The Presidents of Salisbury University from 1925 to Present
Holloway Caruthers Blackwell Devilbiss Smith Crawford Page Bellavance Butler Merwin Jones Dudley-Eshbach
Dr. Jefferson Davis Blackwell

(1935-1955)
   

Jefferson Davis Blackwell arrived at the Maryland State Teachers College at Salisbury (S.T.C.) on April 15th 1935, and was the first administrator to officially don the title of president.  Upon his arrival, he found an institution that was financially broke, a faculty that had preferred his predecessor remain president, and a curriculum that had been legislated for an overhaul.  The effects of the Great Depression had strained the institution to near its breaking point; the financial situation had grown so direr that from 1933 to 1935 they were unable to muster the funds to print course catalogues.  Blackwell arrived with a progressive vision that Salisbury should be something more than a normal school; it was his hope to transform the institution into Delmarva College. In time he would prove to be the “capable and business-llike” administrator that the Maryland Board of Education had sought, however his journey to the school where he would ultimately serve as president for twenty years had been a long one.

 

Dr. Blackwell grew up just forty-four miles from Acting Principal Thomas Jefferson Caruthers in the small town of Blackwell, Missouri, which had been named for his grandfather.  Blackwell’s father had been a judge but it was evident from the beginning that his son intended to commit his life to the profession of teaching.  Jefferson Davis Blackwell began his career teaching in a one-room school house a mere three miles from his home in 1906.  During the summers, he repaired boxcars for extra money until he saved enough to attend the State Teachers College at Cape Girardeau in 1908.  He was later quoted in a 1953 Salisbury Times article as saying “I never enjoyed anything so much as my little red school.”  Nostalgic reminiscence aside, the simple structure was unable to contain the ambitions of a younger Blackwell who by 1914 had completed his teachers training, and earned a Bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Missouri.  From 1914 to 1917, he taught at Texas A&M, while also serving as chairman of vocational education for the state of Texas.  In 1923, Blackwell received his master’s degree in education from Columbia University and moved to Maryland to become the state’s director of vocational education.  By 1929, he had earned his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.  While his education alone made him a candidate to be president at Salisbury, it was his experience as an administrator that made him the obvious choice. 

 

Dr. Blackwell’s vision to expand the college was given a boost when it met at an intersection with opportunity.  On May 25, 1934, the Maryland State Board of Education extended the curriculum from three years to four years for all normal schools in the state.  The first two years were to comprise a general course of study comparative to a junior college curriculum.  Those credits would allow students to transfer to another four-year institution at a junior academic level.  Blackwell consulted with professors at the University of Maryland to ensure that the individual classes offered at Salisbury would be accepted by the larger university.  Students who decided to remain at Salisbury would spend their junior and senior years learning the vocational aspects of teaching and upon satisfactory completions were awarded a Bachelor of Arts in Education.  Students who did not aspire to teach in a rural one-room school now had the option of studying at Salisbury for two years before transferring to a school where they could pursue another major course of study. 


When the Maryland State Teachers College at Salisbury opened its doors in September of 1935, the school had added a science department that offered classes in Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.  Housed on the second floor of Holloway Hall, the departments' first two instructors were Florence T. Simonds, who taught Biology, and J. Lloyd Staughn, who taught Physics and Chemistry.  During Blackwell’s first year as president, he added Economics and Sociology departments, which began offering classes during the 1935-’36 school year.  Mr. Edwin Bruce Thompson served as the sole instructor for both departments.

Coinciding with the expansion in the courses offered, Salisbury acquired a new name.  On June 1, 1935, Governor Harry Nice signed Senate Bill #448 changing the school's name from Maryland State Normal School at Salisbury to Maryland State Teachers College at Salisbury.  However, due to a bureaucratic snafu, contention raised over the actual wording of the school’s name.  Dr. Blackwell convincingly argued that the name should include Maryland due to its proximity to Delaware and Virginia. 

