The History of
Wake Forest University
Edwin Graves Wilson
by Edwin Graves Wilson
nation in uncertain transition from the
calm of the post-World War II era is backdrop to the
1967 inauguration of James Ralph Scales—Oklahoman,
gifted historian, Baptist churchman, urbane intellectual
—as Wake Forest University’s eleventh president. The six-
teen years that followed were marked by “a whirlwind of
ideas” that led Wake Foresters to question some long-held
values, reaffirming many that uniquely define the school’s
strong culture and reshaping or even rejecting other elements
from the past that seemed incongruent with the University’s
motto, Pro Humanitate.
Academic vibrancy, political activism, and Wake Forest’s
continuing adjustment to its “new” home in Winston-Salem
are faithfully recounted and astutely observed by Ed Wilson
(’43). His experience as student, alumnus, professor, and
administrator enriches this history.
Evident throughout is the creative tension that has always
balanced Wake Forest between its religious heritage and
Southern gentility, on the one hand, and its inviolable defense
of academic freedom. That these principles co-exist produc-
tively is carefully explained in Wilson’s narrative, enlarged
with his comments on the many people whose work built
From the Experimental College to a splendid new home
for the fine arts; from Vietnam War protests to the opening
of the University to all races and cultures; from the short-
lived January term to the persistent quest for “intervisitation”
(a clever student euphemism); from Covenant House to Casa
Artom and Worrell House; from denominational edicts to
a more representative governing board; from debate cham-
pionships to the Tangerine Bowl: from these events emerges
an environment rich in thought and action.
Wilson’s candid descriptions of President Scales portray
a man of deep convictions whose classical liberal education
and sophisticated sense of decorum inform his most difficult
decisions and his day-to-day interactions with Wake Forest’s
constituents. With wit, a gift of “the common touch,” and
supreme interest in the life of the mind, Scales successfully
navigates waters choppy and smooth, bringing Wake Forest
to its next harbor and a future with more promise than
about the author
Edwin Graves Wilson is Professor Emeritus of English
and Provost Emeritus of Wake Forest University. A native
of Leaksville (now Eden), North Carolina, he entered Wake
Forest College in 1939. Having earned his bachelor of arts
degree summa cum laude in 1943, he served for three years
as an officer in the United States Navy. He then enrolled in
graduate school at Harvard University, where he was awarded
the master of arts degree in 1948 and the doctor of philoso-
phy degree in 1952.
He returned to his alma mater to teach and was named
Professor of English in 1959. Generations of students enrolled
in his courses in the British Romantic Poets and the poetry
of Blake, Yeats, and Thomas.
In 1960, he was named Dean of the College by President
Harold Tribble and was appointed Provost in 1967 by Presi-
dent James Ralph Scales, a position he held for 23 years. He
later served in the administration of President Thomas K.
Hearn, Jr. as Senior Vice President.
Mr. Wilson is the recipient of the Reinhardt Award for
Distinguished Teaching; the Distinguished Alumni Citation;
and Wake Forest’s highest award for service, the Medallion
of Merit. He served the city of Winston-Salem and the state
of North Carolina in many capacities, including the presi-
dencies of the Winston-Salem Arts Council, the Piedmont
Opera Theatre, the North Carolina Association of Colleges
and Universities, and the Rotary Club. He has also been a
member of the North Carolina Humanities Council and
the North Carolina Arts Council and received the North
Carolina Award for Public Service. He is also past president
of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Mr. Wilson is married to the poet and author Emily
Herring Wilson. They are the parents of three children and
have four grandchildren.
The History of
James Ralph Scales
President, Wake Forest University
Jacket design by Dave Urena.
Printed in the United States of America.
©2010 Edwin Graves Wilson