the state, including harmony between the races. This beginning was required by the holiday. President Haygood went on, however, to commend President James Garfield, a former Union general, and to thank Providence that by the defeat of the Confederacy, slavery had been overthrown. Although he espoused the states' constitutional rights to have seceded, he said he believed that the South's new commercial and mercantile enterprises, modeled after Yankee industry, would bring incalculable benefits not possible under the old order.

The sermon won the admiration of the College faculty, who prevailed on the president to have it printed. One of the printed copies of the sermon ended up in the hands of a Brooklyn Methodist banker, George I. Seney.

Seney's father, also named George, had been one of only three college-educated Methodist ministers in America in his day. Ascending to the presidency of Metropolitan Bank in 1877, George the son set about speculating in railroads. By 1880 he had joined with a syndicate that was seeking a rail line from Chattanooga through Atlanta to Macon and, from there, to ports along Georgia's coast. The chief competition to this scheme was the Central of Georgia Railroad, whose Macon-to-Atlanta line was linked to a state-owned line from Atlanta to Chattanooga.

Meeting with Seney in New York in February 1881, Haygood was pleased to hear praise for the "New South" sermon. But he was astonished to hear the banker offer $10,000 in railroad securities as a gift to shore up the college's endowment. Shortly afterward, Seney wired Haygood in Oxford to say that he would increase the gift to $15,000, and by March he was prepared to make the sum a tidy $25,000, plus $20,000 in cash, plus $5,000 to wipe out the college's debt. (Unfortunately, Haygood had miscalculated the debt, and so the books remained in the red for a few more years.) In July Seney offered an additional $50,000 for the endowment—again, in railroad stock. By the time he was finished, Seney pledged $130,000, a staggering sum.

Throughout 1881 Seney also made generous contributions to Wesleyan College in Macon, where sentiment ran heavily in favor of Seney's competitor, the Central of Georgia Railroad. In the end, Seney got his railroad charters, and Emory College got a new administration building named for its generous Northern friend.

Seney visited Oxford for the dedication of Seney Hall and recalled for the rest of his life the pleasure he had had in giving money to the straitened college. His own fortunes would take a dip a few years later, and he would lose most of his railroad holdings before finding his financial bearings again in the next decade. As for the college whose endowment he pumped up, a downturn in the economy in 1883 made the railroad stock Seney had given to Emory plummet in value; the college's income from endowment dropped 22 percent in 1884, not rebounding fully until 1887.

In the meantime, Haygood had attracted the attention of another Yankee philanthropist. John F. Slater, a Connecticut Congregationalist, established a fund in 1882 to channel Northern money into Southern schools for African-Americans. Haygood's role in founding the Methodists' Paine College for blacks in Augusta appealed to the Slater Fund's board of directors, whose members included former U.S. President Rutherford Hayes, Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite, Georgia Governor Colquitt, the eminent theologian Phillips Brooks, and Daniel Coit Gilman, first president of Johns Hopkins University. Operating from Seney Hall as the fund's financial agent, or executive director, at an additional salary of $3,000 a year, Haygood also continued as Emory's president with the blessing of the College's trustees until 1884, when the press of duties for the Slater Fund became so great that Haygood resigned the presidency.

Four years later Haygood and his family moved from Oxford to Decatur. By then, the softness of the college's financial position during his administration began to come to light. When Professor George W. W. Stone died in 1889, after many years of serving also as treasurer and bursar, the board examined accounts, and the Finance Committee puzzled long over the fact that the debt of the college could not be reckoned accurately. Stone, Haygood, and Bishop Pierce, the board chairman until his death in 1884, had all acted at one time or another as treasurer. Stone's accounts had been reviewed regularly by the board and appeared to be sound. But Pierce had led the trustees to approve new buildings in the 1870s on pledges that, for obscure reasons, he counted as personal debt, rather than College accounts payable, thus commingling personal and institutional finances. Haygood magnanimously assumed this debt on Pierce's death, thereby extending the confusion. On top of this, the trustees allowed Haygood, as financial agent for the College, to count his collections of pledges as his salary, and they allowed titles for the helping halls to be issued in Haygood's name, not the college's. As the capping folly, Haygood lent his brother, William, some Emory railroad bonds to help him out of a financial difficulty, and William transferred these to another person. Haygood found some relief when Young Harris, a judge and a wealthy Methodist, bought the helping halls from Haygood and gave them to school. Still, Haygood left Oxford $15,000 in debt. When he could not fulfill his alumni pledge that year, he offered the college a cow and his desk.

Despite these grave shortcomings, the legacy of Haygood to Emory College was great. He and Isaac Stiles Hopkins, who would succeed him as president, experimented with the curriculum, making it possible for Warren Candler to undertake still greater reform in the following decade. A new bachelor of philosophy degree exempted students from studying Latin and Greek. More radically, Haygood introduced modern languages, hiring Otto Cohahn—Emory's first Jewish faculty member—to teach French and German in 1882. (President Candler later would also recruit a Jew to the faculty—Julius Magath. Unlike Cohahn, Magath had converted to Christianity and was a Methodist preacher.)

Haygood also gave most of his personal library to the college when Seney Hall was built, dedicating two floors of the building for the library and consolidating the college's collection with the collections of the Few and Phi Gamma societies. This act constituted a milestone in the development of Emory libraries. Haygood's administration also was the first to require a thesis for the M.A. degree, and he started the first "professional school" at Emory in 1882 when he launched a law department. His other innovations included departments in biblical studies, bookkeeping and accounts, telegraphy, and handicraft education.

This last innovation was the brainchild of Isaac Hopkins, the Latin professor, whom Haygood dispatched in 1882-83 to the North to visit institutes of technology and report back to the board. Hopkins's report, titled "The Utilitarian vs. the Useless," provided the rationale for Emory to begin a "school of tool-craft" in October 1884. At first the school consisted of two foot-operated lathes in Hopkins's yard. But a building was erected for the fall of 1885, and soon the Emory program had gained attention well beyond the borders of the state.

Although Haygood had declined election as bishop in 1882, in order to remain at Emory as president, he was elected again in 1890, six years after resigning the presidency, and this time agreed to serve. But the last years of his life were hardly years of triumph. In Mexico City for a conference, he contracted dengue fever, which made him live with constant infection and pain until his death four years later. In 1893, still saddled with debt, he moved with his wife back to Oxford to live in his in-laws' house—the very house he had moved to as a sophomore nearly four decades before. Having begun to drink in order to ease the pain from his illness, he became increasingly confused, disorganized, and prone to illness, until he died on January 19, 1896. Despite this sad end, he had led Emory through one of its more promising periods of the nineteenth century.

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


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