North American Scholar
WHITE, James Jones
B.A. U. Virginia, 1851.
- Professional Experience:
Mgr. Charlottesville Classical School, 1847-50; prof. Gk. Washington Coll. (now Washington & Lee U.), 1852-93; actng. pres., 1870-1; 1874-7.
James J. White was professor of Greek at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) for over 40 years and acting president following the death of his friend, Gen. Robert E. Lee. While under 20, he managed a classical school and was one of the first laymen appointed to the faculty of Washington College. Living with his parents in a Lexington showplace, he became active in the community, an elder of the Presbyterian church, and a devoted father to his five children. A Constitutional Unionist before the Civil War, White served as captain of the Liberty Hall Volunteers, the Washington and Lee student brigade, which began its duty at Harper's Ferry in June 1861. White resigned his command in September of that year because of ill health and resumed his teaching, helping to keep the college alive for the duration of the war. When General Lee was elected president of the college in 1865, White became his closest friend and associate as the school was rebuilt after the war, the faculty was enlarged, new departments were created, and the endowment was greatly increased. After Lee's death in 1870, White was named acting president for a year until Lee's son, G. W. Custis Lee, was named president in 1871. When Lee fell into ill health and the institution began to decline, White, although offered the presidency of the University of Missouri in 1875, stayed on to aid the retrenchment as acting president, while Lee was on medical leave. The university got back on its feet in the 1880s, although Lee's health continued to require that White preside at faculty meetings and the like.At his death, the faculty said, "His most valuable work as a professor was not so much in the intellectual training of his classes, valuable as that training was. It was the potential influence for good which he exercised over all the students of the University. . . . Since the days of Dr. Thomas Arnold there has probably been no man who has had a stronger hold or exerted a more beneficial influence upon the young men who were his pupils" (Turner, 109)
Charles W. Turner, Old Zeus: Life and Letters (1860-1862) of James J. White (Verona, VA 1983).
- Author: Ward W. Briggs, Jr.