Posted ca.1907, Virginia Architecture, Valley Education Society of Virginia 1844, Founder’s Day February 21 1911, Charles C Cocke, Water Springhouse, Schools, Colleges, Universities, College Towns,
FYI: RE: Dictionary of Virginia Biography
“Charles Lewis Cocke (21 February 1820–4 May 1901), educator, was born at Edgehill, the King William County plantation of his parents, James Cocke and Elizabeth Fox Cocke. He spent his early years studying at local schools, working on the family farm, and developing his religious beliefs at nearby Beulah Baptist Church. In 1836 Cocke entered the Virginia Baptist Seminary (later the University of Richmond). Two years later the school’s principal advised him to continue his education at Columbian College (later George Washington University), in Washington, D.C., where Cocke received an A.B. in 1840 and A.M. in 1844. During this time his religious commitment deepened, and he was baptized in the Potomac River. He also decided to devote his life to the higher education of southern women.
“On 31 December 1840 Cocke married Susanna Virginia Pleasants, of Henrico County. They had six daughters and three sons. That same year he returned to the Virginia Baptist Seminary, about the time it was incorporated as Richmond College, as assistant professor of mathematics and manager of the dining hall. After a successful tenure at the school, Cocke in 1846 accepted an appointment as principal of the Valley Union Seminary, at Botetourt Springs in Roanoke County.
“He took charge of an institution on the verge of collapse and used $1,500 of his own money to pay creditors. The original buildings of the school were those of a resort hotel built near the healing springs in the 1820s. The hotel had failed and in 1839 came to house Edward William Johnston’s ultimately unsuccessful Roanoke Female Seminary. The Baptist clergyman Joshua Bradley established the Valley Union Seminary at the site in 1842. He, also, was unable to make the venture succeed, and the trustees hired Cocke to operate the school.
“The Valley Union Seminary was a coeducational institution until 1851, when enrollment outstripped the school’s physical capacity. Cocke, acting on his early educational intent, urged that the boys’ department be dropped, even though it had doubled the enrollment, in order to establish a female seminary. Consequently the board of trustees discontinued the department of study for boys and reopened the school for the 1852–1853 session as the Female Seminary at Botetourt Springs. Cocke sought funding for the seminary and found generous donors in John Hollins and Ann Halsey Hollins, of Lynchburg. In 1855 the seminary was renamed Hollins Institute in their honor.
“During the half century he was superintendent at the institution, Cocke increased enrollment from 81 students in 1852 to 236 in 1901, as well as steadily raising the level of academics. He shared the belief of his time that women should work in a limited sphere of society but maintained that they required the same mental training given to young men. Cocke saw himself as a father figure and protector of the young women at Hollins and believed that parents wanted their daughters to learn the graceful values of the antebellum South. As a result he limited the social, intellectual, and economic freedom of his charges and made Hollins one of the more restrictive women’s schools in the region.
“Operating a female seminary proved challenging, even though the school was unscathed by the Civil War. In difficult financial times Cocke did not require the trustees to pay his stipulated salary. Despite his generosity, by 1882 Hollins had incurred so much debt that the trustees leased the school to Cocke. By 1900 the debt had increased to more than $150,000, and the trustees deeded Hollins Institute to him. Along with his son, daughter, and other relatives, Cocke reincorporated the school early in February 1901. Although he had not started the institute, in 1898 the trustees established Cocke’s birthday as Founder’s Day.
“Cocke published several articles on female education in the Educational Journal of Virginia and aided in establishing both the short-lived Alleghany College, in Blue Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County, founded in 1859, and Alleghany Institute, in Roanoke, a preparatory school for boys that operated from 1886 to 1897. Never straying from his religious roots, he taught Sunday school regularly and helped organize the Enon Baptist Church near Hollins in 1855. A humble man, he declined an honorary LL.D. from Richmond College.
“Several months after moving to Roanoke to live with his son, Charles Lewis Cocke died there on 4 May 1901. He was buried in the family cemetery on the grounds of Hollins Institute (later Hollins University). His daughter Martha Louisa Cocke succeeded him as head of Hollins and became Virginia’s first woman college president. In 1908 the Charles L. Cocke Memorial Library opened at the college. Later renamed the Cocke Memorial Building, the structure housed the office of the president and other Hollins administrators.”