The Presidents of Salisbury University from 1925 to Present
Holloway Caruthers Blackwell Devilbiss Smith Crawford Page Bellavance Butler Merwin Jones Dudley-Eshbach
Dr. William James Holloway
Ye Old Tyme Schoolemaster

The long odyssey that would ultimately transform a cornfield a mile from the epicenter of Salisbury into a university of national distinction was largely due to the vision of Salisbury University’s first president, Dr. William J. Holloway. When the Maryland State Normal School at Salisbury opened its doors on September 7, 1925, the first students to enroll did so amid a backdrop of local jubilation. Ever since the ground-breaking ceremonies of two years earlier, the community had anticipated its opening; local businesses took out ads welcoming the incoming students and members of the local press were on hand to mark the occasion. Those first 105 students were greeted by the sight of a large open field punctuated by a partially completed three-story colonial structure. Although incomplete according to design, the environment was one that seemed filled with possibility. On that day, Dr. Holloway surely felt a solemn pride in having seen his idea come to fruition, and from then on Salisbury had an institution of higher education that it could truly call its own. 

In those days, the sole function of “normal schools” was to train elementary level schoolteachers; the school at Salisbury was to be primarily focused on training teachers for rural classrooms. As early as 1914, state officials realized that the earlier established normal schools in Towson and Frostburg were unable to provide the necessary number of schoolteachers to fill much-needed vacancies. By 1922, the Maryland legislature passed Joint Resolution No. 21, which authorized the formation of a commission to investigate the feasibility of establishing a new school for teachers on the Eastern Shore. While working as the Assistant State Superintendent, Dr. Holloway served on the planning commission and the site that came immediately to mind for just such a school was his hometown of Salisbury. By placing the school in Salisbury, it would be centrally located in an area that would have benefited most from a curriculum geared toward producing teachers for rural areas. Holloway’s combination of experience and education would make him as natural a choice to lead the school as placing it at the crossroads of Delmarva.

Dr. William James Holloway was born in Salisbury on January 29, 1873. As a child he was educated in the public schools of Wicomico County. He graduated from Salisbury High School at the age of sixteen in 1889. After graduation, Holloway took up work as a railroad and commercial telegraph operator with various local railroads. In 1893, he finally realized his true calling and entered the teaching profession. He began his career as an instructor at the elementary level and then progressed to teaching high school. In 1901, he was made principal of Salisbury High School, a position he held for two years. After accumulating nearly a decade of hands-on

Above: Signing the bill authorizing the Maryland State Normal School at Salisbury (1922)
Below: Groundbreaking of the first building (Oct. 17, 1923)

experience, Holloway was offered a position as an instructor in 1903 at the Maryland State Normal School in Towson. While there, he began his collegiate studies at Johns Hopkins University in 1904. In 1908, Holloway left Towson to return home as the Wicomico County Superintendent of Schools, during which period he also earned his Masters Degree in Education from Columbia University. By 1917, he was named the State Supervisor of Rural Schools, a position from which he was later promoted to the Assistant State Superintendent of Schools in 1922, thus making him the number two ranking education official in the state. This combination of hands-on experience in rural classrooms, and as an administrator made him the obvious choice to head the school he proposed years before.

First Student Body (1925-1926)

William Holloway’s influence over the school extended into the everyday life of the student body. It was his vision to create a welcoming environment with a family like atmosphere where students could learn the principles of effective teaching through a combination of classroom instruction and supervised practical experience. Classes officially began on September 8, 1925. That morning Holloway introduced the faculty and unveiled a model of what the school would eventually resemble.
Later on, Holloway would insist that a decorative pineapple be placed atop the main entrance. During the colonial period the pineapple had been a symbol of hospitality, but at Salisbury it represented a physical manifestation of the kind of learning environment Holloway sought to create. The campus included an elementary school for students to practice teaching. When it opened, sixty-one students from first to sixth grade were divided into two classrooms in a building adjoining the north wing of modern-day Holloway Hall. It was there under the watchful gaze of instructors, Salisbury Normal School students practiced their newly-acquired skills. The campus demonstration school was quickly recognized as providing a superior level of education and parents eagerly began signing their children up years in advance to attend. While the early curriculum would have been similar to that found at other normal schools around the state, it was nonetheless heavily influenced by principles being taught at the Teachers College of Columbia University. Holloway’s vision for Salisbury Normal School would have been more difficult to achieve were he not surrounded by a group of like-minded people; out of the eight original faculty, six received their teaching  degrees from

Dr. Holloway at his desk in 1928

Columbia University.  In fact Dr. William C. Bagley, a professor of education at the Teachers College, was instrumental in helping devise Salisbury’s curriculum. Bagley’s involvement was so extensive that he even reviewed the school’s architectural plans; in essence Salisbury Normal School seemed akin to a colony of Columbia University. The first issue of the school newspaper, Holly Leaf, appeared in September 1926. In it, Holloway wrote an editorial, which clearly established the school’s mission.


