William Plumer Jacobs II, 1935-1945
William Plumer Jacobs II, the twelfth president of Presbyterian College and grandson of the college founder, was serving on the Board of Trustees at the time of President McSween’s resignation. A graduate of PC, he was already a successful businessman at the age of 41. He agreed to take over the financial and promotional tasks of the presidency, while Dean Brown would manage the day-to-day activities of the campus.
President Jacobs established a publicity office, the curriculum and faculty were expanded, prominent speakers were brought to campus, and the alumni emphasis started by Rev. McSween, where local alumni clubs were formed in key cities, was further developed by the publication of a newsletter to keep alumni fully informed of college developments. In addition, the Walter Johnson Club was formed in 1940 to encourage interest in and support of the PC athletic program (Hammet, Spirit of PC, 72).
In Ben Hay Hammet’s words, “Of all the ingredients William Jacobs brought to the presidency, perhaps the most important was his ability to inspire confidence.” His tenure encompassed the end of the Great Depression and World War II, when the continued accreditation of the college was in peril due to Southern Association financial standards. President Jacobs, John Osman, the new publicity director, Coach Walter Johnson, and Librarian Willard Jones set out through the area in the summer of 1935 to recruit as many students as possible for the coming school year, at a time when the country was still recovering from economic depression. That September they managed to meet the goal of registering 100 freshmen, a 13% enrollment increase over the previous year, enabling PC to operate in the black for the first time in ten years (Hammet, 70).
Near the end of his first year, a Blue Stocking editorial salute endorsed his efforts enthusiastically and closed with these words … but his greatest contribution to us and to the school has been a rebirth of what he loves
to call ‘championship spirit’ (Hammet, 70).
Although President Jacobs was away from campus on college and personal business periodically, the student body “felt his presence through sons William P. Jacobs III ’40, and Hugh S. Jacobs ’41, as fellow students during half of his tenure.” Many students were welcomed at the president’s home and Jacobs kept the campus updated on developments of importance to the college (Hammet, 73).
The college ban on intercollegiate football from 1909-1913 was lifted in 1913. “Among the student leaders in the movement to get football approved was William P. Jacobs II, grandson of the founder, who helped to organize and manage the first team in 1913. He also played on the team and received the first Block P to be issued for football participation at PC.” (Hammet, 35)
After ten successful years at the college, President Jacobs resigned to work as executive-director of the American Cotton Manufacturers Association, then as president of that organization. He left a much stronger college, debt-free and in the best financial position in its history to that point. After his presidency, Dr. Jacobs headed the PC Board of Trustees and expanded the family printing business, a publisher of three national magazines. Sadly, he died suddenly on July 25, 1948 at the age of 54 during a business trip to Washington, D.C.