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Joseph Ewart Healy was instrumental in establishing the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary, now Old Dominion University. From 1924-1930, Healy was Director of the William and Mary Extension in Norfolk. During that time, he was also Principal at Norfolk's Blair Junior High School. This interview was conducted by Robert H. Land, Librarian at William and Mary College, and another individual. The interview discusses the early days of Old Dominion University -- from the William and Mary Extension Program, to the acquisition of the Larchmont Elementary School and adjacent land, to preparation of the first catalog, to enrolling the first students and hiring the first faculty.


Oral History Interview 
with
JOSEPH EWART HEALY

Norfolk, Virginia
June 9, 1960
by Robert H. Land,William and Mary College

Listen to Interview

Interviewer: Mr. Healy, when were you at William and Mary College? 

Healy: Back at the turn of the century. It was in the fall of 1906.

Interviewer: Well, that was two years before the first part of the library building, Jim; that little room down there was built in 1908.

Healy: It was built while I was here.

Interviewer: What did they call it?

Healy: I said Baxler because a man by the name of Baxler gave some money.

Interviewer: George Clinton Baxler?

Healy: Yes.

Interviewer: Where was his home? Do you know anything about it?

Healy: New York, I think.

Interviewer: Mr. Healy came into the office this morning, and we were talking a little bit about the Norfolk Division and its beginnings down there, and I've never seen anything in writing on it, so he started recounting the tale, and I listened to it all the way and figured several of us have heard this but I very much wanted to have him put it over here on your talking machine so we might catch it. Start at the very beginning here and I guess it was the spring of 1930.

Healy: That's what I'm thinking it was.... I might start with, say, 1924. Dr. Chandler, J. A. C. Chandler, who was at that time President, made me director of the Extension in Norfolk. That was in about 1924. I organized these classes and secured rooms for them to meet, and members of the faculty came to Norfolk and conducted the classes. I was at that time an elementary school principal. In 1926 I was made principal of Blair Junior High School in Norfolk, and I continued in my capacity as director of the Extension work there. I was well acquainted with Mr. Robert M. Hughes, Sr., who was a very loyal alumnus of the college. Well, in that capacity I knew very well of his interest in establishing a college in Norfolk and particularly a college affiliated with William and Mary. In the winter of 1930, when I heard that the Norfolk city school board was to build a new elementary school in Larchmont, I realized that the old elementary school would be abandoned. So I went down to see Mr. Hughes. I said, Mr. Hughes, here is our opportunity to bring a college to Norfolk by using the old Larchmont Elementary School building when it's abandoned. Fine, he took to it immediately. He said, I will call Jack and talk to him about it (Dr. J. A. C. Chandler; everybody called him "Jack"). He said, when I hear something I'll let you know. I imagine it was about the middle of April when he called me, Mr. Hughes called me one morning and said, Dr. Chandler is in my office or, in my residence. We'll be by there to pick you up in a few minutes. We will go out and look over the Larchmont building. So in a little while, Mr. Hughes, Dr. Chandler, and Mr. Foreman, A. H. Foreman, showed up at Blair, and I joined them in the car, and we drove out to Larchmont. Dr. Chandler looked over the building. Fine, fine, he said. There was some open land right near it, near the Larchmont School. Foreman, see all that property out there? .... Get an option on that property.

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Interviewer: Was that a cornfield or something?

Healy: It was cultivated land, all of that property out there where the Foreman Field is now, and all that was open land. Now, you could see his thinking because he wanted to get an option on that property before anybody knew that the College of William and Mary was coming there. Foreman, get an option on that property out there. So it was understood among the four of us that he would start a college there. It was April, 1930, if I remember correctly. I didn't hear any more then until about the 15th of June, the last day of the session at Blair Junior High School -- the children were there for their reports and all; and I got a call from Mr. Foreman's office. Dr. Chandler said, Healy, come on down here as soon as you can get here. So I got in my car and drove down. Dr. Chandler was a very direct man; he wasted no words whatsoever. Healy, go out to the Larchmont School Monday morning, have a telephone installed, employ a secretary, prepare a catalog, and start enrolling students. I will pay you $500. And that's all he said -- just like that. Those were the words that he used. All right, Dr. Chandler, I'll be happy to do it. I employed a Miss Jessie Voight to be secretary. I had a telephone installed. Miss Voight and I worked night and day that week, clipping and writing a catalog to be on his desk Saturday about noon. We got it finished up Friday night; Saturday morning we got in the car and drove up here. I handed it to him. He looked it over and said, You followed so-and-so about this course, yes, that's all right. He published that catalog just as I had prepared it, which was based largely on the catalog from here at the College. But that Monday morning, when I went there to install the telephone and occupy the office, there were two students endeavoring to register. One had gone to my office at Blair Junior High School, hoping that they could register there. The other had gone to the Larchmont School to register. They were first cousins. One was Albert Edwards Wilson, who took his two years at Norfolk Division and later transferred to William and Mary up here the first student. The girl would have been first if she had gone to the right place. 

