Gordon Williams Blackwell, undated photograph
Gordon W. Blackwell was born in Timmonsville in 1911 to Benjamin Lewis Blackwell and Amelia (Williams) Blackwell. He lived in Spartanburg from 1912 until 1937. He earned a B.S. from Furman University in 1932 and received an Honorary Degree of Laws in 1958. He received an M.A. and LLD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his Ph.D. at Harvard.
Dr. Blackwell was a faculty member at Furman University from 1937 to 1941 and the University of North Carolina from 1941 until 1957. He was serving as chancellor of the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina when he accepted the presidency of The Florida State University in 1960.
Blackwell became the ninth president of Furman University in 1965, serving until 1976. Under Blackwell, Furman strove to achieve “greatness by national standards.” His leadership goals were supported by a 171 percent increase in gift and grant support during his 11 years in office. Enrollment increased 58 percent, while student financial aid grew 291 percent, and average faculty compensation improved by 102 percent. The operating budget grew 219 percent and the endowment experienced a 147 percent increase.
During his administration, the curriculum and academic calendar were revised; Furman was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa; and five major buildings were constructed: the Herman W. Lay Physical Activities Center, an addition to the John L. Plyler Hall of Science, two residence halls, and the Homozel Mickel Daniel Music Building.
During this time of intense student and social activism across the country, President Blackwell fostered both an increased sense of transparency and student involvement in university affairs by including students on university committees and holding regular Fireside Chats in the Watkins Student Center that were broadcast on the student radio station. In the late 1960s, Furman boasted the state’s largest chapter of the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC), which supported civil rights, opposed the war in Vietnam, and protested Furman’s 2-year ROTC requirement for male students and mandatory chapel, which they successfully overturned. When students planned an on-campus dance to challenge the longstanding rule that prohibited it, President and Mrs. Blackwell joined them. President Blackwell and his administration created the university Cultural Life Program (CLP) to replace mandatory chapel and oversaw the implementation of more liberal dress code and curfew regulations, some of which applied only to female students. In 1975, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided a $100,000 grant to support a 2 1/2-year program designed to generate awareness among female students of career paths not traditionally filled by women.
Blackwell died at his home in Greenville on January 26, 2004 at the age of 92.
Blackwell 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 1967, Blackwell Hall is named after Furman’s Gordon Williams Blackwell ’32, who became Furman’s eighth president in 1965. Blackwell Hall was remodeled in 2006. The hall is among five residence halls that make up South Housing.
The current renovation of South Housing includes building a new residence hall. Blackwell Hall will be replaced while relocating the Center for Inclusive Communities into the new hall, and introducing a host of modern amenities in the new and existing halls to support student success, and enhance the first-year experience for Furman students.
Demolition of Blackwell Hall will begin in May 2024 and last through September. The university is discussing ways to continue to honor the former president.