The Presidents of Salisbury University from 1925 to Present
Holloway Caruthers Blackwell Devilbiss Smith Crawford Page Bellavance Butler Merwin Jones Dudley-Eshbach

Dr. Thomas Jefferson Caruthers


The resignation of Dr. William Holloway came as a shock to the student body and faculty alike, however by October 5, 1934 his resignation was official.  Immediately following Holloway’s departure, the Board of Trustees found itself faced with a school making the transition to an extended curriculum in the midst of its fall semester.  This forced the Board to act quickly, naming Mr. Thomas Jefferson Caruthers as the acting principal of Salisbury Normal School.  Caruthers seemed a natural choice to succeed Holloway as principal. He was the Supervisor of Rural Practice Teaching, taught psychology, and founded the Math department.  Caruthers had been a member of the faculty since the school opened, and his impeccable credentials made the title of acting principal seem little more than a formality prior to being officially confirmed in the position.  However, by April, 1935 Holloway’s permanent replacement had arrived.

Though his tenure as president was brief, it is not suggestive of the amount of time and energy he contributed to insure the school’s success. The headline “Grandson Unveils Veteran Educator’s Portrait” from a Salisbury Times article dated October 18, 1946 tends to be more explanative.  That Saturday, in 1946, the Alumni Association planned a series of events to mark the twentieth home-coming; the festivities began with the unveiling of Dr. Caruthers’ portrait.  On hand for the occasion was the educator’s fifteen month old grandson Thomas.  Dwarfed by the nearby palm, the youngster stood poised to pull the cord at the right moment.  When the curtains were finally drawn, they revealed Dorothy Mitchell’s portrait of a seated Dr. Caruthers in doctoral regalia.  That portrait memorialized twenty-one years of service.  It would be another nine years before Dr. Caruthers would ultimately retire, but if not for him and the other founding faculty of the school, the institution may have proved an unsuccessful venture.

Thomas J. Caruthers’ journey to the Maryland State Teachers College at Salisbury began in the small town of Yount, Missouri.  Born on April 15, 1885, Thomas Caruthers was orphaned at the age of four, and as was the custom of the time the children were split up among various relatives.  Later he chronicled his early childhood in a small but revealing book entitled Two from the Country.  Growing up around his uncle’s general store, Caruthers developed a strong affinity for provincial people which would ultimately guide him towards his chosen profession.   

Dr. Caruthers acquired his early
education in the rural public schools of Perry County, Missouri.  As an undergraduate he attended the Teachers College of Cape Girardeau, today known as Southeast Missouri State.  From there he went on to receive his Bachelors of Science in Education from the University of Missouri.  Upon completion Caruthers began teaching in single room school houses and various high schools. Later he became principal of two high schools and his alma mater the Cape Girardeau Teachers College, ultimately culminating with his appointment to Superintendant of Schools for Perry County.  Caruthers attended graduate school at Columbia University Teachers College, and in 1939 received his Doctorate in Education from New York University.  While at Columbia, Caruthers became acquainted with those whom later became his fellow faculty members and the principles of educational psychology, which greatly influenced his later publications.

The Columbian Influence

It would be dismissive to understate the influence of Columbia on the original faculty, of Salisbury.  The Baglean and Carnean literary societies established on October 26, 1925 bore the names of two leading professors at Columbia.  Mabel Carney was the head of the Department of Rural Education from 1918 to 1941.  She, like Dr. Caruthers, grew up in Missouri, an experience which led to her focus on the topic of rural education.  In 1912 she published a book entitled County Life and the County School which gained her national recognition as an expert in the field. Shortly afterwards she was offered a teaching position at Columbia.

William Bagley’s official position at Columbia was Professor of Normal School Administration, which gave him an opportunity to promote the improvement of normal schools across the country.  Bagley’s position at Columbia, coupled with his prominence in the field, in essence, made him the dean of normal schools throughout the country.  Perhaps best known as the father of essentialist educational theory, he stressed a conservative approach to education with an emphasis on physical and social sciences.  It was his belief that appropriate schooling conveyed not only academic knowledge but also the moral values needed to exercise responsible citizenship. Dr. Holloway sought his assistance when crafting Salisbury Normal School’s first curriculum.  Bagley was the featured speaker during the first commencement ceremonies, where he gave a speech “The significance of Universal Education to Democracy and to the Progress of Democratic Civilization.”

