University History

Dr. Frederic William Boatwright

President, 1895-1946


Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on January 28, 1868, Frederic William Boatwright was the oldest child of Rev. Reuben Baker Boatwright and Maria Elizabeth (Woodruff) Boatwright. Rev. Reuben Baker Boatwright was the grandson of a Revolutionary soldier, an alumnus of Richmond College, and one of the 10 Virginians who attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the first year of its existence.

Dr. Boatwright’s first schooling consisted of private instruction by his father. In 1876, he entered a private school conducted by Captain D. C. Miller in Marion, Virginia, where he remained for two years. He then attended for two years the public school in Marion where his father was principal. He worked for three years at a printing office in Marion; during the third year of this work, he attended a private school for two hours a day. Boatwright came to Richmond intending to follow the printer’s trade, but through the influence of Dr. William E. Hatcher he entered Richmond College in 1883.

He graduated from Richmond College in 1888 with the Master of Arts degree. He did graduate work in 1889-1890 at the Universities of Halle and the Sorbonne, and again in 1892 at the University of Leipzig.

Dr. Boatwright received an LL.D. degree from Mercer University in 1896, from Georgetown College in 1913, from Baylor University in 1920, and from the University of Richmond in 1946. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Humanities by the Medical College of Virginia in 1945. He was President of the Baptist General Association of Virginia for three successive years.

He was married on December 23, 1890, to Miss Ellen Moore Thomas of Taylorsville, Kentucky. His children were Frederic William Boatwright, Jr., who died at the age of 13, and Mrs. Evelyn Boatwright Lynch of Richmond.

He was connected with Richmond College and the University of Richmond for 68 years, from the time he enrolled as a student in 1883 until his death in 1951. While a student at Richmond College, he was appointed Assistant in Greek and Director of the Gymnasium, and served in these capacities from 1887–1889. While studying in Europe in 1889–90 he was elected to the Chair of Modern Languages, which he held until 1946.

He was elected President of Richmond College on December 11, 1894, and served until June 1946, perhaps the longest tenure of a College President in the United States. His presidency began the year after a great financial panic. He was only 27 when he assumed the office. The College had great financial difficulties and its future was uncertain. There were nine professors and 183 students. The annual income was less than $30,000, the total resources of the College were less than $500,000. Within three years, he raised the money and built a Science Building costing approximately $25,000. During his long term as President he conducted many campaigns that brought in millions of dollars for buildings and endowment.

When he resigned from the Presidency, the institution was on a new campus of 300 acres, the University assets totaled more than $7 million, the annual income was $650,000, there were more than 100 members of the faculty, the curriculum had been expanded and modernized, the student body had surpassed 4,000, and there were six divisions of the University.

On resigning as President, he was made Chancellor of the University of Richmond, and held this office until his death. “Boatwright Drive” and “Boatwright Memorial Library” on the University of Richmond campus bear testimony to his great service to the institution.

He died October 31, 1951, at his home on the campus. His remains lay in state in the Henry M. Cannon Memorial Chapel with an honor guard of University of Richmond students. The funeral services were conducted by his pastor, Dr. Theodore F. Adams. President George M. Modlin read the Scripture, Dr. Solon B. Cousins made the prayer, and Douglas S. Freeman delivered a eulogy. He was buried in the University of Richmond section in Hollywood Cemetery.

- Excerpted from Hackley, Woodford B., Faces on the Wall - Brief Sketches of the MEN and WOMEN whose PORTRAITS and BUSTS were on the campus of the University of Richmond in 1955, Virginia Baptist Historical Society, 1972.