Edwin A. Alderman

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Edwin A. Alderman
1906 - Edwin Anderson Alderman.JPG
Edwin Anderson Alderman, ca. 1906

1st President of the University of Virginia
Term Start April 13, 1905
Succeeded by John Lloyd Newcomb

Biographical Information

Date of birth May 15, 1861
Date of death April 30, 1931

Edwin Anderson Alderman (May 15, 1861April 30, 1931), served as first president of the University of Virginia. His term ran from 1904 to 1931. Since its founding in 1819, the University had been governed by its Board of Visitors. Alderman was succeeded by John Lloyd Newcomb (1931 to 1947).

Early Life

Edwin Anderson Alderman was born to James and Susan Alderman in Wilmington, North Carolina. He was the youngest child, and only boy the couple had. His early education took place in Wilmington private schools, before he moved to Fauquier County, Virginia, to attend Bethel Military Academy. He enrolled at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC) in 1878, where he was a prominent orator.[1]


Following graduation, Alderman became a teacher in Goldsboro, NC. By 1885, he had been appointed to superintendent of Goldsboro schools, despite being only 24 years old. Just four years later, Alderman was appointed to the North Carolina Board of Education, under whose purview he traveled the state, training teachers and gaining information as to what could be done to improve North Carolina's young public school system. His and Charles McIver's, another North Carolina educator, reports from their travels led to several changes in the funding of the school system, including increasing taxes and the establishment of a teacher's training college, which was founded in 1891 as the North Carolina State Normal and Industrial School.[2] Alderman taught briefly at the school (which would go on to become UNC Greensboro), before transitioning to his alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill, in 1893.

When Alderman arrived at UNC Chapel Hill, he served as a professor of history, English, and philosophy. He ran the school's summer training program for teachers, and was responsible for increasing the number of students in the program from 60 to 153. In 1895, Alderman delivered a paper calling for the acceptance of education in the American South and the promotion of public service. It was incredibly well-received, and he was appointed the president of UNC Chapel Hill just one year later.

Alderman became president of Tulane University in 1900. Alderman saw Tulane as a critical institution for education in the South. He wanted the university to be accessible and play a role in the progression of the south. Alderman had optimistic goals for growing the school. During his four years at Tulane, enrollment increased by about 20%.[3]

"He believed that a university was like a bicycle; it could not stand still but had to move forward," wrote Dumas Malone his biography of Alderman.[4]

University of Virginia

Creation of the president position and installation of Alderman

For the first 80 years of its existence, the University of Virginia was governed by its Board of Visitors. But at the turn of the century, the board began looking for a single head of the university who would devote themselves to the interests of education and students at the university. Even though the university was parting ways with the original plans that Thomas Jefferson established in 1819 at its founding, Board of Visitors member Charles Pickney Jones believed that they would maintain the core ideals of the school’s founding.[5] Alderman was officially installed as the university's first president on April 13,1905 which is Thomas Jefferson's birthday. During the inauguration, members of the Board of Visitors and representatives from other American universities spoke. Alderman gave a speech that outlined his goal to establish the University of Virginia as a progressive institution and to maintain its democratic values.

“The glory of Jefferson was his enthusiasm for the future. It was the prophecy in democracy that charmed his spirit. A noble past might be a dangerous thing, he thought, if it brought contentment with a complacent present or an uncertain future, and there was no splendor in it for him if it did not urge men onward. It has been given to this University to render wide and definite service for political freedom and human culture and character in an age of national development and trial” declared Alderman during his inauguration speech.[6]

Growth of the University

Women at the University

On May 11, 1911, Alderman gave a speech at University Hour concerning his thoughts on the education of women at UVA. In the speech, he expressed his support for a “co-ordinate” college for women as he believed co-education of men and women was not effective. Alderman said that his reasons were based on “biological, psychological and sociological grounds” and that the University’s tradition would not support such a change. Alderman recognized the progress that women's colleges throughout the country had made at the time and wanted UVA to be a part of that movement. The college, according to Alderman, would train and educate women to make them better mothers and homemakers. Alderman wanted to help women by giving them a place in higher education at the University of Virginia. He believed this was a key component in the progression of American society. [7]

