University History

Dr. Douglas Southall Freeman

Rector of the Board of Trustees, University of Richmond, 1934-1950


Douglas Southall Freeman, a Richmond College graduate of 1904, is one of the University’s most illustrious alumni. He went on to Johns Hopkins University to earn his Ph.D. in history in 1908 and had 25 honorary doctorate degrees, including ones from Yale, Princeton, and Columbia. In 1923, Freeman received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Richmond.

Dr. Freeman served the University of Richmond as a member of the Board of Trustees for 25 years, 16 of them as rector. The University “laid the foundation of his intellectual life,” according to his daughter, Mary Tyler Cheek McClenahan, H’85, “and was a source of proud devotion as long as he lived.” At Richmond, he studied history under Dr. Samuel Chiles Mitchell, one of two men who Mrs. McClenahan says had the greatest influence on his life. The other was his father, Walker Burford Freeman, who fought with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Freeman listed the accomplishments during his tenure as rector at the University of Richmond as surviving the Depression without a deficit, establishing a retirement system for professors, and raising $1 million for Keller Hall, the library and other structures. He helped reorganize the law school to meet the highest professional requirements and developed a new business school.

In 1936, friends of Dr. Freeman established the Dr. Douglas Southall Freeman Library Fund for the purchase of books in history. The University Mace was donated to the University of Richmond by Freeman in 1947 and was to be inscribed each successive year for a full century with the name of the outstanding student at the University of Richmond. Freeman Hall, opened in 1965 as a residence hall at the University, was named for Dr. Freeman.

In 1983, the Douglas Southall Freeman Chair in History was established to honor this man, whom Admiral Chester W. Nimitz called “the most outstanding historian of our time.” Each year, the chair brings to the University nationally prominent historians who interact with students, faculty and the Richmond community as Freeman scholars-in-residence. The fund has sponsored several symposia on historical topics.

This two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for his biographies of Robert E. Lee and George Washington was admired by presidents and generals. As military historian/biographer, editor of the Richmond News Leader for 34 years, Richmond radio news commentator, scholar, lecturer and teacher, his influence on his country, state and city was profound, as were his contributions to his alma mater.

David Johnson, a 1987 graduate of Richmond Law, said that when Freeman appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1948, he was “at the apex of his national reputation. He was known as the greatest military historian and biographer in America.” Today, “his books Lee’s Lieutenants and R.E. Lee are still the definitive authority on these topics.”

The passing years brought Douglas Southall Freeman many activities and honors. He served as a member and trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the General Education Board and the Council of the Library of the Congress. He served for years as a director of the Southern Railway. He and William Faulkner, a Nobel Prize novelist, were the only Southern members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.