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Papers of John McLaren McBryde, RG 2/5, Special Collections, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.

Known as the “father of VPI,” McBryde was the first president to have a relatively free hand in developing the academic program, selecting associates, formulating policies, and planning the physical plant of the College. Major accomplishments of his administration included: establishing position of Dean in 1903-04 to aid in administration duties; reorganizing the curriculum and creating seven new 4- year courses leading to Bachelor of Science degrees; introducing a program of graduate study in 1891 and establishing a Graduate Department, with its own Dean, in 1907; starting the summer school program in 1904. Also during his tenure, McBryde improved and expanded the physical plant, with six buildings being renovated and sixty-seven new buildings constructed. The faculty increased from nine in 1891 to forty-eight in 1907 and enrollment rose from one hundred and thirty-five in 1891 to a peak of seven hundred and twenty-eight in 1904/05. McBryde was also the first president to encourage student activities, as witnessed by the beginning of an athletic program and resumption of publication of the Gray Jacket, as well as the adoption of school colors. Hazing controversies plagued McBryde’s administration, but his handling of the early cases tended to enhance his prestige as well as strengthen the College’s image.

McBryde did wonderful things for the university, but few of his papers support the idea that he promoted the idea of creating masculine men through sports, but the very fact that 2 of 3 major men’s sports teams as well as many of the lesser known sports teams were established during his tenure speaks to the fact that he found athletics to be an important part of college life and contribute to making men.  Although his papers do not deal with any one sport directly, the letters he wrote and received show that the boys lacked discipline when he became President and he sought to change this through providing an outlet for rowdiness and a means to further instill discipline and self control.

The letters that I found most intriguing were written by men who either were students or wanted to become students, but lacked the financial ability to attend school without a job to help pay the bills while they were in school.  Many wrote to President McBryde to ask for work to support themselves through school, and I felt like this epitomized the Self-Made man that was breed after the Victorian Era.  Two other letters that caught my eye were both looking for men to fill leadership roles.  Sweetwater Military College asked McBryde to recommend an old footballer to fill the position of commandant of cadets.  He said he wanted a footballer because he wanted to shape these boys into men, and that a footballer would command the respect of the boys because they all want to be like he was in college and in life.  Washington Public schools was looking for a school teacher with the same qualities for many of the same reasons.  Although there were more letters of interest, they were all along the same lines of these few that I have recounted.  If the next two president’s papers yield these results, and I have good luck with Athletic Association Papers and Board of Visitors Papers, my research will be in good shape heading into the school year.


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