Wake Forest College Hospital was home to medical students
Part 3: Separation
Moving the Medical School
IN AN EFFORT TO SOP UP THE nation's glut of medical practitioners, the American Medical Association's Council on Medical Education voted in fall 1935 to stop recognizing two-year medical schools like Wake Forest's – one of three (along with UNC and Duke) in North Carolina and only ten in the nation. Forced to decide between closing the school and expanding it to four years, Wake Forest chose the latter course, knowing that would require affiliating with a teaching hospital. Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem was an able and willing prospect, but for a time it appeared that UNC would beat it to the punch. The Bowman Gray Foundation, established from the estate of the recently deceased head of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, offered to pay for relocating UNC's school to Winston-Salem.
The deal was brokered by Odus M. Mull of Shelby, a staunch supporter of Baptist institutions who would go on to play a significant role in guiding Wake Forest's future. A study committee appointed by the governor endorsed the plan. But after the state legislature appropriated money to keep the school in Chapel Hill, UNC backed out, and Mull turned to Wake Forest. With the blessing of President of the College Thurman D. Kitchin (1905), who had served as dean of the medical school himself for sixteen years, medical school dean Coy C. Carpenter ('22) met in fall 1938 with Baptist Hospital officials and the Bowman Gray Foundation trustees. In August 1939, the Gray family and the College jointly announced an agreement to found a four-year medical school affiliated with Baptist Hospital. Two years later, the Bowman Gray School of Medicine opened on Hawthorne Hill in Winston-Salem.
Scarcity and World War II
Life at the College back in Wake Forest went on pretty much as usual. Then, World War II erupted-and everything changed overnight. Within a few months of Pearl Harbor, faculty members and students started enlisting in the military, and within a year their ranks were depleted. Classical languages was down to two teachers for the bulk of the war, and one of them, Hubert Poteat, also served as choir director, standing in for Thane McDonald, who was away in the service. Despite the admission of women in 1942, enrollment in spring 1944 fell to 328, the lowest figure since 1904. To weather the storm, the School of Law merged with Duke's for the war's duration. Desperate for revenue, the College leased a large amount of space to the Army Finance Center, a decision that doubtlessly saved it from closing.
To remain affordable to the non-affluent, Wake Forest held tuition steady at roughly eighty dollars a semester from 1930 to 1945. It managed to make ends meet with income from the Jabez Bostwick Fund (established with Standard Oil stock donated by its namesake a half century earlier) and donations from Baptist churches channeled through the State Convention, which controlled the College. But as costs escalated after the war, and as the State Convention founded more colleges and spread church support more thinly among them, Wake Forest found itself closer to destitution than prosperity. Even after the flood of veterans flush with G.I. Bill cash sent enrollment soaring past 1,500 in fall 1946, Kitchin refused to raise tuition as other schools had to maximize government payments lest that give the impression that Wake Forest was no longer affordable to families with modest incomes. Meanwhile, the prospects for generating substantial external support in the Raleigh-Durham area were not encouraging for a school that would have to compete with its bigger and more prestigious Big Four brethren, Duke, Carolina, and State. To relieve the College's dire shortage of space, President Kitchin in 1938 announced a major fund drive, only to see it fall far short of its goal. Construction of a new chapel was begun, but there wasn't sufficient money to finish its interior. Even if the capital fund drive had succeeded, future growth would have been impossible; the campus would be landlocked by the town, with no further room to grow.
So is it any wonder that Wake Forest's trustees would regard as manna from heaven an offer in early 1946 of a major gift in perpetuity that would enable the College not only to survive but also to grow and prosper; and would vote swiftly and uncontentiously to accept it, even though it would mean pulling up roots that were more than a century old, and pulling a heart from its body – a college from its small community? Contentiousness – and there would be plenty of that – would come later; now was not the time to look a gift horse in the mouth.
A 10-part series adapted from the September, 2006 edition of Wake Forest Magazine.
By David Fyten
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