The Bondurant years

One of the most prominent names in the Classics Department’s history is that of Professor Alexander Lee Bondurant. Bondurant received his B.A. and M.A. at Hampden-Sydney and took a second M.A. at Harvard. He did additional graduate work at the Universities of Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. During the 1910-11 academic year he was granted leave to study at the Universities of Berlin, Munich and Rome. He first joined the faculty in 1889 and succeeded to the Chair of Latin in 1893 when Professor Hogue resigned to become Professor of Greek at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. While Bondurant was Chair of Latin, the standards for admission were once again elevated to pre-war levels. Four years of high school Latin were required. The curriculum was also expanded to include courses in Methods of Teaching Latin, Advanced Latin Composition, Roman Comedy, Roman Satirists, Catullus and Pliny. Between 1894 and 1910, the number of students enrolled in Latin classes rose from 70 to 160. Between 1893 and 1908, 84% of students taking any B.A. degree at the University had studied Latin for two years. All Rhodes scholars from Mississippi had taken Latin at the University. Graduate-level offerings were also expanded to include Lucretius, Ovid and Roman Antiquities.

Bondurant was a prominent faculty member and active in numerous enterprises. He established the first football team and served as its first coach in 1893. He was also the first Dean of the Graduate School from 1927 to 1936 and served as Acting Chancellor briefly in 1921. It was Professor Bondurant who selected the colors Red and Blue for the university (the red from Harvard, the blue from Yale). He was President of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South in 1924-5, Vice-President of the American Classical League and a member of the famous CAMWS advisory committee on revision of classical studies chaired by the redoubtable Professor Andrew Fleming West of Princeton. He was active in the Mississippi Classical Association, the Mississippi Historical Society and Eta Sigma Phi. He even served as the first president of the Oxford Rotary Club. In 1930, Bondurant was awarded the Order of the Crown of Italy and in 1935 he was created a colonel on the staff of Mississippi Governor Hugh White who had been his student.

Professor Bondurant edited a newsletter for Latin teachers in Mississippi which was appropriately entitled Vox in Desertis Clamans. For many years the department sponsored a competition for Latin students in Mississippi high schools and the winner received the Alexander Bondurant Cup. Bondurant published A Short Latin Grammar and articles on Plautus, ancient athletics, Roman schoolmasters and Roman humor.

Assisting Professor Bondurant in teaching Latin were three younger scholars: Paul H. Saunders, Ph.D. who was Assistant Professor from 1892 to 1895 and Professor of Greek from 1895 to 1905, James W. Bell in 1903-4 who was later Dean of Commerce and Business Administration, and Christopher Longest in 1908-9 who later became Professor of Modern Languages and served as Acting Chancellor in 1930. Saunders received his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Mississippi and later retired from teaching to become President of the Commercial Bank & Trust Co. of Laurel, Mississippi.

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