This school engages in no fatuous desire to furnish its students merely a general, unspecialized education. It has a two-year course for graduates of approved high schools, but they are not the first two years of the traditional American College. And yet, while different in content, and we hope, too, in method, from the non- professional, general College, its two years of work are just as valuable, just as educative, just as cultural, and liberalizing as the first two years of any liberal arts institution. Normal school graduates must know how to teach the “three R’s” successfully to all grades of children; to train in and for citizenship; to foster the habits and ideals of living that will be consistent with the laws of health; to inculcate the new conception of culture which is demanded by democracy; to show how leisure may be rightly used; and to do their full part in the development of character.


Shortly after its inception, The Holly Leaf staff joined the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, thus constituting further evidence of the close working relationship between both institutions. Student organizations also served to establish a sense of loyalty for the school among the undergraduate population, something which in Holloway‘s view was essential.

Mickey, the Bagleans' mascot bulldog, and Pep, the Carneans' mascot rooster

Salisbury students were required to belong to at least one student organization, but no more than two. Incoming students were automatically placed in either the Baglean or Carnean societies. The selection process consisted of a new student reaching into a hat and selecting a piece of paper with the name of the group to which she was assigned. The Bagleans and Carneans routinely engaged in competitions ranging from spelling bees to basketball games, the aim of which was to foster a sense of school loyalty by generating a friendly internal rivalry. With the graduation of the first class in 1926, Holloway saw to the establishment of an Alumni Association complete with a well-articulated induction ceremony at the conclusion of commencement. Other important early organizations were the Glee Club, the Citizenship Club, and the Student Grange (which was among the earliest of its kind ever established at a school). Many of these student organizations were conceived with dual purposes in mind. For instance working on the student newspaper provided pupils with an opportunity to learn about aspects of journalism and hone their writing skills; this obvious benefit though was not the primary goal of the exercise. The primary focus of the newspaper was to teach students how to run a student newspaper in the rural schools. The elementary students in the campus school even took part by publishing their own section of The Holly Leaf, known as The Holly Leaflet. Many of the early student organizations were oriented toward the pupils of the campus school with activities which would be similar to those they would encounter in a rural school setting; thus most organizations functioned as an extension of the classroom.

Fostering a sense of loyalty through extracurricular activities was pivotal, but Holloway also sought other ways to rally the students behind the infant academy. He understood the unifying effect that school anthems and symbols could have on a student body, thus by the end of the first year the school song “Salisbury Normal Here’s to Thee” had been composed by music instructor Gladys Feidler. In 1926, Holloway decided to hold a student art competition to design the school’s crest. Though many school crests included cliché designs involving open books and scrolls, Holloway wanted a design whose imagery depicted the uniqueness of the Eastern Shore. Ultimately ten designs were submitted, and from five finalists Grace Hallam’s submission was declared the winner. Hallam was herself an Eastern Shore woman from Parsonsburg, and her winning design encapsulated the most numerous depictions of life on the shore. Her inclusion of a schooner emphasized the fishing industry, the plow and farm signified the importance of agriculture, and a Loblolly Pine was included due to their plenteousness in the area.

No matter how jovial those early years may have been, as students and faculty prepared for the upcoming 1929 fall semester there was no way of anticipating the troubled times which lay ahead for Salisbury Normal School. Though the impact of the stock market crash was not immediately apparent, in time, dwindling state funds would require creative measures on the part of Dr. Holloway and the rest of the Salisbury staff to ensure the school’s survival. Every meeting of the State Legislature brought the gloomy specter of closure. In response, Holloway crafted a series of arguments to stave off what would have seemed inevitable at the time. Dr. Holloway argued that even with Salisbury Normal School closed the state would still have to pay to protect the building from vandalism and decay. The two other state Normal Schools would require greater capital to absorb those students turned away by the closure of Salisbury. In addition, Wicomico County public schools would require greater funding to take in those students turned away by the campus school. Holloway went on to argue that one third of Salisbury Normal School’s students were commuters and that closing the school would mean depriving them of an education. By the early 1930’s, Salisbury was attracting students from seventeen counties and Baltimore City; in addition graduates from the school had found teaching positions in nearly every county in the state, thus closing the institution would mean the state would be losing a real service. But ultimately the argument that succeeded in convincing the Legislature was that rural teachers for the Eastern Shore could not be trained anywhere else in the state as cost effectively as at Salisbury.  