The change in name and curriculum brought a staggering shift in the school’s demographic.  The freshman class of 1934 numbered fifty but by the beginning of the 1936 fall semester that number had leaped ninety-four bringing the total enrollment up to 202; nearly twice the number enrolled as when the school first opened.  For the first time male students comprised more than a token portion of the student body; of the 202 enrolled, seventy-seven were men.  On October 9th 1936, a Freshmen-Faculty-Parent Dinner was held in the college dining hall with 201 guests in attendance.  The occasion was planned in order to acquaint parents, faculty, and members of the community with the type of relationship Blackwell hoped the school would have with each.  An exchange in dialogue during the dinner led to the decision to assign small groups of freshmen to special faculty   


Simonds, Straughn and Thompson

counselors for the purpose of seeking help and guidance.  The ninety-four freshman who entered that fall would also be the first to undergo the week-long initiation, known as “Rat Week.”  By the winter of 1938, the exceedingly high ratio of freshmen warranted an effort by the student council to create a pamphlet which could be distributed to incoming students explaining the rules of the institution.  This shifting demographic would have other unintended results.

 

 

The Baglean and Carnean literary societies, which had been such a central feature of extracurricular student life under Holloway, were merged into one group and became the Baglean-Carnean Debating Society in 1937.  The first of two intercollegiate debates was scheduled for January 12, 1938 with peninsula rival Washington College.  Interest in the dueling clubs had declined sharply.  Story-telling contests and spelling bees, which had previously typified the interactions among the two clubs, seemed the archaic relics of a different era.  The influx of male students led to a shifting of attention towards more visually enticing activities, namely intercollegiate athletics.  Sports participation had always been a part of the college experience at Salisbury, but intercollegiate athletics had been treated as little more than a field trip for students.  During Blackwell’s tenure, athletics increasingly came to be seen as more than physical education, but a source of school pride.  In October 1936, the school newspaper reported that in an effort to vent his angst for an upcoming men’s soccer game, one student painted “STC Kill” up and down Camden Avenue in white paint, and was subsequently apprehended by local authorities. 

 

The expanded curriculum proved an invaluable recruiting tool for Blackwell, who was himself a tireless recruiter.  The transfer program was seen by many prospective students from Eastern Shore as a stepping stone to other colleges offering a wider array of courses.  Blackwell initiated in 1936 a two-day recruiting event known as the “student conference,” whereby high school seniors were invited to Salisbury to learn about the college.  During their visit they would hear from guest speakers about the virtues of the teaching profession, meet current students, be exposed to class room procedures, and entertained by an athletics exhibition put on by the students.  A special edition of the Holly Leaf was printed for the occasion and distributed to participants.  Later on the event’s name was changed to High School Senior Day and the festivities were limited to a single day, but the same recurring themes remained.  An article entitled High School--S.T.C.--Then What? appeared in the March 1941 Senior Day Holly Leaf and shows the importance of the transfer program as a recruiting tool.  In the article Salisbury students described the future professions they wished to pursue ranging from nurse to lawyer.  Far from being just a college that produced elementary teachers, these students described a variety of opportunities they felt available to them due to their education at S.T.C.  Such thinking constituted a radical departure from the earlier days of Salisbury Normal School.  This shift in mentality was as critical to Blackwell’s vision for expanding the school as the transfer program itself.  This annual event was held in March and became the forerunner of today’s student orientation, and admitted-students day here at Salisbury. 

 

Dr. Blackwell actively sought out prospective students, while at the same time seeking to raise the schools profile within the local community and the wider state.  He would make yearly visits to every high school on the Eastern Shore, and communicated regularly with principals.  In 1939-1940 his prodigious efforts led to a record enrollment of 273, a pace of growth that forced the State Board of Education to cap the number of admitted students at 270.  Using a political tactic from President Roosevelt’s repertoire, Blackwell sought to elevate the college’s profile through the media of radio.  In November of 1937 WSAL became Salisbury’s newest radio station.  At the dedication Blackwell had the school’s Glee Club sing “The Good Old Eastern Shore” as it was broadcast out on the rest of the lower Shore.  Early in March of 1937 Blackwell organized a five-part series featuring guest speakers discussing the problems faced in educating the youth of Maryland.  The broadcasts were transmitted from WBAL in Baltimore and could be heard throughout the state.  Being the final guest speaker in the series, Blackwell was able to close his lecture by mentioning the school's up coming “student conference.”  By 1939 the Faculty Radio Committee was formed.  Its objective was to plan a series of college broadcasts to be given by students and faculty throughout the year.  They sought to offer programs of a more general nature and president Blackwell opened the broadcasting year with a speech on “The Inter-Relationship of the State Teachers College and Salisbury.”  His ability to use the largest media outlet of the day to raise the college’s profile yielded tangible results in terms of a jump in enrollment that occurred throughout the latter half of the 1930s.  However, the gathering storm in Europe and the events of December 7th 1941 would force the school to adapt to plummeting enrollment and new challenges in the years ahead. 


