Early Presidents Collection (UA004)

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Biographies of the Early Presidents

Lyman Hall: Hall was born in 1859 in Americus, Georgia, attended Mercer College, and graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1881. Health problems prevented him from serving in the Army, so he worked as a mathematics instructor at military academies and authored three books on algebra. In 1888 he was appointed Georgia Tech's first mathematics professor, a position he held until his appointment as president in 1896. He had a solid background in engineering due to his time at West Point and often incorporated surveying and other engineering applications into his coursework. He had an energetic personality and quickly assumed a leadership position among the faculty. As president, Hall was noted for his aggressive fundraising and improvements to the school, including his special project, the A. French Textile School. His goals included enlarging Tech and attracting more students, so he introduced a number of new degrees, including civil and electrical engineering. Hall also became infamous as a disciplinarian, even suspending the entire senior class of 1901 for returning from Christmas vacation a day late. His death, while still in office, during a vacation at a New York health resort in 1905, has been attributed to stress from his strenuous fund raising activities.

Kenneth Gordon Matheson: Matheson was born in Cheraw, South Carolina on July 28, 1864, the son of John F. and Mary (Graham) Matheson. He graduated from the South Carolina Military Academy and received a master’s degree in English from Stanford University. He arrived in Georgia in 1885 as commandant of the cadets of the Georgia Military College, where he remained for three years. He also taught at the University of Tennessee and was later head of the English department at the Missouri Military Academy. In 1897 he became professor of English at Georgia Tech and also served as chairman of the faculty until 1906, when he was elected head of the school. His particular interests as president included building a library at Tech, and eradicating the institution's image as a "trade school." Quiet and diplomatic, he accomplished much, expanding the curriculum g a graduate program, and supervising the "Greater Georgia Tech" campaign fund. But in 1921, wearied by the constant lack of money for the school, he resigned and accepted the presidency of Philadelphia's Drexel Institute. He continued to maintain close contact with Tech until his death from a heart attack in November 1931.

Dr. Marion Luther Brittain: M. L. Brittain was born in Wilkes County, Georgia on November 11, 1865, and graduated from Emory College at Oxford in 1888. He became principal of Crew Street School in Atlanta, and later served as head of the language department at Boys School. In 1898 he pursued his graduate studies at the University of Chicago, and upon his return in 1900 became principal of the Fulton County Schools. In 1910 he became Georgia state superintendent of schools. Dedicated to the cause of education, he was famous for standing up to corrupt politicians, and was credited with a dramatic improvement in the Georgia school system. Brittain was elected president of Tech in 1922. Gentle and well liked, he accomplished much for the school, including the establishment of the ROTC unit (the first in the South), the creation of the School of Aeronautics with a prestigious $300,000 gift from the Guggenheim Foundation, and the addition of a ceramics engineering course. Under his leadership, funding for Tech improved and the school was accredited by the Southern Association. An ardent supporter of Yellow Jacket football, he rarely missed a game, even traveling with the team to bowl games. He was also active in the community, a member of many service organizations, and regularly taught Sunday school. Brittain retired in 1944, became President Emeritus, and wrote a history of the school called The Story of Georgia Tech. He died in 1953 at the age of 87.

Colonel Blake Ragsdale Van Leer: Colonel Van Leer was born August 11, 1893 in Magnum, Texas (now Oklahoma.) He graduated from Big Springs High School in 1911, received a B. S. in electrical engineering from Purdue University in 1915, and then joined the faculty of the University of California. He served in World War I from 1917 to 1919 as 1st Lieutenant of the 316th Engineer Corps of the U. S. Army in France. After studying at the University of Caen, he was released from active duty and returned to Berkeley where he received an M. S. in mechanical engineering in 1920. In 1927 he was awarded a scholarship for study in Europe, and on his return was appointed assistant secretary of the American Engineering Council. In 1932 he became Dean of Engineering at the University of Gainesville, and in 1937 assisted in the consolidation of the engineering colleges at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State. During World War II he served as colonel as Chief of the Facilities Branch, Army Specialized Training Division. In 1944 he was again released from active duty to become the fifth president of Georgia Tech, initiating a period of dramatic change at the school. Van Leer’s goals included furthering graduate education and research, and making the school a major technological university. He presided over an extensive program of building and development at Tech and instituted important changes in the administration. In 1948, to emphasize Tech's new standing, its name was changed from the Georgia School of Technology to the Georgia Institute of Technology. He was also a strong proponent of science education for women, and under his supervision the first female students arrived at Tech in the fall of 1952. Van Leer, despite his stern military bearing, proved to be a president willing to communicate with the students and faculty, and was well liked. However, in 1955 and 1956 his health declined, and he died while still in office after suffering a heart attack in January 1956. Paul Weber filled the position of president until Edwin Harrison was elected in 1957.

Link to finding aid: http://www.library.gatech.edu/archives/finding-aids/display/xsl/UA004.

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  • Archival Material
    Directory, Area No. 1 [Lawson Apartments]
    ( 1946) Unknown
    This drawing shows the layout of Lawson General Hospital and the Lawson Apartments. The Lawson Apartments were acquired by Georgia Tech in 1946-1947 and used for housing for married students and their families. They were sold in 1965. The Lawson Apartments and Lawson General Hospital were located in Dekalb County, near the current site of the Dekalb Peachtree Airport. Neither the Apartments nor the Hospital stand today.
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