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Department of Classics
The University of Mississippi

From the Beginning to “The War”

The first professor of Classics, J. N. Waddel, came from a family of educators and clergymen. His father was Dr. Moses Waddel, President of the University of Georgia from 1819 to 1829, a distinguished educator and Presbyterian minister. His cousin was the noted politician and orator Senator John C. Calhoun. J. N. Waddel received his B.A. degree with honors from the University of Georgia in 1829. He then taught at Willington Academy in South Carolina, and was Principal of the Grammar School in Athens, Georgia. In 1841 he purchased 2,550 acres of land in Jasper County, Mississippi where he established a private school called Montrose Academy. In 1843, the year in which Waddel was elected to the Presbyterian ministry by the Tombigbee Presbytery in Columbus, Mississippi, the state Senate chartered the first Board of Trustees of the University to which Waddel was appointed.

In April, 1847, Waddel attended his first meeting of the Board in Oxford. Since no railroad or mail-coach was available, he made the 200-mile journey on horseback “in great measure alone, through a wild and desolate region of the country.” (J. N. Waddel, Memorials of Academic Life, [Richmond, Va., 1891] p. 249). He was appointed chairman of the committee to draw up a course of instruction for the new university. Later, Waddel decided to resign from the Board and became a candidate for the proposed Professorship of Ancient Languages. There were some 75 candidates for that post when the Board met to appoint the first faculty in the summer of 1848.

When the University of Mississippi opened in November of 1848, one small omission was immediately apparent. No one had provided for the purchase of textbooks which were otherwise unavailable in Oxford, however, Waddel was able to obtain a “meager” supply of books from Rev. Francis Hawks who operated a “classical school” in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Waddel’s description of the first session of the university indicates that it was not smooth sailing: “The progress of the session just opening–the first of the University–proved to the Faculty that the office of Professor–always arduous in the most favorable circumstances–was, in this case, by no means a sinecure, no mere child’s play.” He continues “it must be stated that, in all probability, very rarely, if ever, was an institution of learning attended by a body of students so disorderly and turbulent as those of the first session proved to be, taken as a mass. The difficulties that were connected with the management and control of the students were attributable, more than to any other cause, to the assemblage at one spot of so many untrained young men and boys, many of whom had never before attended such an institution, and whose imaginations had been allured by the traditional conception that a college life was only a scene of fun and frolic. This subject may be dismissed with the remark that, in my opinion, nothing saved the University from utter and speedy ruin, under God’s blessing, but the sternest and most rigid exercise of discipline.” (Memorials pp. 266-267)

Entrance requirements in Latin were established when the University opened in 1848. They were “five books of Caesar, Vergil’s Eclogues and Aeneid, and Cicero’s Orations.” In addition, “the candidate must be well versed in the Latin Grammar, including Latin Prosody.” Freshmen read Livy and Ovid and studied Latin composition and prosody. Sophomores read Horace, Tacitus, Juvenal and Persius and studied “antiquities”. Juniors read Cicero’s de Oratore, de Senectute and de Amicitia and studied “antiquities”. three years of Latin were required for a B.A. degree. An M.A. degree was also offered. The Greek curriculum in 1852-53 consisted of Xenophon and Homer’s Iliad for Freshmen, Homer’s Odyssey and Demosthenes for Sophomores and Greek Tragedies for third-year students.

In 1855 Waddel was joined by two junior faculty members–Rev. George T. Stainback and Dr. William Alexander Eakins, a physician, both alumni of the class of 1854. In 1856, the Professorship of Ancient Languages was separated into a Professorship of Greek and a Professorship of Latin and Modern Languages. Wilson Gaines Richardson took the latter position and Waddel took the position in Greek. Richardson was a graduate of the University of Alabama where he had been a Tutor and had studied in Rome, Berlin and Paris. He left in 1860 and later taught at Davidson College and Austin College.

Richardson wrote one of the first defenses of Classics in the curriculum: “The history of this remarkable people [the Romans], the state of the arts among them, their domestic life, public and private usages, their mythology, laws, education, geography and antiquities are severally developed in expounding Roman authors. Latin is not taught as an isolated language, but in its various and important relations to other tongues. The influence of the Greek language upon the Latin is noted and the Latin upon the modern tongues, with especial reference above all to its bearing upon our vernacular. Everything is made subservient to thorough English scholarship.” (Catalog of the University for 1856-57, p. 21)

Upon the resignation of J. N. Waddel in 1857, Henry Whitehorn was appointed to the position of Professor of Greek and he continued until the beginning of the Civil War after which he held the same position at Union College in Schenectady, NY.