Faculty - Pre-World War II

 

On the morning of February 17th 1943 at 5:55am, eight Salisbury students hurriedly collected their belonging from their dorm rooms in Holloway Hall.  They had enlisted in the army and had to catch the 6:20 am train north.  Miss Ruth Powell, the school’s social director, had gotten up an hour earlier that morning to prepare a heaping breakfast for the “Buck Privates.”  Dr. Blackwell and a few other faculty, some still in their pajamas, stood in the foyer to wish their students good luck, and say goodbye.  An air of apprehension hung over the room, only a perfectly poignant moment of levity could break the tension of their departure.  That was when Miss Ruth asked the boys if they wanted to take the school’s potato peeler with them.  A life of tender moments forms a powerful index of gratitude.  That sentiment came to tangible fruition when less than a year later on January 29th 1944, Miss Ruth Powell’s portrait was unveiled by the Alumni Association.  Later that same year on August 18th, Dorothy Mitchell donated a second portrait depicting President Blackwell.  Miss Powell and Dr. Blackwell represented a dichotomy between the micro and macro approaches to administrating, and while they may have epitomized opposing methods, they were undoubtedly two points along the same spectrum.  Throughout the war, a plaque in the shape of a shield hung in the front foyer of Holloway Hall, on it were the names of every student, faculty, and alumni who was enlisted in the armed forces during WWII. 

 

The patriotic zeal that gripped the country after the Pearl Harbor attack reached the Maryland State Teachers College in Salisbury with the same effect.  Blackwell and his colleagues moved swiftly to find ways for the college to help aid the war effort.  Helen Jamart taught classes in first aid, and airplane spotting; while Henrietta Purnell taught Army and Navy

knitting.  A number of female students donated their time to the cause, and in one year they knitted a total of thirty-two sweaters, scarves, and helmets.  Teachers and students alike joined groups in town to make surgical dressings.  Campus elementary school teachers sold war bonds, while Dr. Blackwell and a group of male students organized as air raid wardens to help in the neighborhood during blackouts.  The rationing of paper forced a decline in the number of  editions of the school newspaper that were published, between 1942-1946 only a handful appear; while in the last two years of the war, only one edition is published per year.  Intercollegiate athletics, which previously had been a rising phenomenon at Salisbury, were suspend for the duration of the war due to the rationing of gasoline.  Varsity sports teams continued to exist throughout the war but were relegated to playing local town teams and the naval servicemen stationed at Chincoteague Virginia.  The departure of Benn Maggs to the Navy late in the summer of 1942 left the responsibility of both women’s and men’s athletics to Helen Jamart, while the local Rev. Robert Frazier coached the boy’s soccer team for a year.  Even the Spring Dance began to take on a military air with many of those who had been drafted into the services returning in uniform for the event.


Helen L. Jamart, Health and Physical Education Instructor and Resident Supervisor of the Men’s Dormitory

As ever increasing numbers of men and women were called to fight, the Salisbury Teachers College was forced to change its curriculum in order to accelerate the number of graduates needed to fill teaching positions around the state made vacant by the call to arms.  The answer was the three-semester year.  Instead of a summer break, students would get a week off from June 1st to June 8th, and the remainder of the year in school with the summer session constituting the same as one full semester.  During the 1942-’43 school year, the lack of teachers in the state became so burdensome that twelve seniors were chosen to do their Practice Teaching as Cadet Teachers in the schools of Anne Arundel County.  By the last year of the war, enrollment had plummeted to a mere 101 students.  The end of the war allowed the curriculum to revert back to what it had been prior to 1941.  As those returning from Europe and the Pacific struggled to come to terms with a world without war, the final decade of Dr. Blackwell’s tenure proved relatively tranquil. 