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Interviewer: She went to your office, then. 

Healy: She went to my office over at Blair Junior High School, was waiting for me there. Now, her first name I cannot recall, but she was a Miss Wilson. There were two or three Wilson doctors in Norfolk, three, I believe, brothers, and she was the daughter of one brother and he was the son of the other brother. But they were the first two who registered for the Norfolk Division. I know that he is still living; I assume that she is still living. I saw him up here at finals or homecoming two or three years ago. Albert Edwards Wilson. So as soon as I got the catalog in Dr. Chandler's hands, I started visiting high school graduates -- Norfolk County, Princess Anne County, all adjacent counties, as I had lists of school graduates. Of course, Atlantic University was beginning to operate also. That's a double story. Well, anyway, to make a long story short, as I recall, about the first of September of 1930, Dr. Chandler came down there and said, How many students you got? I think I had about 345 students enrolled for the first year of the college. And, what was a surprise to all of us, I had more boys than I had girls because that was in the midst of the Depression, and boys and girls couldn't get away to college. Dr. Chandler said, Healy, we've got to have something for these boys to do around here. I said, That's right, you're certainly right, Doctor. Well, go out and employ a coach; go out and employ an athletic director. I said, Okay. It happened that a young man by the name of Tommy Scott had graduated the previous June from VMI. He was All Southern end that year at VMI. I knew Tommy, and he had a nice personality, so I got in touch with Tommy, and he accepted the position of athletic director at the Norfolk Division, and Dr. Chandler told Billy Gooch to send some old uniforms down. So on or about the middle of September we had an athletic team, had a football team on the field. Dr. Chandler told me that he could not compete with the salary that I was getting as principal of Blair Junior High School, so he sent Dr. Hoke to New York to Columbia University to interview applicants for the position of director of the Norfolk Division. Dr. Hoke chose a man by the name of Timmerman, E. H. Timmerman, who came down there and directed the Norfolk Division for two years. He did not return after the second year, and I think Ed Gwathmey came down from here. He later became president at Converse. And then I think Gwathmey was succeeded by Billy Hodges, Billy Hodges possibly by Charlie Duke, and the present man is Lewis Webb.

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Interviewer: Did you have any local faculty down there, Mr. Healy? 

Healy: Now the faculty, of course, was all chosen by Dr. Chandler.

Interviewer: Were all of them from William and Mary proper? 

Healy: No, most of them were new people. Oh, yes, here's an interesting story. Atlantic University was being organized down at Virginia Beach about that time, and a man by the name of Brown, on the faculty of Washington and Lee University, was made president of Atlantic University. And Atlantic University was supposed to have been sponsored by some wealthy men in New York City. They laid out plans, made plans for a very elaborate building down at Virginia Beach, and Dr. Brown went there and began enrolling students. I was competing with Dr. Brown for students. They got as far as laying the foundations for these buildings -- those old foundations stayed there for years.

Interviewer: Those foundations were taken up last summer, 1959. The Navy Officers Club is right there, and I saw those foundations, and I saw them knock them out finally; the concrete was sitting there right on the way to the beach. The parking lot of the Navy Officers Club. So, anyway, that Atlantic University was defunct, then, actually? 

Healy: Well, so they started the first year using what is known at Virginia Beach as cottages -- now, they're really hotels, but they referred to them as cottages, used them as dormitories and classrooms and everything. And he bought a lot of equipment. It ran one year and then started the second year and then folded up. But a Dr. Williams, who was in the Foreign Language Department here at William and Mary, had accepted a position on the faculty at Atlantic University. When Atlantic University folded up, Dr. Williams asked to be reinstated by William and Mary. He was a good man, capable man, and he was attracted to Atlantic University by reason of the large salaries that they were offering. So Dr. Chandler employed him and put him at the Norfolk Division instead of returning him to Williamsburg, and he was the only man that I recall that went from here to the Norfolk Division via Atlantic University. There may have been some others that I don't know, but....

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Interviewer: Who were some of the first faculty down there, Mr. Healy? 

Healy: One man who was outstanding in my mind was a man by the name of Jackson, who was a chemist, teacher of chemistry who made quite a reputation as a teacher... .Now I don't believe I recall anybody else. There was a young lady who came down there, Dr. Chandler sent down there, but I don't recall her name now.

