Robert Lee Madison (1867-1954)
According to University Chancellor John Bardo, there have been "three
seminal events" in Western's history. The first was the school's founding
by Robert Lee Madison in 1889. The second was when The University
of North Carolina System was established, and the third was Westernís
joining the state university system.
Training rural educators
In 1888, Robert Lee Madison was editor of the Tuckaseigee Democrat.
At that early point in his career, Madison developed his "Idea" to have
better prepared teachers for rural schools. The following year
he left the Democrat and founded Cullowhee Academy, which is now known
as Western Carolina University, and served as its first President.
By 1894 the school offered four programs: Classical, Normal, Commercial
and Fine Arts. In May of that same year, 12 students were granted their
first-grade teaching certificates from the Normal Department.
In 1910, the Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School, as it was then
known, had one of its biggest problems since opening. Until this time
the enrollment had grown substantially, but now, it stopped. A new womenís
dormitory opened but housed only one female student. Madison, who had
been a great administrator, was no longer performing adequately because
the schoolís growth had exceeded his abilities. The next year brought
another problem; a student decided not to continue his education because
the junior college lacked vitality and course offerings. On top of these
dilemmas, a rumor questioning Madisonís conduct began circulating.
The State of Affairs Board of Trustees met in the spring of 1912.
There were few records of Madisonís tenure as the principal of the school.
After reviewing the available documents of his 23 years of service,
the board decided to release Madison and to replace him with the superintendent
of Buncombe County schools, Alonzo Carlton Reynolds.
Overall, Madison accomplished great things in starting the new school
but ended his career badly. Despite his removal, Madison is regarded
as a model educator and honored as the founder of Western Carolina University.
T. Burkett and T. Latimer contributed to this report.