Honoring Our Fathers: University Founding Father Henry Tutwiler

  • June 12th, 2019
University founding father Henry Tutwiler
Henry Tutwiler

By Jamon Smith

With Father’s Day fast approaching, people are preparing to show their appreciation for dear ol’ Dad with the gifting of a fancy new pair of foot coverings called socks. Or another tie. Or another tool.

Or, as comedian Chris Rock jokes, just save Dad “the big piece of chicken.”

While Father’s Day isn’t always celebrated as much as its counterpart of Mother’s Day, it does emphasize the importance of honoring the men who have sired and raised children, played the vital role of a father figure, or served as founding fathers of this nation’s beloved institutions.

The University of Alabama’s institutional beginning can be attributed to four founding fathers: the Rev. Alva Woods of Vermont, Professor Gurdon Saltonstall of New York, Professor John Fielding Wallis of Maryland and the youngest of the quartet, Professor Henry Tutwiler of Virginia.

Of the four, Tutwiler was the most beloved and respected, and established the firmest legacy at the Capstone, according to the history books.

“Professor Tutwiler stands out from the pages of William R. Smith’s ‘Reminiscences’ as a warm, sensitive and friendly human being,” according to the “History of the University of Alabama” by James B. Sellers.

An original letter from Henry Tutwiler
A letter from Henry Tutwiler

“…It may be asserted as a fact that the feeling entertained for him by the earlier students…amounted to real affection, which suffered no diminution by the lapse of time. And this was reciprocal; for professor Tutwiler watched the career, with exceeding anxiety, of all his pupils in after years, noting with pride the development of any excellence, and rejoicing in their success.”

Dr. David Durham, an adjunct instructor of history and curator of archival collections at the UA Law School, said Tutwiler, who was born in Harrisonburg, Virginia in 1807, was one of the first graduates of the University of Virginia and one of the first men to receive a master of arts from UVA.

He was the father of 11 children with his wife Julia Ashe, whom he married in 1835, four years after joining the University’s first faculty.

One of their daughters, Julia Tutwiler, became a significant figure in education and prison reform in Alabama, and the University named Tutwiler Hall and the Julia S. Tutwiler Scholarship for her.

“Henry Tutwiler was 24 years old when he came to the University – barely older than his students – and was described as a ‘delicate stripling of a youth’ by William R. Smith,” Durham said.

“Tutwiler was loved and respected by his students and it was said that he ‘was seldom seen in or out of the schoolroom without a volume in his hand,’ usually one of the classics in which he would frequently stop on his walks to make marginal notations. He was responsible for teaching three upper classes in Latin and Greek and was the professor of ancient and modern languages at the new University.”

A bust of University founding father Henry Tutwiler
A bust of Henry Tutwiler

Durham said Tutwiler and Saltonstall were the only two faculty members on campus at its opening on April 18, 1831. They conducted examinations and decided “upon the fitness of the applicants” for study at the University. Woods, who was the first president of the University, was in Kentucky at UA’s opening and arrived on campus several weeks later.

After several years, the relationship between Tutwiler and Woods greatly deteriorated and Tutwiler resigned in 1837.

“Part of the problem was the jealousy that Woods had for Tutwiler’s relationship with the students who had grown passionately fond of Tutwiler and, until the president finally arrived on campus several weeks after it opened, looked on Tutwiler as head of the University,” Durham said.

After leaving UA, Tutwiler taught at LaGrange College for six years and at Howard College in Marion for five years. He later founded Greene Springs School for Boys in 1847, also in Alabama.

Durham said UA’s administration tried twice to bring Tutwiler back as president of the institution but he refused their offers. He died in 1884, and his legacy as a UA founding father lives on.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.