President Stewart McClelland and the Younger Woman, a recipe for scandal

8 Aug

On days like today, when I’m struggling to find a topic to write about in this blog, I hit the web to see what other people are saying about Lincoln Memorial University. In Sunday’s Knoxville News Sentinel veteran opinion columnist Ina Hughs delivered a column “New book traces history of Lincoln Memorial University.” http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/aug/06/ina-hughs-new-book-traces-history-of-lincoln/

The book in question is Lincoln Memorial University and the Shaping of Appalachia, by Associate Professor of History and The Stewart McClelland Distinguished Professor in Humanities Earl J. Hess. I have referenced this book in this blog before as it is my go-to source, presenting the history of LMU in a well-written and enjoyable read.

For her part, Hughs describes Hess’s latest work as “well-written and readable.” She highlighted the story of the founding of the University and even touches on another one of my blog topics, mentioning that a University is not often the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘Lincoln Memorial.’ Her column also puts the spotlight on one of the more scandalous stories in the University’s past.

It’s ironic that Hess shares a story about a “sex scandal” from the late 1940s, because a similar story can probably be told throughout academia even today. This story actually involves the namesake of Hess’s endowed professorship.

Following two presidents with a combined presidency of three years, Stewart W. McClelland arrived on campus in August of 1932. He would be a steadying hand for the University, which was barely getting by following a student strike and in the wake of the nation’s financial despair. His was not an easy path, especially early on when he was at odds with the chancellor, John Wesley Hill, and the board, but in 1936 he succeeded where his predecessors had failed and LMU was admitted to the Southern Association as an accredited institution of higher education.

The accreditation turned the tide for the University and secured McClelland’s position as president. He remained in that role until 1947 when he resigned under a “mini-cloud of controversy.” The controversy came when he quietly divorced his wife of 24 years in the summer of 1946. It shortly became apparent that McClelland had developed a relationship with Ann Samonial, who served as dean of women at the University.

The new couple’s 26-year age difference stirred the ire of the University’s community as well as that in nearby Middlesboro, Ky., but the high regard the communities shared for McClelland’s wife also complicated matters for the President. Outwardly, it appeared that he had abruptly abandoned his much-admired first wife.  Hess quotes board member Lester Schriver, who said, “Stewart and the young woman in question knew but one thing. That was that they wanted each other. Everything that stood in the way of that had to go.”

Higher Education is riddled with similar stories throughout history, though it is surprising to hear of one at LMU in 1947. Samonial resigned from the University around the same time of McClelland and they were married. McClelland remains the longest serving President in LMU’s history, having served 15 years. He spent the rest of his long life working as dean of instruction for the Dale Carnegie Institute. He died as a result of complications from a head injury after slipping on the ice at his Indianapolis home in 1977. He was survived by his second wife, Ann.

 

 

 

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