President Powell and the Board of Trustees on a dirt road next to a Model T

Dr. Richard Holmes Powell was the first president of South Georgia State Normal College.  He was elected in 1911 by the Board of Trustees, and served for 22 years (1911-1933).  Dr. Powell was born in Blakely, Georgia, in 1875.  He received an A.B. from Mercer University in 1894, an M.A. from the University of Colorado in 1898, and an honorary LL.D. from the University of Georgia in 1924.  He married Freida Berens in 1907, and they had three sons: Alfred, David and Richard; and one daughter, Elizabeth (Betsy).

President Powell and Staff outside of Converse HallPrior to his appointment at SGSNC, Powell held several distinguished positions in his career as an educator/administrator.  He was the principal of the Tennille (Ga.) Institute (1984-96); the head of the English department at the  New Mexico Normal School in Las Vegas, N.M. (1898-1903); and associate professor of English and history at the Colorado State Normal School in Greeley, Colo. (1903-06).  Powell returned to Georgia in 1906, and was the head of the English department at the Georgia Normal and Industrial College in Milledgeville (1906-10).  He later became the State Supervisor for Rural Education (1910-11), then accepted the post as president of SGSNC.

Photo of S.G.S.N.C. Home Economics Classroom and students

Powell was integral to the establishment and development of SGSNC.  He was on the committee that selected the Spanish-style architecture, and oversaw the construction of the first buildings on campus, including West Hall, Converse Hall, and Ashley Hall.  He possessed a keen sense of duty regarding the educations of the young ladies at the school, and sought nothing but the best for them, including teachers and amenities.

The school opened its doors to students in 1913.  During Powell's tenure, it evolved from a high school and junior college to one offering a four-year, bachelor's degree program. This is remarkable, considering the country was struggling with a lagging post-WWI economy that drifted into the Great Depression.  Money was always a struggle, yet under Powell's direction, the school weathered the rough spots and continued to grow.  In 1922, the school's name was changed to Georgia State Womans College at Valdosta by a legislative act, and a four-year degree program was offered.  The last high school class graduated in 1927, and requirements for faculty were strengthened-- new faculty hires had to have a master's degree.  GSWC became a fully-accredited liberal arts and teachers' college in 1931.

S.G.S.N.C Students playing sports on field day

Many student activities and traditions were established during Powell's presidency, including a Medieval Christmas Festival and May Day Festival.  GSWC publications include the Pine Branch, established in 1917; Campus Glimpses, started in 1920; and the Pine Cone, the school yearbook, began in 1924.

The newly-formed Regents of the University System of Georgia reassigned Powell in 1933 as president of the Co-ordinate College in Athens.  His departure greatly upset the College and Valdosta communities.  He retired in Athens in 1946, and was killed in an automobile accident there on June 2, 1947.

Photo of Powell Hall
Richard Holmes Powell Library

The Richard Holmes Powell Papers, 1895-1933

The papers in this collection are of particular interest and importance. They are the earliest records of establishing a college in Southwest Georgia, and clearly indicate the city of Valdosta's and Lowndes County's desire to have an institute of higher learning. Powell took his job as the first president of the College very seriously, and this is reflected in his writings and correspondence. His papers outline the struggles of literally starting a school from the ground up, and deal with issues such as construction, finances, faculty and students. The bulk of the collection is comprised of correspondence with various education officials, such as the school's Board of Trustees, the chancellor of the University System of Georgia, and, in later years, members of the Board of Regents. Part of this collection are two bound volumes of meeting minutes of the Board of Trustees, which include Powell's annual report on the state of the College from 1911 to 1931. These reports provide an excellent yearly analysis of the trials and tribulations involved with managing all aspects of a developing school. Some of Powell's additional writings include the history of some of the College's early traditions, such as the May Day and Christmas festivals. He was also a sought-after speaker, and many of his speeches, both to GSWC students and statewide civic associations, are part of this collection. These addresses reveal his commitment to education, and how strongly important he felt it was. Powell was also a very scholarly man, and we are fortunate to have some of the papers he submitted as part of his undergraduate and graduate work. Thanks to Powell's daughter, Betsy, the collection includes a variety of photographs, spanning the years 1913-1940. These include snapshots of life at the College as well as some family pictures. Lastly, true prizes of the collection are ten Babylonian clay tablets, of which eight are in excellent condition. During his stint as a Red Cross volunteer during World War I, Powell acquired the tablets from Edgar J. Banks, also known as "the original Indiana Jones." Each tablet is accompanied by a translation of the cuneiform writing. Powell brought the tablets back to Valdosta for the College students' benefit. The tablets have been scanned and are on online exhibit with their translations and history. Three boxes of duplicates of most of Powell's original papers are part of the collection. Researchers will be given a duplicate to review when available, rather than an original document. This is an effort to preserve the historical first documents of the College. The final box contains the hood of Dr. Powell's academic regalia.

The Pine Branch, 1918-1919

Pine Branch Student PublicationThe student publication The Pine Branch began publication in January 1918. It features the writings, stories, jokes, and poetry of the students who attended  Georgia State Womans College in its first decade. President Powell was headed the school throughout this publication's run and is mentioned frequently.  The Pine Branch offers a fascinating glimpse into the earliest years of Valdosta State University's past.

The GSWC Bulletins, 1913-1921

These early Bulletins showcase Georgia State Womans College with aplomb. They contain all the vital information students, parents, faculty, and staff would have needed at the time. From faculty and staff listings, to attendance costs, down to what color fabric the student's dresses had to be. The Bulletins really showcase how President Powell and staff were able to keep the institution steadily growing in student body, staff, and prestige.