It is New Year’s Day, 2017, and I am currently watching the Rose Bowl Game, thinking of some of the great West Coast College teams that have played in past games. I am thinking particularly of the absence of the University of Oregon (Mighty Ducks!). I was particularly moved by the program’s remembrance of the Rose Bowl game of 75 years ago, the only time in history that the game was moved to the East Coast due to the recent Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In that game, the Oregon State Beavers beat the Duke Blue Devils.
These games remind me of a great teacher from Virginia, one who deserves a biography. You all have probably seen this picture, taken in 1913 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, during the 50th anniversary remembrance of that event. The picture was featured in the last episode of the Ken Burns series, The Civil War. This photograph shows surviving veterans of Pickett’s Charge reenacting that famous charge, ranks noticeably thin. The fourth man from the left is the subject of this little sketch, identified by his great-granddaughter as Captain Benjamin James Hawthorne of the 38th Virginia Infantry Regiment from Lunenburg County, Virginia. At the time the photograph was taken, Hawthorne was quite a long way from home.
At the time of the beginning of the Civil War, Benjamin James Hawthorne was valedictorian of the most recent graduating class of Randolph Macon College, Boydton, Virginia. On June 12, 1861, he officially entered the service of the Confederate army, Company G, 38th Virginia Infantry. Hawthorne performed gallantly through the war – at the Battle of Gettysburg he was a Captain on General Lewis Armistead’s staff, participated in the famous charge of July 3, and he was wounded badly in the arm during the charge. He stuck around through the surrender at Appomattox and walked back to the family farm at Lunenburg. But it wasn’t just his Civil War record that was so interesting.
Hawthorne spent the next eight years in the South, living in Virginia, Louisiana and Tennessee. He began his post-war career of education at an academy in Virginia and a year later moved to Baton Rouge, where he became the headmaster of a boy’s academy. He soon moved to Tennessee and became President of Washington College. He met his future wife, Emma Brown in New Orleans, where he had moved to oversee the plantation of her sister’s cotton plantation.
In 1873, Hawthorne accepted the professorship of language and agriculture at the Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis, Oregon. He had been invited by his cousin, OAC President B.L. Arnold, also a Randolph Macon graduate. Hawthorne became the professor of agriculture at OAC, the first in the Northwest to teach the principles of agriculture scientifically. For eleven years Hawthorne was the only professor of agriculture and at the same time did all the language teaching in the college – Greek, Latin, English, French, German; in all, approximately 40 subjects. He taught land reclamation and drainage, and was part of an effort to reclaim land on the college campus, and that system was still functioning into the 1990’s. Professor Hawthorne is now considered the Father of Scientific Agriculture in Oregon. He made a botanical collection containing twelve hundred Oregon specimens and left them to the college. Today, the Hawthorne Plot in the Arboretum is dedicated to his vision.
In 1884 Benjamin Hawthorne resigned to accept the position of Chairman of English literature at the University of Oregon in Eugene. He was placed in charge of all English subjects, including rhetoric, logic, mental philosophy and Latin. At that time, he was one of four faculty members serving the University President. He taught some 40 subjects from drainage to Sanskrit, including English literature, philosophy, aesthetics and logic. He soon began to concentrate on psychology (called Mental Science at the time), for in his words, “…psychology teaches men how to live.”
By 1895, he had established the department of psychology, and is credited with establishing graduate work in the subject and one of the first psychology laboratories on the Pacific Coast. An article in The Oregonian newspaper of November 13, 1995, described the psychology department, 100 years old that year, and ranked 22nd in the Nation:
“Since it was founded by a colorful Confederate Army veteran, the department has grown from a fledgling offering in “mental science” to become the largest department on campus with 1,250 undergraduates enrolled. Noted was the founder, Benjamin J. Hawthorne, who traveled east to take special classes in experimental psychology. As a field of study, psychology was barely 20 years old when the U.O. department was founded. Hawthorne, described by U of O archivists as one of the most unique characters to ever teach at the University of Oregon, arrived in 1884 to teach romance languages. Hawthorne was a popular instructor. He habitually wore gray – the Confederate uniform color – and gave rebel yells when the Grand Army of the Republic veterans held their annual parade in Eugene. Courses in mental science had been offered at the university since 1876, but it was Hawthorne who convinced the regents to approve a formal curriculum in psychology in 1895. Hawthorne outfitted a laboratory with $150 allocated by the regents.”
“At the U of O he was a popular instructor, although he had a reputation for being eccentric. During the annual parade of the Grand Army of the Republic, he showed up in full Confederate dress and hollered rebel yells at the marching Union veterans.” Further, there is a story about some undergraduates having saved Hawthorn’s scalp by smoothing over what he said on Memorial Day, “…those who fought the least, living to make the most noise…” He proudly and prominently word nothing but gray for the rest of his life – gray hat, gray gloves, gray suit and talking in his Virginia drawl until the day he died.
“Hawthorne was a tall man whose style of beard seemed to elongate him even more; he apparently had little expression in his eyes – sort of dreamy, and they would not seem to focus on anything…but they made a definite impression on his students – they called him B.J., Blue Jay, even Buck…He was impenetrable, reserved, aloof, but tenderly would offer his photograph to his students at graduation and asked for theirs in exchange – always photographed wearing his gray suit.
In 1910, at age 73, Hawthorne retired from the University of Oregon. In the minutes of the faculty meeting of May, 1910, a committee was appointed to recommend faculty recognition of Professor Hawthorne’s long and honorable service. Hawthorne retired with the degree of Doctor of Letters and was made professor emeritus by the board of regents and because of his individual merit was placed on the list of beneficiaries of the Carnegie Foundation (the first and only professor of the State University on that list) for the advancement of teaching, and he was granted a life allowance.
Hawthorne soon entered the study of law in the office of Woodcock and Smith, and one year later he took and passed the bar exam at age 74. He kept an office and actively practiced for 5 years, serving as deputy district attorney, even helping the Union veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic in its legal affairs.
Hawthorne died at his home at age 90. In his honor, a dormitory at the University of Oregon was named for him (Hawthorne Hall, it still stands), and a picture of him hangs in Deady Hall, the only building left still standing from the early days of Professor Hawthorne.
-Sometimes paraphrased and substantially quoted from a written biography provided me by Mrs. Teresa Stone, Hawthorne’s Great Granddaughter.
Now, as a finale, a recently discovered glass plate photograph (ambrotype), hand colored, of Captain Benjamin James Hawthorne, taken in the year 1863.
On the subject of Captain Hawthorne, this from his compiled military record in the National Archives. This was the endorsement page from a letter penned by Hawthorne on July 1, 1863, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg...look at the endorsements: E.C. Edmunds (Colonel of the 38th Virginia), General Lewis Armistead, General George Pickett, General James Longstreet, and Walter Taylor for General R.E. Lee. In two days Edmunds and Armistead would die in Pickett's Charge, Hawthorne would be seriously wounded...and PIckett, Longstreet and Lee would be left to pick up the pieces as best they could.