Charles J. Smith - 1920 to 1949
Charles J. Smith (Class of 1901) served Roanoke College longer than any other president. Boldly facing the challenges of a college in decline, Smith devoted his energies to renovating the physical plant, improving the morale of faculty and students, and increasing the endowment. By 1928, accreditation—once in jeopardy—was assured. And a year later, the College began the construction of Alumni Gym. Smith continued his strong leadership through the crises of the Depression and the Second World War when both enrollment and economic resources drastically dropped.
Smith oversaw the changing makeup of the student body. Once denying women admittance, the College realized the benefits of coeducation when enrollment plunged during the Depression. In 1930 women began attending Roanoke as degree-seeking students. And in 1941, the first women’s dormitory was built, named Smith Hall. That same year, Lucas Hall (chemistry then) was also built, named after its benefactor Henry Lucas.
When alumni talk about Smith, they probably remember "the beloved Dr. Charlie" most for his relationships with his students. His high standards and expectations, yet his care and concern for each one left a lasting impression. For many, the only mistake he ever made was his decision not to bring back football after its wartime hiatus. When Smith retired in 1949, he was named the first (and only) Provost of the College, and thus remained a part of campus life until his death in 1967.