Teacher Leaves Classroom
After 36 Years as WFC Professor
by Page Seven,
WAKE FOREST COLLEGE ALUMNI NEWS, October, 1962
In June of this year Dr. C.
Chilton Pearson, known affectionately to thousands of Wake Forest students
as "Skinny Pearson," retired from active teaching after thirty-six
years as Head of the Department of Social Sciences. Two generations of
Deacons have already enjoyed recounting the innumerable anecdotes, piquant
remarks, and pungent observations of their Puckish professor, who inspired,
stimulated, amused, and terrified them at one time or another.
His great number of devoted
students, his colleagues among the Wake Forest College faculty, and countless
other friends will deeply regret his retirement and wish him many years
of deserved happiness.
Dr. Pearson became a member
of the Wake Forest College faculty in the fall of 1916. A native of the
Rappahannock country in the tidewater section of Virginia, he had received
degrees from Richmond and Yale, and taught at Washington and Lee and at
Yale before coming to Wake Forest. At the time of his entrance into the
Wake Forest College faculty he took over the work of two men. Under his
direction, the Social Science Department became one of the largest departments
of the College both in number of faculty members and student enrollment.
Two of the subjects originally taught in the department, economics and
sociology, now constitute separate departments, the School of Business
Administration and the Department of Sociology. The Social Science Department,
nonetheless, at the time of Dr. Pearson's retirement continued to be one
of the largest of the College.
An Incomparable Teacher
Dr. Pearson was a great teacher.
His brilliant, analytical mind never failed to separate significant matters
from nonessential details. When he expounded on a subject in his informal,
deliberative manner, his students listened with rapt attention to his
profound wisdom. Some of them may not have comprehended all that he said
but they listened anyway.
His method of teaching was
based primarily on a desire to make the student study, think, and present
clearly and accurately his information and his thoughts. When Dr. Pearson
entered his classroom there was always a dead silence. No student wished
to attract attention for fear of being called on to recite. The Doctor's
face and his every move were watched with intense suspense and his initial
word might inspire peals of laughter or produce a scene of leaden gloom.
Writing in a recent issue
of the Student, one of Dr. Pearson's students painted a word picture of
him in his classroom. "His deliberate, barely audible voice,"
wrote the student, "is the perfect medium for the sly comments that
climax suspenseful situations.
"The effect of Dr. Pearson's
droll comments and illustrations," continued the student, "would
be greatly lessened without his physical assets to accompany them. Whether
developed for the sake of effect or a natural tendency, there is an air
of extreme deliberation about everything he does. His words seem heavily
weighed and selected before their utterance: this, plus his low, distinct
voice creates the familiar classroom atmosphere with every student on
the edge of his seat, straining to catch every word as it is spoken."
He will long be remembered
as he sat behind his lecture desk, knees crossed, both feet flat on the
floor, his thick brow drawn together in a thoughtful, distant gaze before
turning to speak in low measured tones or to chortle over a humorous recollection.
"But life in 'Skinny's'
classes is not consistently gay," wrote the observant student. "Those
piercing, questioning eyes are rarely brought to bear on a student with
a calm heart.'' Good as well as poor students "suffer extreme nervousness
from his insistence upon the significance of historical material, rather
than rote recitation. And the fright experienced upon a casual questioning
is as nothing to the humility of the awful day w hen not one, but a series
of probing queries are shot at the numbed brain. This may last as long
as the whole period, or only a part of it; but the day has been ruined
in either case."
