Named "The Senators" in the College's early years, the students at Davis & Elkins College carry a nickname that reflects D&E's proud history and personalities. Three United States Senators figure prominently in the College's history: Henry G. Davis and Stephen B. Elkins, whose influence and efforts helped establish Davis & Elkins College, and Jennings Randolph, whose tenure as D&E athletic director took the college to national prominence.
Henry Gassaway Davis
Henry Gassaway Davis, a United States Senator from 1871 to 1883, was one of the more prominent leaders of the country a century ago, especially from 1875 to 1905. Davis was born in 1823, during the presidency of James Monroe. His life spanned most of a century and ended in 1916 when Woodrow Wilson was president.
Though a descendant of landed gentry in colonial Maryland, Davis endured hard times as a youth and had no formal schooling beyond the elementary grades. Starting work as a farmhand, young Davis was subsequently employed as a brakeman, conductor, and station agent for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad before he began his business and political career just before the Civil War. As a railroader, he noted the potential wealth of the forests and coal lands in what was to become the state of West Virginia. Thus, he invested his profits and his wife's inheritance in the acquisition of thousands of acres of undeveloped land, often for less than a dollar per acre. Then he built two railroad systems to open north central West Virginia to the markets of the East and the North.
Realizing early the relationship of political power to business development, Davis successfully sought election to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1865, when the new state was only two years old. After service there and in the state Senate, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1871. A conservative Democrat, he opposed the Republican program of Reconstruction of the South and denounced the waste and corruption of the Grant era. He served 12 years in the Senate and became chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, a post no other West Virginian would hold until Robert C. Byrd more than a century later.
Davis was a dominant leader of the West Virginia Democratic Party for more than three decades. He attended nine national conventions and in 1904, at the age of 81, he was nominated for vice president of the United States. Senator Davis acquired great wealth during the Gilded Age. He founded several towns and built churches and schools, a children's home and a fine hospital, and helped to found Davis & Elkins College.
His summer home in Elkins, Graceland , is now an elegant country inn, part of Davis & Elkins College and an important teaching facility for students in D&E's Hospitality Management Program.
Stephen Benton Elkins
Stephen Benton Elkins, some 18 years younger than Henry Davis, was to become closely associated with his elder colleague through family ties and the crossing of their separate political paths. Born in Ohio in 1841, Elkins later moved to Missouri where he was educated. He graduated from the law department of the University of Missouri in 1860.
Elkins served as a captain in the Union Army during the Civil War, and in 1864 moved to New Mexico to practice law. He helped dismantle the peonage system there and also invested in mining properties in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. He was elected to the Territorial Legislature of New Mexico, and, in 1867, was made Attorney General of the Territory. In 1869, President Andrew Johnson appointed him a United States district attorney. That same year, he became president of the First National Bank of Santa Fe. He eventually became one of the largest landowners in the country.
In 1873, Elkins was elected a delegate to the U.S. Congress for the Territory of New Mexico. It was during his service in Congress that he became friends with the Davis family and married Henry Davis's daughter Hallie in 1875. Wanting to continue practicing law, he moved to New York, where he represented several business interests in New Mexico, Colorado and West Virginia. Working with his father-in-law, Elkins developed the railroads and the coal and timber lands of West Virginia and the Cumberland, Maryland, region. He was vice president of the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway Company from the date of its organization and of the Piedmont and Cumberland Railway Company. In 1889, he built his summer home, Halliehurst , in what is now Elkins. In 1891, he was appointed Secretary of War by President Benjamin Harrison. In 1895 he was elected as a Republican to represent West Virginia in the United States Senate, where he served continuously until his death in 1911.
Jennings Randolph began his long association with Davis & Elkins College in 1926, the year he was appointed instructor in public speaking and journalism and director of intercollegiate athletics and publicity. Although his service as a faculty member lasted just six years, he was closely identified with D&E for more than 50 years, working tirelessly as a faculty member and trustee, and using his influence in Congress to promote the best interests of the College.
Born in Salem, Harrison County, West Virginia on March 8, 1902, Randolph attended the public schools and graduated from the Salem (WV) Academy in 1920 and Salem (WV) College in 1924. He engaged in newspaper work in Clarksburg, West Virginia in 1924 and served as associate editor of the West Virginia Review in Charleston in 1925. In 1926, he joined Davis & Elkins College, where he made his mark, most notably in developing the College's athletic program.
As D&E's Athletic Director, Randolph recruited Cam Henderson, now one of West Virginia's most legendary coaches. Henderson coached all sports at D&E, and in partnership with Randolph, took D&E into the national spotlight. Their teams earned the nickname of "The Scarlet Hurricane," and garnered headlines in The New York Times.
Randolph stayed at D&E until 1932, when he was elected as a representative to the 73 rd Congress of the United States with the New Deal landslide and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph of West Virginia served in the U.S. Congress over five decades before retiring in 1985. He later was elected to the United States Senate where he completed five terms and became a living legend. Throughout his legislative career Randolph championed the disabled and "the man and woman by the wayside of the road" as well as renewable energy, public works, the environment, and aviation/aerospace.
As a Congressman, Randolph served on the Committee on the District of Columbia (chairman) and the Committee on Civil Service. He also served as professor of public speaking at Southeastern University, Washington, D.C., from 1935 to 1953. Randolph was elected to the Davis & Elkins College Board of Trustees in 1938, where he served until 1961. He was named an honorary member to the D&E Board of Trustees in 1962.
After leaving Congress, Randolph was named, in February 1947, assistant to the president and director of public relations for Capital Airlines in Washington, D.C. where he remained until April 1958. He also served as dean of the School of Business Administration at Southeastern University during this time, from 1952 to 1958.
In a special election on November 4, 1958, Randolph was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Matthew M. Neely. He was reelected in 1960, 1966, 1972 and 1978 and served from November 5, 1958, to January 3, 1985, at which time he did not seek reelection. As a United States Senator, Randolph served on the Committee on Public Works (Chairman) and the Committee on Environment and Public Works. An early proponent of a transcontinental roadway system, Randolph is considered by many to be the "Father of the Interstate Highway System." Interstate 79 bears his name.
During his career as a Senator, Jennings Randolph sponsored the 26th amendment to the United States Constitution, which lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971. Other important legislation that Randolph co-authored during his career created the Civil Air Patrol, the National Air & Space Museum, and ground-breaking affirmative action programs for the disabled through the Randolph-Sheppard Act.
Jennings Randolph died in St. Louis, Missouri, on May 8, 1998.
The former library at Davis & Elkins College was named for Jennings Randolph and now serves, as Randolph Hall, as the offices for Student Life.