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John Davidson Letcher

Senior Professor John Davidson Letcher was chosen as acting president unanimously by the Board of Regents after Benjamin Arnold's sudden death in January 1892.  According to their report, he was "better acquainted with the duties of the president and the working of the college than any other man living."  Letcher held the position, in addition to his teaching duties, for four months until the arrival of John M. Bloss in early June.

John D. Letcher was born on October 15, 1853 in Virginia.  The son of Virginia's Confederate governor, he attended Virginia Military Institute and graduated in 1873 with a degree in civil engineering.  He alternated between teaching mathematics at small colleges and working jobs in the field, serving for a time as the chief of engineering for the Ohio and Northwestern Railroad.  Letcher came to Oregon Agricultural College (OAC) in 1888 as both a professor of mathematics and engineering and of military science and tactics.

Although Letcher was a finalist for the permanent presidency, the Board of Regents chose John M. Bloss to replace Benjamin Arnold after a nationwide search.  Letcher stayed at OAC until 1894 when he became a professor of mathematics at the University of Oregon in Eugene.  He left Eugene in 1896 and returned to Virginia, where he died in 1938 at age 85.

Related Resources: President's Office Records of John D. Letcher, Memorabilia Collection.

Sepia photograph of John Davidson Letcher with a calculus class.

John Davidson Letcher with a calculus class, ca. 1890s.

Sepia photograph of the Graduating Class of 1892.

The OAC Graduating Class of 1892.  John McKnight Bloss is the tallest man in the back row, and John Davidson Letcher is standing in front of Bloss, to his left.