Columbia University Teachers College was founded during the philanthropic era that emerged in the latter part of the Victorian period.  Its founding ethos focused on creating a college to provide a new kind of teacher adapted to the needs of children in destitute areas. The curriculum took a scientific approach to human development that emphasized the importance of educational psychology and sociology, which sought to reaffirm the moral standards equated with good citizenship.  Many of the original faculty of Salisbury Normal School pursued degrees at Columbia Teachers College during the tenure of perhaps the most influential president of that institution.  James Earl Russell presided over the Teachers College from 1898 to 1926; during this period he laid out four crucial areas of study for preparing would-be teachers.  The first area focused on a general liberal arts education, followed by a second section directed towards special scholarship on the content of teaching.  A knowledge of theory, psychology, and the history of education was emphasized in a third area of study, and the practice of pedagogy comprised the fourth.  Russell placed a greater emphasis on research than any of his predecessors, and subsequently opened two elementary schools where Columbia students could gain practical experience in a supervised environment.  These elementary schools functioned as more than a training ground for teachers; they were also utilized as real-world laboratories for researching experimental methods of pedagogy.  Many of Russell’s ideas concerning criteria and his emphasis on research greatly influenced the first curriculum established at Salisbury Normal School. Guided by a “no ivory tower mentality,” and armed with a new kind of science the faculty at Columbia had a profound influence on Caruthers and the rest of the early faculty at Salisbury. 

Caruthers, from his time at Columbia, was familiar with a graduated approach to teacher training.  Salisbury’s curriculum attempted to ease students into teaching by first having them observe classes conducted in the campus elementary school, while participating in a minimal way. Next students were asked to teach a one hour lesson to students in the Salisbury public schools while being supervised by their instructors.  The final phase of preparation required them to travel to rural schools in the surrounding areas and teach for half of the day.  The practice teaching courses were supplemented by classroom discussions on their experiences and interpretation of textbook material. Such classes as Psychology, the Technique of Teaching, and Rural Sociology, were aimed at addressing the problems students encountered during practice teaching in a more analytical way.  Throughout his life Dr. Caruthers remained sensitive to the challenges posed to education in isolated environments, and remained a firm believer in understanding the psychology of rural pupils as an essential for success.  However, psychology alone did not encapsulate the curriculum offered at Salisbury. Prospective teachers required a working knowledge of several subjects and in those early years instructors were called on to don several roles in order to offer the same array of activities found at better funded institutions.  The level of commitment required constituted total immersion into the craft of teaching.

The First Faculty

Edna M. Marshall arrived at Salisbury Normal School in 1925 and was named the first Director of Training.  Her policies shaped the early vocational portion of the curriculum where students engaged in practice teaching.  Miss Marshall also served as the first principal of the campus elementary school.  During her tenure the elementary school quickly gained recognition as a worthy institution of learning for young children in Salisbury.  She had acquired her Bachelors at the Maryland State Normal School, and held a Masters degree from Columbia University. In November 1927 Edna Marshall was honored at the annual state teachers meeting in Baltimore where she was made president of the Maryland State Teachers Association for the following year.  Aspiring to continue her education, Miss Marshall took a leave of absence in 1930 to pursue her Doctoral degree at Columbia University.  She returned to Salisbury in September of 1931 to the position she had held prior to her departure. Though Miss Marshall was a faculty member with the school since its inception, her time on staff was cut tragically short by her untimely death in 1933 at the age of 47.   Her fellow faculty member and long time friend Anne Matthews described Marshall as “a loyal, faithful servant of education, and of plans and policies for the curriculum needs of a normal school during those pioneer years.” Mathews goes on to give a more intimate description of Miss Marshall by describing her as a person “whose life reflected enthusiasm in her work for any task at hand, large, or small, and one who could cheerfully turn to fun and play.”  During her tenure Marshall had seen the Salisbury Normal School grow from the cramped conditions found in the partially completed structure of 1925 to the fulfillment of the architect’s original design in December of 1932 just a few months prior to her death in April.  Dr. Marshall had been second only to Holloway in her authority over the school and in September of 1934, as a new school year dawned, Caruthers replaced her as acting principal of the Campus Elementary School. 

Miss Anne Matthews had lived with Edna Marshall across the street from the school in a home students referred to as An-Bel Cottage.  Matthews founded the English Department, and also supervised Rural Practice Teaching classes with Dr. Caruthers.  She had earned her bachelors degree from Colorado State Teachers College, and received her Masters from Columbia University.  Matthews, along with many of the original faculty was involved with student organizations as faculty advisors.  She founded The Dramatic Club in 1925, and worked alongside Dr. Caruthers as faculty advisor for the school paper, The Holly Leaf, and on the yearbook staff.  Matthews would go on to have a lengthy career at Salisbury.  In 1948 Anne Matthews received a grant from the Institute of International Education to spend a summer in Norway studying at the University of Oslo.  While there she studied the European educational systems, and upon her return Matthews was instrumental in establishing the Foreign Scholarship Fund.  It allowed for one deserving student from Salisbury Teachers College to travel to a nonspecific European country to study a foreign school system and gain an appreciation for problems the education profession faced abroad.  By the summer of 1949 Salisbury had sent its fist student abroad to the University of Zurich in Switzerland.  Mathews along with many of the early faculty had a more expansive world view than the insular shore on which they taught. 

