Wake Forest in the Early Nineties

By ROBERT C. LAWRENCE, Class of '98 (Nineteen)

In the Spring of 1922, I was a verdant, gawky youth but I could whack a typewriter and I was clerk to Dr. Columbus Durham, Corresponding Secretary of the Baptist State Convention. One day while banging away on the machine I observed someone standing over me, and looking up I saw a frock coated silk hatted gentlemen carrying a gold headed cane. Said he: "Young man, when you come to Wake Forest I will give you your tuition for acting as my secretary." They told me the gentleman was Dr. Charles E. Taylor President of Wake Forest College! I had not even thought of college up to then, but I thought of it thenceforth.

In those days the college had a preparatory department, taught by the regular college professors, where they started you off in Latin grammar and in elementary Algebra but even that was over my head. But when school opened, I reported to Dr. Taylor and he made out a schedule of my classes: Latin Language and Literature; Algebra; Political Economy; Physics; English. I carried the schedule off to my room and got down the college catalog. It sounded strange to me. John B. Carlyle was professor of Latin, but it seemed to me that they might let me learn something about the language before requiring me to start in on its literature! And Political Economy, Enoch Walter Sikes, professor. Didn't everyone know that both political parties spent every dollar they could get, and that there was no such thing as political economy? And physics: John F. Lanneau professor Dr. Taylor must have gotten things mixed up. I wanted to be a lawyer, not a DOCTOR! Mathematics: Luther Mills, professor. But I felt quite at home when it came to English: Benjamin F. Sledd, professor.


I cautiously felt my way around and soon found that I was entering a strange world. The irreverent called Dr. Taylor "old Aorist." What did Aorist mean? I was too proud to inquire. I soon found that the Euzelian motto "I. C. T. Q." meant "I chew tobacco quietly," but even here they got the quietly part wrong. I was given to understand that young Professor Hendren Gorrell of the chair of Modern Languages (I thought Dr. Sledd was Professor of English) was spending all his spare time courting the eldest daughter of President Taylor -- a quest in which he was finally successful. I thought they had given Professor George W. Paschal quite a raw deal. He had to teach Latin AND Greek, whereas I thought one of these was quite enough. I was told -- and soon observed -- that Prof. Sledd was newly and muchly married. And down in the department of Chemistry was a young man, Professor Charles E. Brewer. His stuff smelled the worst and the names of his chemicals gave me a headache in themselves, even if they did not smell to high heaven. I met William B. Royall Professor of Greek. From him I finally learned what "Aorist" meant. Later on, when the going in Greek got pretty rough I cut a class one day and cooked up a beautiful excuse, an excuse which I could have put over on another member of the faculty with a straight face and without batting an eyelash, but when the time came I could not even try to put it across not on the saintly William B. Royall.

My reputation as a typist becoming bruited abroad, divers of the faculty brought me their manuscripts to be typed. I fared fairly well with Professor Sledd's, because I could always attribute errors in orthography to inability to read the manuscript, but this excuse would not serve for William Louis Poteat, Professor of Biology, whose manuscript was copper plate. What a man! He grew upon me, he grew into my affections and for forty years I worshipped at his shrine. The time came when it seemed to me that his figure filled all space, from the lowly earth to the vaulted skies, and how I rejoiced in the greatness of the man! I once thought he was all mind; then I decided he was all soul; now I know that both elements filled his being. Ave atque vale !


Among the lordly seniors on the campus that year were Senator Josiah William Bailey, said to be somewhat given to tying freshmen to tombstones, taking cows up into the belfry of the dormitory and similar recreations. Personally, I never believed these reports, but there were those who did. Federal Judge Yates Webb was courting Miss Willie Simmons, and playing baseball in his spare time -- which was little. My future law partner Stephen McIntyre, was a tough man to take on in a debate even then. And there was our townsmen, the beloved Charles H. Durham, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lumberton, who was as influential on the campus then as he has since been down here in Robeson. There was the orator, Samuel J. Porter, late pastor of First Baptist Church of Washington, D. C. Nor can I overlook the brilliant Charles P. Sapp, editor Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. Some of these gentlemen competed for the Thomas Dixon Essay medal, and I earnestly assured each of them that he would surely win, for it seemed to me that the last paper I read was the best.

My work with Dr. Taylor did not consume too much of my time and I liked it. I took his dictation right on the machine. He never hesitated for a word, and his letters never needed revision unless it be for my atrocious spelling. At that time the question of "State Aid" to the University was quite a live issue, for it seemed that the denominational schools could not compete with the tax supported institution. Dr. Taylor made a notable contribution to the literature of this subject in his monograph on "How Far Should a State Undertake to Educate." Even this manuscript was revised but once.


