Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Showalter Family & Milligan College, part 1

            The involvement of the Showalter family with Milligan College probably began with a visit by Josephus Hopwood to Snowville, Virginia, in early 1880. Hopwood was an educator and a leading figure in the Christian Church, also called the Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ. He was born in Kentucky but spent much of his youth in Illinois; he fought in the Civil War in an Illinois regiment. After the war, he attended Abingdon (now Eureka) College in Illinois, where he graduated in 1873, and was offered a teaching position. He declined the job, however, saying, “I am going South to start a school. Their country has been torn up by the war and they need us to help build again.” (Journey, p. 38)

Josephus Hopwood

            Hopwood first taught at Sneedville, Tennessee, but in 1875 he heard that the Buffalo Institute, a struggling Church of Christ school near Johnson City in the far northeastern tip of Tennessee, was available for him to take over. Under Hopwood’s direction the school thrived; in 1878 he leased the property for twenty-two years, with himself and his wife as principals. In 1882 it was renamed Milligan College and graduated its first class.
            In the archives of Milligan College, there is a letter dated 5 March 1880 from J. R. Miller to Josephus Hopwood, in which the writer apologizes for having been away when Hopwood visited Snowville, Virginia. At this time, Snowville was a hotbed of religious activity, centered on the Church of Christ. The leading figure was Chester Bullard, a Massachusetts-born preacher who had moved to southwestern Virginia in his youth and joined the Reform movement. In 1840 he met with a rival Reform leader, Alexander Campbell, and the two men found that they were in substantial agreement and united in a common effort to spread their doctrine. It was Chester Bullard who served as mentor to Josiah Thomas Showalter, and for whom my grandfather was named.

Chester Bullard

            By 1880, Josiah Thomas Showalter had begun to differ with Chester Bullard over liberalizing tendencies in the church; their debate on this issue is mentioned in J. R. Miller’s letter. The real object of Hopwood’s visit, however, had apparently been to establish a college in Snowville. In view of the fact that he had just signed a twenty-two-year lease for the Buffalo Institute property, it seems unlikely that he was thinking of moving his own institution; rather, he must have been trying to encourage other church leaders to follow his example. A second letter to Hopwood, dated 24 March 1880, this one from Chester Bullard’s son William Stone Bullard, himself a noted preacher, expresses enthusiasm for the idea of a college in Snowville, despite the start-up expense.

William Stone Bullard

            The project was not realized, however. Instead, one of Chester Bullard’s great-nephews, Frank Fontaine Bullard, attended Milligan and graduated in the class of 1885. He, too, became a preacher, and lived in Lynchburg, Virginia. In 1902 he played a leading role in persuading Hopgood to leave Milligan and move to Lynchburg, where he founded Lynchburg College. Frank’s father, Truman Bullard, ran a shoe factory in Snowville, which was one of the region’s principal businesses and employers. Frank Bullard’s personal experience – along with the school’s Church of Christ affiliation and its low tuition, of course – surely encouraged Josiah Thomas Showalter to send his children to Milligan College.

            The first Showalter to graduate from Milligan was my grandfather Chester David Michael Showalter, class of 1891, the oldest son of the family. His older sister, Sarah Katherine, lived in Milligan for a while, as we shall see; but I can find no proof that she ever enrolled as a student. She graduated in 1893 from Tazewell Female Seminary, in Virginia, about which I will also say more. C. D. M. showed special gifts in mathematics, and also revealed some of his entrepreneurial energy during his college years. Furthermore, he met his wife-to-be as a classmate; Lou Ella English also graduated from Milligan in 1891. They married soon after commencement, July 22, 1891.

Lou Ella English, c. 1891

            Most of the information about his student days comes from another fellow student, Walter Lee Dudley. Dudley was younger than C. D. M., in the class of 1892, and was to some degree a rival in the field of mathematics. Most important for us, Dudley met and courted C. D. M.’s sister Sarah Katherine at Milligan, and he talks about his college experience at some length in his memoir, Footprints in the Sands of Time.

