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Charles E. Vawter

VAWTER2-001Charles E. Vawter served on the board of visitors from 1886 to 1900 and was rector from 1989 to 1900.

Charles Erastus Vawter was born in Monroe County, West Virginia, June 9, 1841. He was the son of John H. Vawter, who was, for twenty-four years, a member or the Virginia legislature. Charles Vawter’s education at Emory and Henry College was interrupted in his junior year, when he joined the Confederate army, serving in the Stonewall Brigade, in which he became a captain. He was ceptured and became a prisoner or war at Fort Delaware. He was graduated from Emory and Henry in 1866, and, in that year, married Virginia Longley. For twelve years, he was professor of mathematics at his alma mater. He served as a member of the Board of Visitors of the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, and was recognized as an authority on manual training in the south. He died in 1905.

When Albemarle County received more then a million dollars from the bequest of Samuel Miller, its commissioners started a search for an industrial school, after which to pattern the one to be set up in Albemarle from the Miller Fund. No such institution could be found; so, the commissioners had to undertake an experiment without a model; to set up an example, instead of following one. A contract was entered into for the construction of the buildings, and then the commissioners began their search for a superintendent. After two days of weighting the qualifications of the various applicants, Charles E. Vawter was elected as the first superintendent of the Miller Manual Labor School. The Miller School, an institution for orphan boys and girls, established on a farm, with buildings and shops especially erected and equipped, offered him a rare opportunity to realise his ideal of a school that would train the mlnd and hand together. How well he succeeded is indicated by the fact that, in 1886, the Governor of Virginia asked him to give to the Commonwealth of Virginia the benefit of his experiences in the reorganization of the college at Blacksburg, now the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. On the advice of friends, and with the consent of the Miller School authorities, he accepted the offered position, and, for the next fourteen years, he devoted much labor and thought to the development of this great interest of the State. How well Captain Vawter served as a member of the Board of Visitors during the turbulent years (1886-1891), and as Rector of the Board during the golden era of the real beginning of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, may best be learned from his contemporaries:

“Dr. McBryde, on the occasion of Captain Vawter’s retiring from the post of Rector: ‘It would be difficult to give adequate expression to our appreciation of the valuable services you have rendered the institution and the State by your wise and able administration of the important affairs falling within the province of the board of Visitors . . Your thorough knowledge of everything pertaining to sound technical training and your uniform courtesy in the discharge of the duties attaching to the Rectorship have long commanded our admiration’ “. (From the Bugle, vol. 6, 1900; dedicated to Captain Vawter. See pages 4-10)

” . . He had great influence in promoting the development of industrial education in the public schools throughout the country. He was a member of the State Board of Education and rendered valuable service in organizing the public schools of Virginia under the constitution of 1902; he served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Normal and Industrial School for girls at Farmville, Virginia, which became a State Teachers’ College; he was also Chairman of the Board of the Normal and Industrial Institute for Negroes at Petersburg; and of the State Board of Charities and Corrections. For a number of years, he was Rector of the Board of Trustees of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and aided President J. B. McBryde in shaping the policies of that institution . . .” (From article by C. W. Dabney in the Dictionary of American Biography, v. 19, p. 260)

” . . . Captain Vawter’s memorial is not dependent upon marble shaft nor brazen tablet. It is written in men’s lives – lives that will perpetuate the good seed sown in the early days when manual training was not given its true measure of worth. The life of this educator shows to every energetic young man that great things not only may, but can, be accomplished, when mentel ability is accompanied by the energy to will and to do . . . ” (From article Charles E. Vawter, June 19, 1841 – October 27, 1905, in Grey Jacket, ser. 3, v. 14, p. 96-98, November 1905)VawterAndWomensClassS

On his death, in 1905, he was lamented as “a man of astonishing simplicity and modesty”; as one who combined soldierly qualities with rare gentleness; as a humanitarian devoted to education and to human welfare, particularly among the poverty-stricken and the Negro race. Especially pertinent to his being honored by Virginia Agricultural end Mechanical College, was his profound influence on the strengthening of this institution by helping Dr. J. B. McBryde and by aiding him powerfully in improving and establishing policies which have made the Virginia Polytechnic Institute of today a reality.

~ From the University of Virginia report of the committee established to consider names of certain buildings on campus, sent to Dr. Walter S. Newman, President, on April 26, 1962.