Interviewer: You wouldn't happen to have a copy of that first catalog, would you?

Healy: I might have somewhere in my files. 

Interviewer: We save them all here at the library, but I don't know that I have the first one, and that would be interesting because I don't imagine you printed very many -- how many, 500 maybe? 

Healy: Dr. Chandler had them printed in Richmond by the Division of Purchasing and Printing, but whether I would have a copy, I have some files of my old correspondence at my home in Bon Air, and I will look through there and see what I can find. 

Interviewer: That would be very, very interesting because that's our first Division, you see, and that would be very, very fine. Well, that Norfolk Division, of course, today is changed. Now you spoke of Mr. Robert M. Hughes, and I know Mr. Hughes by name well because he was a close friend of my predecessor, Dr. Swem, and we have much of Mr. Hughes's correspondence here, and I would say, I suppose, without doing any injustice to other alumni, that Mr. Hughes was probably one of the most cooperative and one of the most hardworking.. . You can see what he did for his Alma Mater, and through all of his correspondence. Well, that new library building down there is named for him. Have you seen that, Mr. Healy? 

Healy: I've just seen it from the outside; I haven't been inside. 

Interviewer: Well, I've always wondered just exactly how that first unit was put up. When I first saw the Norfolk Division in 1953, in the fall of 1953, they had really two buildings. They had some temporary buildings, and they had Foreman Field, but they had that Old Administration Building and everything was in it, classrooms, offices, library, everything. 

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Healy: Was that the old elementary school? 

Interviewer: The old elementary school, as I understand it, was next to it, off to the right. When they built that, I don't know, but probably a little bit...

Healy: Yes, I remember when that was built.

Interviewer: Well, those were mighty difficult times. You didn't have much to work with, and it's really remarkable, when you think of it, that the school ever remained and became firm. 

Healy: Well, it remained because there was a definite need for an institution of college rank in Norfolk and the territory adjacent to Norfolk. After Atlantic University folded up, a lot of the students from Atlantic University transferred, and Dr. Chandler's ruling was that if, say, a student had taken freshman English at Atlantic University, if he could do sophomore English, then he'd give him credit -- successfully on this freshman course. Whatever work that they could continue and do successfully, then he would give them credit for the prerequisite work that had been done at Atlantic University.

Interviewer: Well, Atlantic University, then, as I understand it, lasted only one year, part of the second, isn't that what.... 

Healy: Yes, about a year and a half. 

Interviewer: Well, what forced their closure? Was it finances? 

Healy: Well, the money that had been promised them from New York failed to materialize, and it was a rather tragic thing because a lot of these capable people from schools all over the East had come down there and accepted employment because they were offering them good positions, good salaries, and before the school folded up, they were several months in arrears on salaries, and the Norfolk Education Association donated money to be distributed to this faculty down there to help them get home, get somewhere else. It was a shame. Brown was a good man. He was a member of the faculty of Washington and Lee before he came down there, and he was a psychologist, and he ranked very high in Masonry, and he was also a Republican. He was the Republican nominee for governor at one time in the state of Virginia. 

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Interviewer: I think that Mr. Hughes was a Republican.

Healy: I don't recall about that.... 

Interviewer: I think Dr. Swem told me that. Not very many in Virginia at that time. Well, that's mighty interesting. You graduated, then, you say, you first attended in 1906? 

Healy: That's right, and I graduated in 1910. 

Interviewer: Well, you were here many, many years before Dr. Chandler came in as president.. .Dr. Tyler was president.

Healy: That's right, I was under Dr. Lyon G. Tyler. 

Interviewer: This was after Colonel Ewell had died, though, wasn't it?

Healy: Oh, yes, Colonel Ewell. .1890's.. .something like that. 

Interviewer: Did you work on the literary magazine of that day, the old literary magazine, do you remember?

Healy: No, no, I had a paper published in the literary magazine on Juliet. I prepared a paper under Dr. John Leslie Hall on Juliet. He used to be real fond of teaching Shakespearean plays, and I prepared a paper on Juliet which he passed on to the literary magazine, about my only contribution, literary contribution. 

Interviewer: Well, that was the faculty that we know today as seven wise men. 

Healy: That's right. And they were very capable men. 

Interviewer: That's Mr. Byrd, I think, who was on that faculty, John Leslie Hall, Mr. Garrett, wasn't Dr. Garrett here in chemistry? 

Healy: That's right. 

Interviewer: Did you take classes under him? 

Healy: I took classes under Dr. Garrett. 

Interviewer: And then Mr. Tyler. 

Healy: And Stubbs. T. J. Stubbs. John Leslie Hall and Dr. Bishop, who was the foreign language man. I took French under Dr. Bishop.

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