The Eggleston Administration: 1913-1919
Joseph Dupuy Eggleston who became president of VPI on July 1, 1913, was born in Prince William County, Virginia, on November 13, 1867. He graduated from Hampden-Sidney College in 1886.
He was once described by an admirer as a "glad-handed back slapper" who really liked people and in return was also liked by people, sometimes even politicians.
The Southern Planter, owned by the powerful and wealthy Westmoreland Davis, urged that the people support Eggleston. The Planter plainly stated that every president prior to Eggleston had some one dead set against him as soon as he took office. It was impossible for a school to do the best work under such conditions, pleaded the editor, therefore, the people of the state were urged to support the president, not deliberately thwart him. Eggleston by and large received the support needed during his presidency, thereby becoming the first president that had a undivided faculty and a united alumni association for his entire presidency. Even the legislature was mainly supportive except for a few minor skirmishes at budget time.
With the entrance of the United States into World War I, VPI made a number of changes in its program to aid the war effort.
In November, 1916, the board authorized Eggleston to apply for an ROTC unit at the college. The request was granted, and an infantry unit was established in January 5, 1917.
The session of 1917-1918 was an unusual one in the college in many ways. December and January were bitterly cold, with the thermometer registering zero or below fourteen times. On December 30, the thermometer plummeted to 27 degrees below zero. During this time, Eggleston was having trouble getting coal for the college. To solve his problem, Eggleston leased the entire output for two coal mines in nearby Brush Mountain, employed men to operate them, and bought two trucks to haul the coal to the campus.
In January, 1918, the financial situation at VPI became so desperate, that Eggleston, with the help of alumni, faculty, and friends, put on a massive publicity program explaining the work and needs of the college. Financial gains were less gratifying than hoped for, but the legislature and the general public gained a better insight as to what VPI was trying to do and what it could do with proper support.
In the spring of 1918, the training of teachers for the Smith- Hughes Vocational Agriculture in secondary schools was assigned to VPI. Already on Friday, March 13, 1914, the legislature had located the Cooperative Demonstration work at VPI.
Perhaps the most troubling period of the Eggleston Administration came during 1918, when in August, the War Department organized the Students' Army Training Corps for the preparation of future officers. After much entanglement, red tape, and general confusion, a unit of 550 men was assigned to VPI, with October set as the opening date. Just as this unit was settling in, influenza hit the campus and spread like wildfire. All indoor activities were suspended. The field house was converted into a hospital; the Navy detailed a special surgeon to help; and ten additional nurses were added to the medical staff. Nine deaths occurred, and many students not in SATC went home.
Class work finally resumed on November 3, but the "false armistice" on November 7 created an emotional orgy that dulled the reception of the real armistice four days later. Youths awaiting demobilization tagged the SATC as meaning "Struggle around till Christmas." Even the faculty longed to be rid of the SATC, a program which President Eggleston himself curtly described as a "dismal failure."
The college community was extremely happy with the almost spectacular war record made by VPI alumni. One alumnus was the first native Virginian to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor; moreover, he received five medals for bravery from foreign countries. To the famous alumnus, Major Loyd W. Williams, Class of 1907, has been attributed one of the most famous quotation of World War I: "Retreat? Hell, no! We've just come." Unfortunately Williams was gassed and wounded in a battle near Chateau Thiery, France. Williams Hall was later named in his honor.
The most surprising event of the session occurred in January 24, 1919, when Dr. Eggleston resigned as president of VPI, effective at the end of the session. He had accepted the presidency of Hampden- Sidney College, his alma mater. His last official act as president took place on July 2, 1919, when he awarded diplomas and addressed the graduating class.
Eggleston, the first president of VPI to leave the office voluntarily, left behind a united faculty, a united student body, an adoring alumni association, and a reasonably united supportive press.