In 1919, Alderman asked the Board of Visitors to allow the university to admit white women into professional and graduate schools. On January 12, 1920, the Board of Visitors voted in favor of admitting women to the professional and graduate schools. The women allowed in had to meet very specific age and education requirements.[8]

Medicine and Science

Alderman also grew the UVA School of Medicine. During his presidency, the faculty grew from 48 members to 290 and the student body grew from 500 to 2,450.[9]


Throughout his career as an educator, Alderman supported the eugenics movement. Eugenics is a scientific theory that states that humans can be improved through selective breeding.[10] Eugenicists believed that certain human traits like intelligence and social behaviors were inheritable.[11] In a speech given in 1903, Alderman stated that “the negro” was naturally not equal to white people. According to Alderman, southerners should therefore not hate black people but should instead look sympathetically upon them because of their unequal position.[12]

Alderman installed key eugenicists in both the UVA School of Medicine and the College of Arts of Sciences. These included Harvey E. Jordan, Ivey Foreman Lewis, Robert Bennet Bean, Lawrence Thomas Royster, and Orland E. White. Under his leadership, the University of Virginia became an epicenter for eugenical research and thought and was closely tied to the national eugenics movement. The eugenicists that Alderman hired like Ivey Foreman Lewis were key in creating the rationale that would support the 1924 Racial Integrity Act and the Buck v Bell decision in 1927.[13]

Notable events

  • In February 1912, Alderman denied rumors he was going to run for Virginia governor. [14]
  • December 15, 1924 – Alderman delivers the principal address for the national memorial for the late Woodrow Wilson. [15]
  • October 1, 1925 – Alderman returns home from a ten-week stay in Europe where he was studying the operations of the League of Nations [16]


  1. Web. Edwin Anderson Alderman (1861–1931)
  2. Web. Timeline of UNCG History
  3. Book. [ Edwin A. Alderman], Dumas Malone, Heckman Bindery, New York, retrieved June 5, 2024.
  4. Book. [ Edwin A. Alderman], Dumas Malone, Heckman Bindery, New York, retrieved June 5, 2024.
  5. Web. The University of Virginia in the Life of the Nation: Academic Addresses Delivered on the Occasion of the Installation of Edwin Anderson Alderman as President of the University of Virginia, University of Virginia, retrieved May 29, 2024.
  6. Web. The University of Virginia in the Life of the Nation: Academic Addresses Delivered on the Occasion of the Installation of Edwin Anderson Alderman as President of the University of Virginia, University of Virginia, retrieved May 29, 2024.
  7. Alderman, Edwin A. Speech Concerning Co-ordinate College For Women During University Hour. May 15, 1911
  8. Web. Women at the University, retrieved May 29. 2024.
  9. Web. Edwin A. Alderman (1905-1931, University of Virginia, retrieved June 6, 2024.
  10. Web. Eugenics and Scientific Racism, retrieved June 5, 2024.
  11. Web. Eugenics and Scientific Racism, retrieved June 5, 2024.
  12. Alderman, Edwin A. Value of Southern Idealism. December 29, 1903
  13. Dorr, Gregory M. Assuring America's Place in the Sun: Ivey Foreman Lewis and the Teaching of Eugenics at the University of Virginia, 1915-1953. May, 2000.
  14. Web. Alderman Denies Political Story, Staff Reports, Daily Progress Digitized Microfilm, Lindsay family, February 5, 1912, retrieved February 5, 2017 from University of Virginia Library. Print. February 5, 1912 page 1.
  15. Web. Dr. Alderman to be Orator, Daily Progress Digitized Microfilm, Lindsay family, December 1, 1924, retrieved December 1, 2022. Print. December 1, 1924 page 1.
  16. Web. Dr. E. A. Alderman Back from Europe; Is Warmly Greeted, Daily Progress Digitized Microfilm, Lindsay family, October 2, 1925, retrieved October 2, 2022. Print. October 2, 1925 page 1.