Emory & Henry College has acquired a valuable, pre-Civil War photograph of its first president, Charles Collins, that adds an important piece of memorabilia to a collection that recalls the dedication to academic excellence he established at Southwest Virginia’s first institution of higher education.
The photo on glass is six inches tall and is considered large for a portrait photograph at that time. It is mounted in a leather casing, which likely protected it and maintained it in good condition, according to Robert Vejnar, Emory & Henry’s archivist.
The photo was taken close to the time that Emory & Henry was founded, in 1836, and Collins became president, in 1838. The photo depicts a young Collins, a graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut who became president at the age of 25 and served the institution until 1852.
Emory & Henry obtained the image from the estate of Pennsylvania collector of photographs of important American figures in the mid-1800s. He purchased it froma member of the Collins family in the 1980s.
We are excited to have acquired this well-preserved image of our first president, whose leadership helped establish Emory & Henry as a top-rated liberal arts college in the nation.Robert VejnarEmory & Henry Archivist
During his tenure, Collins worked quickly to build the College’s enrollment of students who came primarily from southwest Virginia, northeast Tennessee and western North Carolina.
In spite of his youthfulness, young E&H scholars often referred to him as “Old Charley,” most likely out of respect for the high demands he placed on them for academic excellence.
Considered a both a strong orator and writer, Collins established the College’s first debate society, the Calliopean Society, and a college literary publication, the Southern Repertory and College Review. The annual Collins Prize in English was named in his honor and is the oldest award presented to a graduating E&H senior.
After leaving Emory & Henry, Collins became president of Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, where he served until 1860. Afterward, he became president of the State Female College near Memphis, Tenn, where he would serve until his death in 1875 at the age of 62.