William & Mary President: John Edwin Pomfret
Term Served: January 1, 1943 - September 13, 1951
Preceded by: John Stewart Bryan 1934 - 1943
Succeeded by: Interim President James W. Miller 1951 / President Alvin Duke Chandler 1951 - 1960
John Edwin Pomfret was the twentieth president of William & Mary. Pomfret was elected on August 17, 1942 and formally became president on January 1, 1943 until his resignation on September 13, 1951. His formal induction as president took place on Charter Day in February 1943, as part of celebrations of the College's 250th anniversary.
A native of Philadelphia, Pomfret attended the University of Pennsylvania, suspending his studies to serve in the Navy during World War I. He graduated with a B.A. in history in 1920, and stayed on as a teaching fellow until earning his master's and doctorate. Pomfret left Pennsylvania in 1924 to take a position at the University of South Carolina. From 1925 to 1937, he was a history professor at Princeton. Before arriving in Williamsburg, he taught and served as dean of the Senior College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School at Vanderbilt University.
A prominent scholar and teacher, Pomfret served as vice-president of National Phi Beta Kappa, president of the 41 liberal arts colleges of the Southern Conference, as well as a member of the Pulitzer Prize Committee. He also authored a number of works, including The Struggle for Land in Ireland and Colonial New Jersey History.
Under Pomfret's predecessor, Julian A.C. Chandler, William & Mary went through a scandal over allegations of grade-changing, and lost accreditation from the American Association of Universities for one year. Pomfret's career as president ended on a similar note. The College's athletic teams enjoyed great success in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Accusations eventually surfaced that William & Mary football and basketball coaches had changed players' high school transcripts and college grades so they would be eligible to play. The heated debate that ensued over the priorities of academics versus the commitment to athletics drew national attention. The administration was heavily criticized for allowing such behavior.
After leaving William & Mary, Pomfret worked as the director of the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery until retiring in 1966. He died in Camden, South Carolina on November 26, 1981 at the age of 83.
Material in the SCRC
- John Edwin Pomfret, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library
- University Archives Subject File Collection, various folders, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library
- For further information on the athletics scandel, see: "President Pomfret of William & Mary resigns following scandal in athletics at Virginia college," New York Times, Sept. 14, 1951; Flat Hat Special Edition, Sept. 20, 1951; "Resignation at Williamsburg," Time, Sept. 24, 1951; "Case History," Time, Oct. 1, 1951.