For what did Randolph-Macon College prepare men in the era before the Civil War?
An indication of those careers is given by the occupations of the members of the
Society of the Alumni in the catalog of 1858. The sample is not necessarily typical
since the society had as members only the men who took degrees, and a profile, if
it existed, of the whole mass of former students would perhaps show different proportions.
Two hundred ten members listed their occupations; very few others of those listed
did not. Of those 210, the largest number, 48, were listed as teacher (35) or professor
(13). The next largest number were clergymen (43), of whom 12 also taught; some
of those 12 were presidents of other schools. (If the teaching clergymen are counted
as teachers, then the ratio of teacher to cleric is an overwhelming 60 to 31.) Almost
as numerous as the clergy were the lawyers, 39 in number, of whom 8 were also legislators.
Farmer came next, with 31. No one is listed as planter, but in the romanticized
agrarian republic, farmer carried enough prestige. There were almost as many
physicians as farmers, 29. These were not just the graduates of the Mettauer Medical
School, allied with the college: if they were at that school, they had received
a degree from Randolph-Macon first. As one would expect in a society that placed
immense social value on landed gentility and the professions, merchants were few
in number; only 10 listed themselves that way. They were only slightly more numerous
than students (6) or engineers (4). When the Civil War came, something like 50 to
60 percent of the eligible Randolph-Macon Alumni from Virginia served in the Confederate
army. This estimate comes from comparing both the Society of Alumni and whole student
body for 1857 through 1859 with the reconstructed war records at the Virginia State
Library. The original records were destroyed in the great Richmond fire of 1865.
Had the state records survived, the proportion of alumni in Confederate service
would probably be found to be even higher.
Reprinted from Professor James Scanlon's Randolph-Macon College: A Southern History