Skip to main content

President. Dr. John Rood Cunningham. Records, 1940-1958

Identifier: RG02-13

Scope and Contents

The vast majority of the files include correspondence with various persons or organizations. Fund-raising was a major aspect of Dr. Cunningham's presidency and letters to various donors are found throughout the files under the donor's last name. Information on each of the new buildings constructed under Dr. Cunningham's adminstration are found under the file heading of the building's name. Coorespondence with Charles F. Gillette is located under the file Landscape Architecture.


  • Creation: 1940 - 1958


Conditions Governing Access

Some files, particularly personnel files, require permission of College Archivist before use.

Biographical / Historical

On November 19, 1940, the Board of Trustees met and elected John Rood Cunningham president of Davidson College. Dr. Cunningham was 50 years old when he took office in February 1941. He was born in Williamsburg, Missouri, on July 3, 1891 and obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from Westminster (Presbyterian) College, Fulton, Missouri, in 1914, and his Bachelor of Divinity from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary in 1917. He was later honored with doctors' degrees from Westminster, King, Duke, Wake Forest, the University of North Carolina and, on his retirement, Davidson. Dr. Cunningham's experiences prior to becoming president of Davidson College included being pastor of several large churches and being president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary for six years. The Reverand John Rood Cunningham, D.D., LL.D. presided for sixteen years over the destinies of Davidson College. These years, from 1941 to 1957, were an era of unsurpassed prosperity and progress for the college. Within the first year of his presidency, the country was plunged into the social, political and economic upheaval of World War II. Members of the faculty and administration were released for military service and related assignments. Military units were assigned to Davidson for varying periods to make use of the college's physical and educational facilities. The 24th College Training Detachment (Air Crew) of the Aviation Cadet Training brought 500 cadets to the campus and amounted to Davidson College supporting and running two colleges: the civilian college and the War College. By 1957, a year after the peace, the student body has risen from a meager 162 students in 1945 to a total of 971 students. The measurable material and educational accomplishments of President Cunningham are impressive. The permanent endowment expanded from one to five million dollars, this during a period when such accretions were definitely not characteristic of church related colleges in the South. The teaching faculty rose from forty-seven in 1941 to eighty-six in 1957. Dr. Cunningham also encouraged the better selection of students to be enrolled at the College. Davidson was one of the early institutions in the South to enter the plan of the College Entrance Boards. This procedure enabled the college to choose much more selectively the young men who would be enrolled. Five major buildings were constructed under Dr. Cunningham's presidency: Johnston Gymnasium, the Davidson College Presbyterian Church, Ovens College Union, E. H. Little Hall and Belk Dormitory. Grey Library and Martin Science Building, both of which had been begun in Dr. Lingle's adminstration, were completed during the first year of Dr. Cunningham's presidency. In addition, the complete restoration of the literary society halls were accomplished. The whole plan for the building of the new fraternity court, under the inspiration and leadership of Mr. D. Grier Martin, Treasurer, was decided upon. The campus was landscaped by Mr. Charles F. Gillette, which added greatly to the overall appearance and satisfaction of the campus. Finally, the total value of the plant increased from $1,500,000 to $5,400,000. While president of Davidson College, Dr. Cunningham was elected moderator of the Southern Presbyterian Church in 1947, as delegate of the denomination at the organizational meeting of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948, as president of the Association of American Colleges in 1953, and as official in many other ecumenical and educational organizations and conferences both in the United States and abroad. On his retirement from Davidson, he was appointed Executive Director of the Southern Presbyterian Foundation, serving until 1964. Dr. Cunningham's death occurred on June 15, 1980, at Sharon Towers, the Presbyterian Home in Charlotte, N.C. He was in his eighty-ninth year. The funeral service was held in the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte and the interment in the original Davidson College cemetery.


45 boxes ( boxes)