Holloway with the Student Body in the Great Hall (1933)

Holloway made various attempts to raise funds for the school. In 1934 he applied for a New Deal program called the Federal Emergency Relief Fund. This was in essence a work-study program whereby students received a monthly check for services they provided to the school. New courses were added and made available to the public in the hopes of attracting local applicants who sought to increase their knowledge on a particular subject. Salisbury Normal School also began holding catered events for such local civic groups as the Eastern Shore Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Eastern Shore Rural Mail Carriers Association, at which students volunteered their time. During this period, the school year was organized into trimesters, accompanied by a summer break. Holloway submitted a proposal to incorporate a winter break, which was aimed at reducing heating costs during the coldest time of the year. However, despite these efforts the funds raised still fell tragically short of what was required.

Good community relations were crucial as well, since its inception, the students not only practiced teaching at the campus school, but were also bused out into the surrounding areas to practice teach in schools all around Wicomico County. During the depression Holloway even solicited local businessmen to provide sponsorship to students lacking the necessary funds to complete their studies. Dr. Holloway served as Director-General of the Salisbury Bi-Centennial celebration, which was held from August 8-13, 1932. The three-day event stirred a preservationist sentiment among the community. After the festivities had ceased, a local meeting was held, at which Dr. Holloway “recommended that we form a Wicomico Society for the preservation of antiquities and that those present constitute themselves charter members with provision for adding others.” His recommendation marked the beginning of the Wicomico Historical Society. But regardless of how much local affinity he could generate, or alternative means of funding he sought, the Normal School at Salisbury needed something more fundamental; namely a ready supply of applicants.

In order for the Normal School at Salisbury to survive enrollment would have to be maintained at a level that justified the state’s expenditure. Dr. Holloway began taking aggressive recruiting trips throughout Maryland, and began writing letters to various high schools around the state inquiring about potential candidates. During this period social restrictions in the school’s dormitory were eased to allow for greater freedom on the weekends and later studying hours during the week before lights out. The 1933-1934 school year witnessed the advent of the first student financial fund, known as the Student Loan Fund. In that same year the Edna Marshall Student Loan was established in memory of the recently departed English instructor. Evidence of the family atmosphere pervading the campus during this time was readily apparent by the $500 gift the class of '35 gave to the Student Loan Fund. Most of the funds were doled out to seniors to ensure that they could complete their studies. Despite such enticements enrollment continued to dip lower. A changing curriculum, which required increasing years of study to acquire a degree, bespoke of a wider changing paradigm that would alter Salisbury Normal School forever.

Dedication of the lily pond (June 9, 1930)

In the years prior to the Great Depression women tended to teach in rural schools for a few years prior to finding a husband and raising a family. In most cases, married women left the teaching profession to focus on raising their children. This turnover created a continuous need for fresh teachers, and it was just such a need that Salisbury Normal School was founded to address. Once the economy began to slow, women who were employed as teachers tended to retain their positions, in large part because of the uncertainty of the times. This situation created a surplus of teachers; in response to the increasing numbers of unemployed teachers, the state decided to extend the required years of study from two to three years. In part this was done to stem the flow of teachers pouring out of Maryland’s normal schools, but it also provided the state with the opportunity and incentive to bring its normal school curricula up to par with those of surrounding states. The three years of course studies that had been mandated by the General Assembly were extended to four years in 1934. The first two years would be dedicated to studying liberal arts, while the last two would focus on teaching techniques; this was done so that those who wished to transfer to another college could do so without loss of credits. Those who attended under the three-year system would be allowed to return for a fourth year with emphasis on the social sciences. While this constituted an increased financial commitment from students during the harshest of economic times, Holloway believed that the change from a normal school to a state teachers college would enable him to attract potential candidates who would have otherwise been reluctant to attend a school that did not have the word college in its title. In the spring of 1935, Governor Harry Nice signed senate Bill # 448, which ultimately legalized the school's official transition from Maryland State Normal School to Maryland State Teachers College.

Sadly, Dr. William J. Holloway would have to witness the transition from afar as he resigned as president on October 5, 1934, just short of seeing the small normal school he helped found blossom into a fully- accredited college. The strain of navigating such an institution through those early tumultuous times took its toll, and on Saturday March 14, 1936, Dr. Holloway passed away in a Baltimore hospital. Both the Salisbury Times and Salisbury Advertiser respectfully described the titanic lose the education community of Maryland suffered with his passing. The Advertiser obituary is particularly revealing in terms of the legacy he left behind, "The State Teachers College here is regarded as a monument to his efficient and untiring efforts towards the establishment of such an institution." Today Holloway Hall is named in honor of Salisbury University’s first president without which the modern university would likely never have come into being.

Salisbury University