category: Faculty Emeriti - Presidents

Philip Lovin Elliott

Seventh President, 1943-1961

Philip Lovin Elliott (1891-
1961), English professor
 and college president,
 was born in Wayside, N.C., 
in a little hamlet nestled 
among the hills and 
valleys of the Great Smoky
 Mountains. Despite the
 poverty of the region,
 Elliott was possessed 
by a consummate desire 
for education, and at the
 age of 18 he enrolled in a
 Presbyterian academy in
 Robbinsville, N.C., where
 he studied for three years.
 Ordained as a Baptist
 minister prior to his 
graduation from Mars
 Hill High School, 
Elliott rode horseback to Flag Pond, Tenn., where 
he preached to a small mountain congregation. He enrolled at Wake Forest College in 1915 and earned a graduate degree in English literature and journalism. Elliott married Etta Maurine Carringer, of Robbinsville, N.C. in 1918, and they became the parents of three daughters and one son.

Elliott’s career in education began modestly. His first teaching position was in a one-room school in Proctor, N.C., a small sawmill village in the Great Smoky Mountains, now covered by Fontana Lake. From the Proctor subscription school, Elliott continued the slow, painstaking odyssey which ultimately brought him to prominence in Baptist educational circles. In 1919 he became principal of Mitchell Collegiate Institute in Bakersville, N.C., and in 1920 he became missionary pastor in Graham County, N.C. The following year the State Baptist Convention named him enlistment secretary for the whole of western North Carolina, a post he held for one year. Following a year’s stint as pastor of Cullowhee Baptist Church, he returned to Mars Hill College in 1923 as dean and head of the English department.

During Elliott’s seven-year tenure at Mars Hill, he simultaneously undertook graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he found time to earn a master’s degree in English under the well-known Renaissance scholar, Dr. Edwin A. Greenlaw. Elliott continued to work with Greenlaw after the latter moved to Johns Hopkins University. He and a number of Greenlaw’s other graduate assistants contributed to the University’s Variorum edition of the Works of Edmund Spencer. Elliott’s scholarship and administrative talents earned him the position of vice president of Mars Hill College; however, he resigned in 1930 to go to Western Carolina Teachers College (now Western Carolina University) as head of the English department. Elliott was renowned as an instructor and as a Shakespearean scholar. Countless teachers of English who attended Western Carolina during those years praised his classroom performance.

The decision to accept the presidency of Gardner-Webb College in July 1943 followed an exceedingly painful period of reflection for Elliott. He had a secure position with Western Carolina, and the college in Boiling Springs was just on the cusp of finding footing after some challenging years. Thanks to the increasing influence and generosity of former North Carolina Governor O. Max Gardner, coming to the College in Boiling Springs seemed like a promising challenge and call to service for Elliott. To accentuate the optimism, the trustees launched an ambitious campaign for $300,000 soon after Elliott arrived on campus.

Elliott’s inaugural address set the college on a clear course and laid out an ambitious plan for the institution’s future endeavors. Especially noteworthy was his concept of community education, a goal which anticipated the task undertaken a few years later by the community college movement. According to Elliott, “We must know our community and all its needs—vocational, civic, religious—and then build our program and constantly revise it to meet those needs.”

Under Elliott’s leadership, the college achieved both material progress and academic respectability. New campus construction included housing for faculty members, Decker and Stroup residence halls, O. Max Gardner Hall, Bost Physical Education Building and A.T. Withrow Hall. Equally important for the institution’s development was the Baptist State Convention’s full acceptance of the school into the Baptist family of colleges in 1948, and on the second of December of that same year, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredited the institution.

Source: Gardner-Webb University files

Revised: Noel T. Manning II, May 2022

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