 

Shortly after the conclusion of the war, the first Student Government Association (S.G.A.) was formed in September of 1945 with Miss Charlotte White as the first student body president.  An initiative was undertaken by the students the previous year to study the procedures of other colleges in preparation for enacting the new ruling body, which marked another milestone in Salisbury‘s transformation from normal school to college.  By the autumn of 1947, the student government introduced plans to erect a bronze plaque with the names of 289 students and the four faculty that had served in the war.  A star was to be placed next to the names of those who had lost their lives in the titanic struggle of their era.   The effort was undertaken as a way of reconnecting with those alumni who had lost contact with the school.  The plaque was placed in a prominent position, just to the left of the main entrance of Holloway Hall.  The dedication was scheduled for May 29, 1948, alumni homecoming weekend, complete with a demonstration from the school’s color guard, and a dedicatory address from Major General Woodcock.  On April 9th 1948 the faculty and students engaged in a ritual for honoring individual merit that had been established at the college’s inception.  They planted six evergreens to commemorate the six members of the Alumni Association who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.  They were O. Everett Benton, Alton E. Dryden, Leland L. Dunn, William D. Newcomb, Harrington Pritchett, and David L. Somervell.  Though the trees have now disappeared from the campus, the memory of the  

fallen has not surrendered to the expediency of time.

Anticipating a surge in enrollment, President Blackwell had the third floor of Holloway Hall’s South Wing renovated as a male dormitory and was ready for occupancy by the spring of 1948.  The college initiated a six-year building plan in 1950 beginning with renovations for a new student center located in the basement of Holloway Hall.  The first student activity center officially opened on September 25, 1950 with President Blackwell Anticipating a surge in enrollment, President Blackwell had the third floor of Holloway Hall’s South Wing renovated as a male dormitory and was ready for occupancy by the spring of 1948.  The college initiated a six-year building plan in 1950 beginning with renovations for a new student center located in the basement of Holloway Hall.  The first student activity center officially opened
on September 25, 1950 with President Blackwell pouring the first soda from the snack bar.  The old workshop had been transformed into a facility that included a snack bar, post office, bookstore, and a recreational area.  On November 16th, 1950 a ground breaking ceremony for the new men’s dormitory was carried out amid fears that the growing conflict in Korea would again lead to large numbers of draftees leaving the college’s ranks.  Inside the ceremonial cornerstone was placed a copy of the College seal and its history, an S.G.A. handbook with the constitution, an alumni newsletter, and a copy of a course catalogue among many other things.

In 1951 the new men’s dormitory opened, now known as Wicomico Hall; it was the first of a number of additions to the campus.  In 1953 the college acquired thirty-two more acres which brought the institution's total land holdings up to sixty-two acres.  During this same year, two private homes along College Ave. were acquired, the then newly-built Mill’s Home became the first official residence of the college presidents.  The Allen property, aptly named “the castle,” was used as a men’s dormitory.  On August 29th, 1953 Maryland Governor Theodore McKeldin broke ground on a new Campus Elementary School, which was officially opened in the fall of 1955.  The campus elementary school was ultimately closed in 1967, is now known  as Caruthers Hall.


Above: the new bookstore
Below: Blackwell serving the first soda


Setting of the cornerstone for the men's dormitory

Above: Groundbreaking and construction of the men's dormitory
Below: Men's dormitory completed

President's residence (1950-1959), later became the music building and the Castle, the newly acquired men's dormitory annex

Efforts made to expand the campus's physical bonds coincided with efforts to elevate school spirit.  For the school’s 25th anniversary, Henrietta Purnell was asked to compile a chronology of the school’s history so that festivities during the celebration would be representative of the school’s past.  This established the first efforts to chronicle the school’s history.  Later in 1954 the first official history of Salisbury Teacher’s College emerged from the pen of Miss Purnell, whose work would later be expanded to encompass the school’s history from 1925-1967.  

Dr. Blackwell had managed to orchestrate considerable growth for the college despite being faced with the lean years of the Great Depression and the tumultuous ones of World War II.  From 1946 -1956 the course

 
Above: Governor McKeldin places sealed container in cornerstone of new Demonstration school with President Blackwell, Principal Pauline Riall and others in attendance
Below: Laboratory School's commemorative plaque

offerings at Salisbury jumped from seventy-three to 124.  During his twenty years as president, the college’s image was first formed and his tenure would have a lasting impact on the Salisbury University of today.  On June 1, 1955 Dr. Jefferson Davis Blackwell resigned his position as president of Salisbury Teachers College.  After which he and Mrs. Blackwell moved back to Green Spring Valley on the outskirts of Baltimore.  


Caruthers, Matthews, Powell and Wilson at the 25th anniversary celebration of the college (1950)

 

             

 
   
 


Salisbury University