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Powell, Richard Holmes (1875-1947) | Valdosta State University Archives and Special Collections

Name: Powell, Richard Holmes (1875-1947)
Variant Name: Powell, Richard H., Powell, R. H.

Historical Note:

Dr. Richard Holmes Powell was the first president of South Georgia State Normal College.  He was elected in 1911 by the Board of Trustees, and served for 22 years (1911-1933).  Dr. Powell was born in Blakely, Georgia, in 1875.  He received an A.B. from Mercer University in 1894, an M.A. from the University of Colorado in 1898, and an honorary LL.D. from the University of Georgia in 1924.  He married Freida Berens in 1907, and they had three sons: Alfred, David and Richard; and one daughter, Elizabeth (Betsy).

Prior to his appointment at SGSNC, Powell held several distinguished positions in his career as an educator/administrator.  He was the principal of the Tennille (Ga.) Institute (1984-96); the head of the English department at the  New Mexico Normal School in Las Vegas, N.M. (1898-1903); and associate professor of English and history at the Colorado State Normal School in Greeley, Colo. (1903-06).  Powell returned to Georgia in 1906, and was the head of the English department at the Georgia Normal and Industrial College in Milledgeville (1906-10).  He later became the State Supervisor for Rural Education (1910-11), then accepted the post as president of SGSNC.

Powell was integral to the establishment and development of SGSNC.  He was on the committee that selected the Spanish-style architecture, and oversaw the construction of the first buildings on campus, including West Hall, Converse Hall, and Ashley Hall.  He possessed a keen sense of duty regarding the educations of the young ladies at the school, and sought nothing but the best for them, including teachers and amenities.

The school opened its doors to students in 1913.  During Powell's tenure, it evolved from a high school and junior college to one offering a four-year, bachelor's degree program. This is remarkable, considering the country was struggling with a lagging post-WWI economy that drifted into the Great Depression.  Money was always a struggle, yet under Powell's direction, the school weathered the rough spots and continued to grow.  In 1922, the school's name was changed to Georgia State Womans College at Valdosta by a legislative act, and a four-year degree program was offered.  The last high school class graduated in 1927, and requirements for faculty were strengthened-- new faculty hires had to have a master's degree.  GSWC became a fully-accredited liberal arts and teachers' college in 1931.

Many student activities and traditions were established during Powell's presidency, including a Medieval Christmas Festival and May Day Festival.  GSWC publications include the Pine Branch, established in 1917; Campus Glimpses, started in 1920; and the Pine Cone, the school yearbook, began in 1924.

The newly-formed Regents of the University System of Georgia reassigned Powell in 1933 as president of the Co-ordinate College in Athens.  His departure greatly upset the College and Valdosta communities.  He retired in Athens in 1946, and was killed in an automobile accident there on June 2, 1947.

Sources: http://www.valdosta.edu/library/find/arch/findingaids/ua211.shtml
Note Author: Deborah S. Davis and Amy R. King

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