Activities Outside the
If one undertook to name all
the distinguished historians, lawyers, educators, politicians and other
alumni who have been grateful for the help received under Dr. Pearson's
attention the list would become interminably long. But Dr. Pearson has
contributed much more to the College and the community than his work as
a great teacher. From the time of his initial connection with Wake Forest
he has served on the most important faculty Committees, often as chairman,
acted as adviser to student organizations, coached some of the College's
most successful debate teams, and organized some of the most useful institutions
in the community. As a scholar he has been nationally recognized. But
beyond these, there has been the pervading "spirit of Pearson"
which influenced colleagues and students alike to feel an aversion for
shallowness and sham and to find joy in the learning process and ire creative
When Dr. Pearson came to Wake
Forest College to replace Professor E. W. Sikes and Associate Professor
Clarence D. Johns, each academic department was known as a school. As
Associate Professor of Political Science he was the only teacher in the
school of Political Science, which embraced eight courses in history,
economics, government, and sociology. Although the enrollment increased
rapidly, no help was secured until 1920. Meantime, Dr. Pearson had been
made Professor of Political Science and chairman of the faculty committees
on the Library and on Graduate Studies.
The quick recognition of Dr.
Pearson's ability was the result of his excellent training as a historian
and his notable qualities of leadership. Still further training was secured
during the twenties by a year of study at the University of Pennsylvania,
where he held the Harrison research fellowship. Not the least valuable
of his varied experiences, which included European travel, was the period
of time spent on a ranch in Texas broadening his knowledge of human nature
and developing skill in horsemanship.
During the busy early years
as a member of the Wake Forest faculty Dr. Pearson represented the College
at meetings of Baptist Associations, spent a summer at the headquarters
of the National Security League in New York, taught in a summer session
of Trinity College, established a College Book Store, organized the Political
Science Club, and carried on an extensive publishing program. As a member
of the National Security League he compiled a handbook of information
designed to stir the wartime patriotism of the American people. The Book
Store, which he organized in Hunter Dormitory along the lines of an army
canteen, immediately became popular among the students.
Formed by Dr. Pearson from
the leading students in his classes, the Political Science Club was for
years the outstanding strident organization on the campus. It was here
that Wake Forest debaters, coached by Dr. Pearson and justly noted for
their accomplishments, received much of their training. The charter members
of this club as pictured in the 1917 Howler were:
Francis H. Baldy, Darlington,
Basil M. Boyd, Meeklenburg County
Irving E. Carlyle, Wake County
J. Baird Edwards, Madison County
James M. Hayes, Wilkes County
Robert L. Humber, Pitt County
Charles M. Hendrick, Wake County
Jesse Alfred McKaughan, Norfolk, Va.
Hubert E. Olive, Johnston County
Albert Clayton Reid, Davidson County
Edwin C. Robinson, Sampson County
Basil M. Watkins, Wayne County
How Dr. Pearson found time
between 1917 and 1921 to see his doctoral dissertation, The Readjuster
Movement in Virginia, through the Yale Press and publish five articles
in the South Atlantic Quarterly and the Proceedings of the North Carolina
State Literary and Historical Association defies the imagination.
Dr. Pearson has always enjoyed
sports. He owned the first set of golf clubs in Wake Forest and led in
the construction of a golf course. To the amusement of unitiated observers
he began playing golf in the field which lay east of Faculty Avenue; then,
with the help of a few others, built three holes on the Durham highway.
Later six more holes and also an attractive club house, which served well
as a community center until burned by the "firebugs" in the
thirties, were added. In those early years matches with faculty members
from the University of North Carolina and A. and E. College were highlights
of the golf season. Dr. Pearson, who for a time served as chairman of
the faculty committee on Athletics, is still an acutely interested observer
at many College athletic events and is as competent a Monday morning quarterback
as any of his colleagues.
Other institutions and organizations
have recognized Dr. Pearson's ability as teacher and scholar. For fifteen
years he taught in the summer sessions of the University of Virginia and
Duke University. The editors of the monumental Dictionary of American
Biography turned to him for sketches of men he knew well. The University
of Richmond elected him a member of Phi Beta Kappa. In recognition of
a distinguished career as an educator, he was recently elected President
of the Historical Society of North Carolina.
Dr. Pearson married Miss Sarah
Cullom and their daughter, Virginia Chilton, is entering college this
fall. The family resides in an attractive colonial home on North College