Henry Aubrey Strode

From ClemsonWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Henry Aubrey Strode (February 6, 1844 - September 1, 1898) served as the first president of Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina, from July 19, 1890 to January 31, 1893, the only head of the school to never oversee students on campus while in the position.

Early years

Strode was a native of Fredericksburg, Virginia, who enlisted in the Confederate army at seventeen, serving throughout the war. After that conflict ended, he taught school, then enrolled at the University of Virginia where he earned a bachelor of arts degree and the medal in mathematics. He then filled several brief appointments in preparatory schools before returning to Charlottesville to earn a master of arts degree, with special study in chemistry.

In 1872 Strode purchased property in Amherst county on which he established the Kenmore University High School, a preparatory school for the University of Virginia, serving as its principal for the next seventeen years. There he met and married Mildred Ellis, a granddaughter of the man from whom he had purchased Kenmore, and they settled into her ancestral home. In 1889, he closed Kenmore to become head of the department of mathematics at the University of Mississippi. He resigned this position in 1890 to accept the presidency at Clemson.

Divisive beginnings

"Clemson's trustees had sought but failed to employ General Stephen D. Lee, president of Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Mississippi State University), as Clemson's first president," wrote Robert S. Lambert in his account of Strode's time at Clemson in "Tradition: A History of the Presidency of Clemson University" (Mercer University Press, Macon, 1988). "Strode was their second choice. He had been highly recommended by faculty members of the University of Virginia and several of his fellow graduates who knew of the high standards he had maintained at Kenmore. Further, among his students at Kenmore were boys from such distinguished South Carolina families as the Hamptons, Mannings, Boykins, Memmingers, Adgers, and Rions" (page 22).

Strode moved his family to Virginia for the summer and came to Fort Hill to be interviewed in July 1890. At this time, the state was still divided on whether to accept Thomas Green Clemson's bequest for the college. Supporters of both South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) and the South Carolina Military Academy (now The Citadel) feared competition from another state school, arguing that these institutions amply supplied the state's need for agricultural and military training. There was also great concern over gubernatorial candidate and Clemson trustee Benjamin Tillman's slurs about SCC, and fears that he might close the school. "Tillman, in addition to his antagonism towards aristocrats in general and Charlestonians in particular, believed that lawyers and merchants had seized control of the general assembly to the detriment of farmers' interests" (page 23).

Strode's position at Clemson was complicated by the fact that J. L. Orr, another trustee and friend of Strode, had been suggested as a candidate to face Tillman in the election. Orr chose not to run, but was identified with Tillman opposition. To avoid factionalism among the board, Strode stipulated that he would accept the presidency only if offered it by a "nearly unanimous" vote of the trustees. This occurred, but Strode was offered a lower salary than would have been paid to Stephen Lee. "Strode accepted promptly by telegram; he indicated in a following letter that 'the fame of being founder President of a College, which, I am sure is going to be a great success,' had overcome his disappointment at being offered the lower salary. Because of his large family (the Strodes had eight children), however, he asked for the use of a pasture for his livestock and free firewood for himself and other faculty members, and amenity he had enjoyed at Mississippi. Strode's appointment was as president of the college and director of the experiment station at $3,500 and included $1,500 from federal funds for the latter position. Pending the construction of a president's house, the Strodes were to live in the John C. Calhoun home" (pages 23-24).

By the time that Strode reported for duty in August 1890, certain steps had already been taken to accept Clemson's bequest. In January, the trustees had organized an executive committee and a committee on curriculum. The executive committee, responsible for constructing the campus, received bids for bricks, arranged for timber-cutting, took proposals from architects, and chose sites for some buildings and a train depot. "Strode's principle tasks...would be threefold: to plan and supervise construction of a campus, to hire a faculty, and to draw up the curriculum and regulations for the special kind of college envisioned by Thomas Green Clemson and enthusiastically sought by the adherents of Tillman. In all of these, Strode was expected to work in close conjunction with the executive committee of the trustees to whom he reported every two weeks" (page 24).


Initially it was hoped that the school would be prepared to open for instruction in the fall of 1891 with an enrollment of some 300 students. This was stymied by obstacles that cropped up almost immediately including the failure of the brickmaker to fulfill his contract (the trustees had to buy his facilities to meet the needs of 1891), notification of the trustees by Strode that expected federal funds under the Morrill Act of 1890, supporting land-grant education, could not be used for buildings or their maintenance, as well as the overwhelming applications to the new school, which topped 600 by the winter of 1890. Plans were made to enlarge the facilities, and the opening date was moved to February 1892 (pages 25-26).

"By the fall of 1891 the chemical laboratory, mechanical hall, experiment station, some residences and support facilities, and some of the farms and the access roads from Calhoun and Pendleton were virtually complete; the cornerstone of the main or classroom building was laid in July, and construction was begun on it, an attached chapel, a dormitory, kitchens, boiler room, an infirmary, and other residences" (page 26). A special request for $65,000 from the general assembly by the trustees was not met, and stringent economy measures were forced, extending work, and notifying applicants of the delay. Work continued, with Strode essentially acting as a construction supervisor coordinating the orders of the executive committee. By the end of 1892, carpenters and a reduced force of convict labor had complete all but the final details of principle buildings and grounds as well as a number of brick and frame residences, the "cowhouses", stables, silos, and a cannery. School farms had produced quantities of a wide variety of vegetables, and 1,400 fruit trees had been planted.


