Beloved 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 Classroom

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 thinking.

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, S. C.
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 Street.

Main | Publications | Articles | Images | Biographies | Citations | Syllabus