Joseph Dupuy Eggleston Jr., 1913-19
The rumors that Joseph Dupuy Eggleston Jr., would be the next president of Virginia Tech proved to be true when he assumed the office on July 1, 1913. Although Eggleston was chief of Field Service in Rural Education in the United States at the time of his appointment, he was known throughout Virginia for his work as state superintendent of public instruction from 1906 until his resignation on December 1, 1912, and particularly for his emphasis on rural education.
An expert at public relations, Eggleston wrote countless letters to legislators, alumni, newspaper editors, and influential leaders, promoting the college and pushing for additional funding. Although he increased public support for VPI, financial support from the General Assembly remained comparatively meager. In an effort to combat the inadequacy of funds, which he felt reflected a lack of understanding about the college’s work, he developed a plan that centered on informed and interested alumni, laying the foundation for a strong alumni association in the process.
During Eggleston’s presidency, the state legislature placed the farm demonstration work in the hands of VPI, the alumni gate entrance to campus was completed (and remained in use until 1936), the college acquired 60 acres of land in the vicinity of today’s Graduate Life Center at Donaldson Brown, the library was moved to the chapel-auditorium, a ROTC program was organized, and one of the college’s Holstein cows broke the world record for butter production. Also, students paid a $5 fee to erect a “field house”; the faculty reorganized the general-science program eliminated by President Barringer; the departments of English, history, foreign languages, economics, and mathematics were organized into a single academic department; the college was selected under the Smith-Hughes Act to train teachers for vocational agriculture in the secondary schools; and a relatively unknown architecture firm was selected to submit a general plan for the future development of the campus. That same firm, Carneal and Johnston, designed the McBryde Building of Mechanic Arts, the first building constructed in the neo-Gothic style and intended from the beginning to use local limestone (now called Hokie Stone—the chapel-library was constructed in the neo-Gothic style and the exterior was supposed to be brick, but due to problems in obtaining the brick, native limestone was used), after receiving a directive from Eggleston to depart from the poverty-stricken, factory type of architecture that had been employed and to create a prototype for buildings at VPI.
Eggleston was ahead of his time in several areas. Believing that education involved “development of the whole life,” he wanted to start a physical education program, but the board of visitors turned down his proposal. He proposed, also unsuccessfully, that secret fraternities be allowed a trial period. He believed that the agricultural extension program not only was important in increasing farm production, but also could improve all aspects of rural living. He envisioned making “the state of Virginia the campus of this agricultural college” and having VPI “answer promptly and effectively every reasonable call that is made by any one who wishes to improve conditions on the farm.”
As World War I began, many students dropped out to join the armed forces. Several were recognized for their gallantry, including Earle D. Gregory, who became the first native Virginian to receive the Medal of Honor and for whom the corps of cadets’ Gregory Guard drill team is named.
In other war-related activities, a Reserve Officers Training Corps infantry unit was established at the college in early 1917. Extension workers promoted food production and conservation necessary for the war effort. And the first detachment of soldiers—226 of them—arrived in May 1918 for special vocational training. A unit of 550 men, part of the War Department’s Students’ Army Training Corps, was assigned to VPI the following autumn to receive special collegiate-level training, as requested by the armed services. As a result of VPI’s contributions, the U.S. Army Inspector placed the school on a list of 12 distinguished colleges in the country. VPI began returning to a peacetime operation on December 31, 1918.
Earlier in the year, wartime inflation, the depreciation of buildings and equipment, and a bitterly cold winter had compounded the college’s critical financial situation. A number of faculty members—paid $2,000 annually for their services—left for better pay elsewhere, buildings needed repair, and equipment was worn out, leading Eggleston and the board of visitors to appeal to the legislature for financial assistance. “VPI is the worst supported agricultural and mechanical college in the United States . . . . Unless immediate measures are taken for very substantial increases . . . nothing can save the institution from collapse,” Eggleston said. The legislature did increase VPI’s appropriation, but a committee killed a proposed bond issue pushed by the college.
Unexpectedly, Eggleston submitted his resignation on January 24, 1919—effective six months later—to accept the presidency of Hampden-Sydney College.