Trinity College Presidents

Marquis Lafayette Wood

Marquis Lafayette Wood

President, Trinity College, 1883-1884
 
When Braxton Craven died in 1882, the Trustees turned to Marquis Lafayette Wood (1829-1893). Although he served only a year and a half, Duke might not be here today were it not for his leadership during the critical period following Craven's death. When 19th century institutions became closely identified with the personality of a long-time leader, they more often than not succumbed at the death of their president.
 
A minister and Craven's closest friend, Wood was a graduate of the school—the only president also an alumnus in our history. He worked diligently for the college, raised the first money ever for endowment, and remained on the Board of Trustees the rest of his life, even submitting the resolution in 1889 to move the college from his beloved native Randolph County. His one-sentence definition of the college presidency was that "All great enterprises require time and patience and labor and suffering and money." After Wood left, the college was run for three years by a Committee of the Board of Trustees.
John Franklin Crowell

John Franklin Crowell

President, Trinity College, 1887-1894

Even though he served in the late nineteenth century, Yale graduate John Franklin Crowell (1857-1931) was our first modern or "twentieth century" president. His most evident legacy was the move of the school to Durham. But equally significant was his replacement of the 19th century curriculum based on recitation with the then-developing German university practice of learning based on research in primary sources. Toward that end, Crowell persuaded the competing student literary societies to combine their libraries into a single college collection, where he personally catalogued the books and kept hours at a reference desk to encourage proper research methods. He also corrected the Latin in the college motto and coached the first football team, each fascinating stories in themselves. The relocation of the college to Durham succeeded beyond Crowell's wildest dreams as it allied Trinity closely with the interests of the spectacularly successful tobacconists and Methodist laymen, Julian Shakespeare Carr and Washington Duke.
John Carlisle Kilgo

John Carlisle Kilgo

President, Trinity College, 1894-1910
 
After the hard times of the depression of 1893 the Trustees turned to John Carlisle Kilgo (1861-1922), then financial agent of Wofford College, and a preacher of great renown. Contemporaries characterized him as "a man afire" and students whispered among themselves that his pulse beat above normal. But they revered him and relished his bold attacks on narrow political and religious tenets of the time. However, one student did note as "the only flaw in his shining armor, a toleration for some Republican views," possibly a reference to his friendship with the Duke family.
 
Today, the most well-known incident of his tenure is his stirring defense of academic freedom in the 1903 Bassett Affair. Less well known is the fact that the African-American leader Booker T. Washington spoke on campus at Kilgo's invitation in 1896. Washington's appearance at Trinity was his first on a white Southern college campus.
 
Additional principles firmly established during Kilgo's presidency include high standards in admission, quality over numbers, the employment of the best possible faculty, and the equal education of women with men. As an indication of the national stature of the college, the President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching wrote Kilgo in 1909, "You are one of the few college presidents of this country who [is] attempting to graduate each year an individualized group of men [and women] rather than a group that is merely more educated than when it came to you."
 
William Preston Few

William Preston Few

President, Trinity College, 1910-1924, Duke University, 1924-1940

When Kilgo was elected a Bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, the trustees elevated a Professor of English and the first Dean of the College, William Preston Few (1867-1940), to the Presidency. Few had a B.A. degree from Wofford and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Like Kilgo he was greatly respected by students. One wrote admiringly, "He was a model of prudence. To Dr. Few I owe about all the balance I may have in my make-up."
 
Of Wood's criteria for a successful presidency, Few certainly exhibited “patience and labor.” Perhaps unique in the history of higher education in America, he also had the time—30 years as President—and the money—the largesse of the Duke family. His most spectacular accomplishments were helping to nurture the concept behind The Duke Endowment to fruition, and overseeing the transformation of Trinity College into Duke University.
 
Just as Few often emphasized that Duke University owed its rapid development to the strength of Trinity College, the stature of the University today is due in large measure to the ideals and talent of William Preston Few. What Craven was to the institution in the 19th century, so Few was in the 20th.