I recall one day when a group of worldly students were gathered in a room right over an entrance to the old dormitory. They had a paper sack filled with water, and were waiting for a certain student to emerge from the doorway below. Footsteps were heard in the hall below and a figure was seen to emerge. The bag was dropped but missed him. I leaned far out of the window to watch the proceedings. Horrors! The man below was not the student, but Dr. Taylor! The Doctor glanced up, observed the open mouthed group in the window, gravely raised his hat and stalked off. Next morning I had a feeling that something was coming my way nor was I disappointed. When my work was over he said: "Robert, if I were you I would not lean out of a window so far. NEXT TIME YOU MAY FALL OUT." With which Parthian shot he dismissed me, and I stumbled down the steps feeling somewhat foolish. I was a silent witness to many anxious conferences on finances, usually between Dr. Taylor and Prof. Carlyle. It seemed that the College ALWAYS needed money. Following the conferences one or the other would usually go off on a trip, and I wrote scores and scores of letters on the subject. When conditions would become acute, the Doctor would go up North and when he returned, he usually brought some checks back. But I recall one trip from which he returned in gloomy dejection for all those seen in the North merely said they would think the matter over. About two weeks later, the gloom was lifted by receipt of an express package by the Doctor which contained $100,000.00 in gilt edged securities, the gift of Jabez A. Bostwick, Standard Oil magnate of New York. Other gifts came from this same source. When I was in the Doctor's class on Moral Philosophy I was anxious to make a good record just to show him what a smart Secretary he had. Therefore when we studied Psychology, I boned down to it and MEMORIZED the mess. When examination time came, I was proudly able to answer all the questions, and put quotation marks around the answers, just to call the Doctor's attention to one perfect paper. I hung around hopefully for several days expecting to be told that I had put up the best paper on Psychology in the history of the College, but nothing was said. Finally the marks came out and I got only 93. I was chagrined, not to say peeved or aggrieved. I sought out the Doctor and boldly taxed him on the subject of my mark. "You gave me only 93 on Psychology." "Yes, sir." "Did I not answer all the questions correctly?" "Yes, sir." "Gave them in the exact language of the book, did I not?" "Yes, sir." "Doctor, I MEMORIZED that book, and I think I should have had a hundred anyway." "Do you think a PARROT should have a hundred for memorizing POLLY WANTS A CRACKER?" shot back the Doctor. For forty years now I have been trying to think up an appropriate come back to that, and some of these days it will come to me. Then I shall sit down and write Charles E. Taylor, Jr., who is quite a banker down in Wilmington and tell him what I could have said to the Doctor, had I been disposed.


Of all the men I have known who were connected With Wake Forest I think he served the college most in his generation. It is even now reaping fruit from seed sown by Dr. Taylor; and is reaping the reward of his wise and farseeing leadership.

One day I heard that a man named Gulley was going to open a law school in connection with the college. This was right down my alley, for I had determined to be a lawyer since the age of ten when I had been office boy to Pace and Holding, Raleigh lawyers, W.H. Pace being at that time President of the Wake Forest Trustees, and attorney for the college. So When Mr. Gulley (I should say- my brother Gulley- we both being lawyers) came, I attended his first lecture on Municipal law. Why should a man begin a new school by talking about little things like TOWN LAW, I wondered, when he could have talked about something big like the Federal Constitution. But I finally grew to understand his modus operandi. I sat at his feet for many months; and he has sat in my heart for many years. Of all the teachers I have known he most possessed the art of transferring his own thought into the minds of his students. When the roll is called of those who have served Wake Forest, fifteen hundred North Carolina lawyers will answer "here" for Dr. Gulley.


When I was at Wake Forest the Literary Societies were the great force in college life. There revere no fraternities, except it was darkly hinted that the Kappa Alpha's had a mysterious organization, the members of which met at two o'clock in the morning in the woods on the outskirts of town. I wondered what they DID after they met!

The Literary Societies were much alive, and membership in and attendance upon, one of them was compulsory. And Society, politics! Brand a veteran politician learned all the tricks and quirks of his profession right here! For it required quite as much strategy, quite as much wire pulling, tight rope walking, platform straddling, and other political artistry to put over an election here, as it did upon much larger arenas. I recall the large political figure of Father Wright. If you wanted an office in HIS Society, you went to Father Wright, hat in hand, and he looked you over. If he was satisfied, in you went; otherwise outside, you stood in the frigid air.

And secrecy! Mystery surrounded the very building, and the names of the officers were guarded quite as effectively as the gold in the vaults of Fort KNOX, over in Kentucky. I recall distinctly one Euzelian president, who worked hard to get elected, and then felt the glory slipping from him when he reflected that he could not TELL anyone about it.

This but scratches the ground of recollections of Wake Forest in the early nineties. Lift a glass and say: "Here's to Wake Forest!"


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