February 17, 2006

The Presidential Tradition: Frank M. Roof, 1897-1902

"... Howard's physical, financial and cultural growth under Frank M. Roof was remarkable considering the grave danger Howard faced only a year before his appointment to the presidency..."

Frank M. RoofPresident A. D. Smith left Howard College on a more solid financial foundation than it had enjoyed in decades. His successor, Kentucky-born educator Frank M. Roof, magnified that success many times over and served longer than any president since Howard relocated to Birmingham.

The relatively young new president (only 40 years old when he accepted the presidency in 1897) apparently took a special interest in physical education. He created new student bathing rooms with running hot water and created a gymnasium that the Birmingham News reckoned was "the best organized gymnasium of any college in Alabama." This attention to nurturing the bodies as well as the minds of students quickly became a point of pride at the college.

The tradition of Samford basketball began on Roof's watch, although there was some initial confusion about the rules of the game. "Every man has his own basket, was the information volunteered by one who, no doubt, was better acquainted with picking cotton than with this new game," reported The Howard Collegian student journal when the sport arrived at East Lake in 1900. According to the Collegian, one visionary student suggested that people might actually pay to view the new sport. Howard fielded its first basketball team--the first college basketball team in the Gulf Coast states--early the next year. In the first intercollegiate game for both teams, Howard beat Auburn University 12-7. Howard created official baseball and football teams soon after the establishment of the basketball team.

Roof encouraged the expansion of the academic program as well, joining the faculty as a professor of psychology and pedagogy, adding botany and extending offerings in psychology, French and German. English was another curricular strong point and one observer reckoned that "the course in ancient languages is the best in the South."

Other important events of Roof's tenure included the establishment of Howard's first official alumni association (1899) and, in 1902, repeal of the college's 26-year prohibition of student fraternal organizations

Under Roof's administration Howard even managed to achieve one of its most elusive goals. Since glimpsing financial independence at the end of A. D. Smith's presidency, the trustees had held out hope that the college could be entirely free of debt within a few more years. Howard reached that goal in 1899, thanks largely to the generosity of Baptist supporters throughout the state and to Howard's faculty, which for years had funded all building repairs and improvements.

Howard's physical, financial and cultural growth under Frank M. Roof was remarkable considering the grave danger Howard faced only a year before his appointment to the presidency. But he declined the trustees' invitation to continue in the office after 1902. The trustees reported that Roof declined on the grounds that "the salary is not in keeping with the arduous duties which the office requires." Roof began a new career selling real estate and insurance. Howard's trustees, failing to interest their unanimous first choice for Roof's replacement (noted Baptist pastor L. O. Dawson,) found the next president among the college's competitors.

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