LC in History: Hopwood’s Generous Bounty
Dr. Clifton W. Potter, LC History Professor~
In the midst of the furor and tragedy surrounding the potential removal of Confederate monuments, it is important to pause and remember the origins of our own college home.
Who was Dr. Josephus Hopwood, the man whose dream is our everyday reality? He was the founding father of Virginia Christian College (VCC), which became Lynchburg College in 1919; he was a man who devoted his adult life to the service of others .
The seeds of this commitment were planted when young Josephus Hopwood heard Abraham Lincoln speak during the tumultuous years that preceded his election to the presidency in 1860. It was the secession of the southern states from the Union and President Lincoln’s call for volunteers that changed Josephus Hopwood’s life forever.
A private in Company L of the 7th Illinois Cavalry, Josephus Hopwood was captured twice by Confederate troops. The first time he was exchanged, as was the custom early in the conflict. The second time he was taken prisoner occurred after he gave his mount to a wounded comrade and then tried to rejoin his unit on foot.
From October 1863 until March 1864, the 20-year-old was a prisoner of war at Belle Isle below Richmond. He sold parts of his uniform and finally his precious blanket to buy food for his starving comrades.
When he was finally released and returned home to Illinois, Hopwood vowed that he would complete his college studies and return to the South and devote his life to making education available for the young men and women of that region. While a prisoner, Hopwood was moved by the plight of his comrades, but he was appalled by the illiteracy of his guards. They had never had the chance to learn to read or write—public education was almost unknown in the antebellum south.
In the summer of 1903, Dr. Josephus Hopwood and his wife, Sarah LaRue Hopwood—who shared her husband’s strong commitment to service—arrived in Lynchburg to convert the empty Westover Hotel into a college. They accepted only room, board and a small clothing allowance as their salaries—everything else was devoted to the building of VCC and particularly providing financial support for potential students who could not afford higher education.
The Hopwoods finally retired from their labors in the midst of the Great Depression with no savings, no pension and no home. However, a life of service and philanthropy yielded a legacy of love from friends and former students. They built the Hopwoods their first home in Milligan, Tennessee and provided for all their personal needs until their deaths in 1935.
Sometimes, benevolence yields a return far beyond the expectations of those who give without reservation.
At LC, we have a heritage of service that stretches back over a century. The next time you walk through the main doors of Hopwood Hall, look to your left and read the words engraved on the bronze plaque that hangs there, and never forget that this all began with a young Union prisoner of war from Illinois who shared his blanket with his comrades to prevent them from freezing.
Then, if you seek the Hopwoods’ monument, step onto the porch of the building that bears their name and look about you.