Ida Belle Wilson founded the History and Geography departments at Salisbury Normal School.  A member of the faculty since the schools inception, she acquired her undergraduate degree at the Maryland State Normal School, and went on to Columbia to earn a Masters degree.  During the summer of 1931 Wilson traveled to Europe to attend a peace conference held in Geneva, Switzerland.  In an October issue of the school paper she advocated for “A reduction in arms … would not only mean world peace for the future, but would do a great deal towards lifting the financial burden during the present crisis.”  The same editorial mentioned the arrival of a “peace caravan,” whose goal had been to cross the U.S., ultimately arriving in Washington to present President Hoover with a petition that called for international disarmament.  While not quite an activist in the modern sense, she clearly believed that defense spending in the midst of the Great Depression constituted a superfluous government expenditure.  Miss Wilson served as founder of and advisor to the Citizenship Club, and taught rural sociology.  While, Wilson and the rest of the teaching faculty at Salisbury Normal School were vital to putting the infant institution on a firm footing, the first Social Director had the most direct impact on the early student body outside the classroom.

Miss Ruth Powell was Salisbury Normal School’s first Social Director, in addition to which she also taught Home Economics and Science.  Powell had received her Bachelors of Science from Columbia University.  Powell took a very materialistic approach towards her students, as evidenced from a quote that appeared in a September edition of the school paper.  “She is our mother, she sees that May Jane is in bed early, eats her breakfast, takes her cod liver oil, and doesn’t go out with every Tom, Dick, and Harry.”  In those early days of the school the position of Social director involved being a resident advisor, event coordinator, and impromptu student psychologist.  Miss Powell made sure those students who celebrated their birthdays away from home were given a party complete with games and refreshments.  Once, when a number of the incoming freshmen mentioned they had never seen the ocean, Powell quickly organized a trip to the coast for them and all others who sought to attend.  Sensing one Friday night that morale among those students who were unable to go home for the weekend was rather low, she organized an in-house circus to lift their spirits.  It would have been quite a sight to see Salisbury students acting out the typical oddities that are seen under the big top while prancing down the halls of the administrative building.  The procession included a student dressed as a fat woman, another as a swaying hula girl, and a human skeleton.  Students lined on either side of the hall were given lollipops and peanuts by Miss Powell to enhance the carnival like atmosphere.  Occasions such as these demonstrated the lengths the school was willing to go to ensure that students felt at home.

The remainder of the original faculty also played a critical role in the institution’s early success.  Miss Dorothy Doerr was the first Librarian at Salisbury, but by 1927 she had been replaced by Miss Lucy Bennett.  Miss Bennett had received her Bachelors Degree at Randolph Macon Women’s College, and had attended Columbia University.  She oversaw the expansion of the library to five thousand volumes in 1929.  Divided into two sections the library’s first, and largest, held instructive books for teachers, while the second included “fictional titles cultured people like to discuss.”  Miss Harriet Fort was the first Director of Health, and taught Physical Education.  In 1927 she was replaced by Helen Jamart who had received her diploma in Physical Education from Harvard, and was the first to organize an official Athletic Association.  In addition to coaching sports like basketball, swimming, and field-ball (an early version of baseball), she also taught hygiene.  Miss Jamart offered dancing lessons twice a week to interested students.  On Mondays she taught social dancing, but Tuesday’s lesson included instruction in Tap and Clog Dancing.  Miss Gladys Feidler founded the Music department, and in 1928 helped establish the school orchestra after a number of unsuccessful attempts.  It required the help of various faculty members lending their musical talents to fill in the instrumental gaps; Dr. Caruthers played the cello while his son Wade played the saxophone.  Miss Margaret Black arrived in 1929 to take over the music program.  During her tenure the Sho’ Echo Glee Club became the ambassadors of Salisbury Normal School by conducting performances in Baltimore, and as far away as Atlantic City.  Miss Black is best remembered as the composer of the school Alma Mater.

After thirty years of teaching Dr. Caruthers retired from Salisbury State Teachers College in June of 1955.  During his tenure he had seen the small two year normal school grow into a four year college.  When asked what the biggest change he had witnessed during his time at Salisbury, Caruthers replied, “a broadening subject matter.”  He went on to explain that “the old school’s major concern was subject matter but the new trend is subject matter plus the development of the children’s character and personality.”  This was a transition that Caruthers had helped facilitate.  A number of the various articles he published emphasized how critical the formative years of childhood were, and that through the careful application of psychology a teacher had the opportunity to be a positive point of anchorage that would serve as a reference for students later in life.  After his retirement Caruthers counseled married couples, and was an active member of the Bethesda Methodist Church.  As he put it, Dr. Caruthers finally had the time to do some “vigorous loafing.” He died on December 1, 1971.   

* interim principal

Salisbury University