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First Emory Alumnus President

Luther M. Smith, Class of 1848

President 1867-71
Luther Smith

Luther Smith was the first Emory graduate to preside over the college, and his presidency thus marked a kind of coming of age for the college. A native of Oglethorpe County, Georgia, he received the highest honor of his class when he graduated in 1848. After studying the law and practicing for a time, he accepted President Pierce's invitation to join the faculty in 1852 as tutor in languages. When he assumed the presidency in 1867, he followed the custom of his predecessors in the presidency by teaching literature, philosophy, and religion.

During his brief administration, Smith fostered a vigorous religious life on campus and strongly emphasized the "character-building" qualities of the college community. In general the college prospered under his care, with an average enrollment of more than two hundred. His concern for the financial condition of the college prompted a fund-raising drive, though it resulted in nothing like the $500,000 endowment he thought necessary. He was not averse to taking the trustees to task for what he thought of as too-small imagination and insufficient attention to the need for money. Proposing to begin building a large endowment, Smith curtly admonished the trustees, "The guardians of the institution should become familiar with the idea and promptly take the matter in hand." Perhaps because of such differences over finances, perhaps because of differences over the curriculum, which he wanted to expand and liberalize, in November 1871 the board voted him out of office and replaced him with Osborn L. Smith, the professor of Latin who was no family relation to Luther M.

Curiously, it was during Luther Smith's administration that the Board of Trustees first considered moving Emory College to Atlanta. At a meeting of the board in November 1867, the Rev. G. J. Pearce, a newly elected trustee, made the suggestion, which was quickly referred to committee and, a few days later, voted down, with the "deliberate judgment that the further consideration of the measure proposed is unadvisable."

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


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