In March 1891, the trustees, apparently on Strode's recommendation, established a number of "chairs," faculty positions that might form the basis for later "departments." Strode served as chairman of the trustee committee on curriculum whose report was adopted by the board in March. "The two principle areas of instruction, agriculture with four chairs and mechanical with one and several shop foremen, were to be supported by five chairs in English and literature, mathematics, physics, history and political economy, and chemistry. It is not clear how extensive a search was conducted to fill these positions, but most of the first sixteen appointments were South Carolinians" (page 28). Strode was to serve as professor of mathematics.


Strode helped draw up the first student regulations. Boys could be admitted at fifteen, were to be under military discipline and were required to purchase dress and fatigue uniforms. As the college would provide much of the food and fuel needed, costs were kept low. A "poor boy" was charged but $104 annually "for room and board, uniforms, laundry, and medical expenses and could earn a small wage for the daily two hours of work required of all students 'in field and shop.' Boys 'of means' were required to pay $40.00 for tuition" (pages 29-30).

Strode's resignation

Few records exist to verify how well Strode executed his office, and indeed, those that do generally praise him. Shortly after his appointment, Richard W. Simpson, the first president of the trustees, said of Strode, as one who, "while possessed of very fine literary attainments,...has shown himself to be eminently a practical man, and one thoroughly in sympathy...with affording technological education to the youth of our country." Trustee J. E. Wannamaker later praised Strode for being so "busily engaged from early morning until the late hours of the night" in overseeing the building program.

Be that as it may, in November 1892, the trustees suddenly accepted Strode's resignation as president, effective immediately, and as director of the experimental station on January 31, 1893. There is little documentation, but it is strongly suggested that the resignation was not voluntary. When the trustees accepted it, they voted to "expunge" certain references in their minutes from the June 3 meeting. Those records do show that the board had passed Governor Tillman's motion that President Strode "be notified that he must release the board of expenses as to his salary after July 1st until the College opens, or until he be called into service again, or that he be given notice that after Feby. 1st 1893 his services be dispensed with." An alternate motion proposed by J. L. Orr that "on account of the uncertainty of the time of opening the College, Mr. Strode be notified that after 1st of October next we will not be able to continue his salary until the College is opened," was defeated. "Strode continued to perform his duties as president, presumably without pay, until his resignation six months later, but was paid as director of the experimental station" (page 30).


Available documentation may never clearly identify the reason for Strode's stepping down. Whether it was from internal unrest on the Board of Trustees - the Orr-Tillman conflict, displeasure with the delays in opening the school, or with Strode's "preponderance" of "literary" professors in the upper ranks of the new faculty - a position taken several years later by a board investigative committee, dissatisfaction by the board in his leadership abilities, or perhaps simply that Strode was chafing at the bit under the executive committee's close scrutiny, may never be known. Or did he, as is frequently stated in university history, resign for health reasons?

One hint may be found in a letter that Strode wrote to Tillman in October in which he offered his services as "a happy medium of reconciliation between two such ardent friends of the College" as Orr and the governor, pledging that, should "this reconciliation not meet your approval," the matter should be kept confidential. In truth, Strode had little opportunity during his tenure to exert leadership as he served primarily as the day-to-day executor of the wishes of the executive committee.

Post presidential life

Strode remained on the faculty as professor of mathematics and occasionally headed faculty meetings in the absence of his successor, Edwin Boone Craighead, but by early 1896, a trustee committee looking into matters of college management recommended that "since instruction in mathematics was 'greatly impeded because of the inefficiency of Prof. Strode,' he be asked to resign. The board adopted the proposal and Strode promptly complied" (page 32). Two things point to declining health of Strode: that the committee stated that it could not "permit our sympathy for any individual to outweigh" its concern for the preparation of students, and that Strode received no wage after July 1, 1895. Strode returned to Amherst county, Virginia, with his family, where he died and was buried in 1898.

"His eldest son reopened the Kenmore school until after his father's death, but retained the property while engaged in a career in law and business. H.A. Strode's connection with Clemson was continued, however, through the marriage of his daughter, Grace, to Charles Carter Newman, an early Clemson graduate who served there for many years as professor of horticulture" (page 32).

Strode Tower is named for Clemson's first president. The commemorative plaque now in Tillman Auditorium for Strode was carved by Randolph T. V. Bowman shortly before his own death on April 14, 1899. (Hartzog, Henry Simms, "President Hartzog's Tribute", The Chronicle, May 1899, Volume II, Number 8, page 346.)


  • McKale, Donald M., editor, Palmer, Kate Salley, illustrator, "Tradition: A History of the Presidency of Clemson University", Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia, 1988, ISBN 0-86554-296-1
  • This is the Clemson Wiki project's 1,205th article.

Preceded by: No One Presidents of Clemson Succeeded by: Edwin Boone Craighead