Edwin McNeill Poteat was born on February 6, 1861 in Caswell County, North Carolina, to James and Julia A. McNeill Poteat. He earned degrees from Wake Forest University and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He was ordained to the Baptist ministry in 1884, and held several pastorates over the next two decades. Poteat received the LL.D. degree from the University of South Carolina, Columbia, in 1906 and from Baylor University, Waco, Tex., in 1907.
Poteat became President of Furman University in 1903, and he remained in that post until 1918. In 1918, Poteat left to become platform representative of the Laymen's Missionary Movement and the Interchurch World Movement. Poteat had become widely known as a speaker. In 1921, while visiting his two eldest sons who were missionaries in China, the University of Shanghai invited him to become professor of philosophy and ethics. Poteat held the post for six years. After his return to the United States in 1927, he was interim pastor of the First Baptist Church, Richmond, Va. Two years later, he became pastor of Second Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga. From 1931 to 1934, he taught ethics and comparative religion at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. In 1934, he returned to Furman as professor of ethics and remained on the faculty until his death.
Edwin M. Poteat died on June 25, 1937 in Durham and was buried in the Furman University plot in Springwood Cemetery, Greenville, S.C.
Poteat married Harriet Hale Gordon on October 24, 1889, and they had eight children: Gordon, Edwin McNeill, Jr., John Robinson, Priscilla, Isabella Graves, James Douglass, Clarissa Hale, and Arthur Barron. Poteat's first wife died in 1919. In 1925, while in China he married Harriet Helen Brittingham, a missionary of the Northern Baptist Convention from Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Poteat Hall is located on the south end of campus and is reserved for freshman residents. It is a co-ed residence hall, but female and male residents live on different floors with separate bath facilities.
Built in 1958, Poteat Hall was remodeled in 2007. The residence hall is named after Edwin McNeill Poteat who served as the school’s president from 1903 to 1918. The hall is among five residence halls that make up South Housing.