Walter Lee Dudley, c. 1892

            "I had arranged to board this session [1889-90] at the Cornforth House, run by Mrs Cornforth, a sister of Mrs Hopwood. ... My roommate this session was C. D. M. Showalter. We had formed something of a liking for each other the previous session. We had some classes together, though he was more advanced than I in some respects and graduated a year sooner." (41-2)
            "C. D. M. Showalter had rented Mrs Cornforth's property, and together with his brother Wesley and sister Kate, ran a boarding house for students. I boarded with the Showalters and had B. F. Murdock as a roommate. Murdock was teacher in the business department of the college that year." (42)
            “With the beginning of the third year [1890-91] a great change came over me. One afternoon, not long after I had begun boarding at the Showalter House, a number of us went in search of chestnuts a short distance from the college. Miss Kate Showalter was among the number, though we had not gone out together. By some turn of affairs, during a lull in the picking up of chestnuts, she and I became engaged in conversation. Probably the conversation was inaugurated by her as she was the hostess and I was a guest in her boarding house, and she wanted me to feel at home and satisfied as a boarder. We sat under the chestnut tree and talked for perhaps half an hour. Other couples were sitting around and talking and laughing.
            From this short acquaintance a great change came over me. I felt intuitively that I had met the woman who should become my wife. She was the daughter of a preacher and filled my ideal of what a preacher's wife should be. I decided to make her acquaintance, win her love and make her my wife, if everything worked out favorably, as I felt sure it would.
            I asked permission to escort her home, and before taking my leave asked permission to call on her occasionally. This was granted with the understanding that the calls must not be too frequent. We were both hard students, deeply interested in acquiring an education, and realized that too ardent a courtship would interfere with our studies.” (43)
            “Clara Lucas boarded at the Showalter house and roomed with Miss Kate. Prof. J. P. McConnell was making love to her and came to see her most every Sunday afternoon or evening. I did not call on Miss Kate every Sunday, but quite often, and took her to most of the social functions at which the young ladies were permitted to have company. I say ‘most’ because sometimes Miss Kate would permit B. F. Murdock to be her escort. She did not care for him, but he was insanely in love with her and she felt it was wise to show him some consideration, lest he do something rash. He was her boarder and my roommate which latter fact did not help matters any; though I do not remember that anything ever passed between him and me in regard to the fact that we were rivals for Miss Kate's love.
            It was only after the close of the session that I learned he had threatened to kill me, and probably would have carried out his threat had he not been dissuaded from this by Prof. McConnell, C. D. M. Showalter and others. Miss Kate fully understood the situation and felt it was her duty to pour oil on the troubled waters to the best of her ability. She acted discreetly in the matter and told me only what she felt it was best for me to know. We spent many happy hours together in our courtship.” (44)

            Who would ever have guessed that such violent passions were seething in a small religious college in Tennessee in 1890? Josephus Hopwood had confronted threats of violence before; in his first year teaching at Sneedville, he had to persuade his students to stop carrying pistols. All in all, Milligan in 1890 seems strangely contemporary in 2011. It is also worth noticing C. D. M.’s role as manager of a small business; it was a sign of things to come.

Milligan College class of 1892, Walter Lee Dudley in the center, standing

            Walter Lee Dudley and Sarah Katherine Showalter became engaged to each other in the spring of 1891, but were not wed until 13 June 1894. Dudley explains that they wanted to finish their education first, and he needed to find a job. In addition, “[Kate] knew that her marriage to me would greatly displease her father who thought I was entirely too progressive in my ideas as a preacher. J. T. Showalter was one of the best of men, but as a preacher he was very conservative and belonged to what was then known as the Anti-Wing of the Disciples. When I went to ask the hand of his daughter in marriage, he expressed regret that she should marry so progressive a preacher, and hoped that I would return to the fold of the faithful. However, as father-in-law and son-in-law we got along very well theologically, by my keeping quiet and not arguing the question with him.” (45) Josiah Thomas was surely a difficult father-in-law, but all twelve children found a mate willing to brave the challenge.
            After graduating in 1891, C. D. M. and Lou Ella left Milligan for a while, but as Dudley says, by 1890-91 there was already another Showalter on campus: Josiah Wesley Showalter, class of 1894. The following year, still another arrived, George Henry Pryor Showalter, who graduated in 1895. By the time they left, another brother and a sister had joined them: Edward Thomas Showalter, who transferred to Peabody College and graduated there, and Julia Rowlett Showalter, who graduated from Milligan in 1898. Like C. D. M. and Sarah Katherine, Julia found her spouse among her fellow students; she and Edward Rodney Massie, Milligan 1898, were married 16 May 1900. For now, I have found no accounts of the activities of any of these five while they were students.

Milligan College, class of 1898
Julia Rowlett Showalter is the woman on the right;
Edward Rodney Massie has not been identified

            The role of the Showalter family was far from over, however. The next post will explain how C. D. M. and Lou Ella joined the faculty, and how C. D. M. and his father-in-law rescued the college from financial ruin.

Allison, Louise B. "Early History of Snowville." online at; article originally appeared in the Pulaski County Genealogy Club newsletter in October 2000.
Cornwell, Cynthia Ann. Beside the Waters of the Buffalo: A History of Milligan College to 1941 (Milligan College, Tennessee: Milligan College History Project, 1989).
Dudley, Walter Lee. Footprints on the Sands of Time: An Autobiography (Winchester, Virginia, 1943).
Hopwood, Josephus. A Journey Through the Years: An Autobiography (St Louis: The Bethany Press, 1932).
West, J. W., ed. Sketches of Our Mountain Pioneers (Lynchburg, Virginia: J. W. West, 1939).

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