Civil War-Era Family History Sparks Gift to Mary Baldwin

April 19, 2013

John and Ann Bowles’ only connection to Mary Baldwin University dates back to the 19th century when John Bowles’ great-great-grand-uncle served as secretary to the Board of Trustees. Yet the couple has decided to establish a scholarship fund in honor of this relative — the Joseph A. Waddell Fund — for high-achieving students in math or science.

The gift supports endowment, a priority of Ever Ahead: The Campaign for Mary Baldwin University. Highlighting the sciences, the scholarship fund corresponds with other campaign objectives, such as financing undergraduate research and the Jesse Cleveland Pearce Science Center renovation.

Bowles and his wife chose to support students pursuing degrees in areas of math or science to strengthen and expand the base of professionals in related fields. Over time, the Joseph A. Waddell Fund will reach $200,000 and may eventually sponsor a lecture series, depending on future needs of the college.

“I’m a computer science professor at the University of South Carolina, and I think math and science are areas of significant need right now,” John Bowles said. His comments echo a report released a year ago by President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, calling for an economic need to produce one million more college graduates in STEM fields over the next decade.

Waddell (1823­–1914) served as secretary to the Board for more than 60 years, compiled the first book chronicling the history of the Mary Baldwin Seminary, and played a pivotal role in convincing Mary Julia Baldwin to accept the position of principal at what was then the Augusta Female Seminary during the height of the Civil War.

While family connection was the primary impetus behind creating the fund, the Bowleses also felt their gift would better serve a smaller institution. “Both Ann and I have strong connections to several large universities; we could have given this gift to one of those institutions, but we felt it might be a more meaningful contribution at Mary Baldwin — and we like the family connection,” he said.

Although John Bowles never knew Waddell personally, his legacy has made quite an impression. One of Bowles’ treasured possessions is a handwritten book by Waddell titled Home Scenes and Family Sketches, which was a gift for Bowles’ great-grandmother. The book is a collection of stories about Waddell’s adventures growing up and of life in Staunton prior to the Civil War. “A couple of years ago, I visited Staunton to try to find some of the places he referred to in his book, and I could actually find many of the locations,” he said.

Mary Baldwin Director of Development Tamara Ridenour, who worked with the couple to help them set up the fund, considers their contribution a celebration of the past and the future of the college. “John and Ann Bowles’ generous donation will not only help students pursue fields of study in high demand around the world,” Ridenour said, “it will also distinguish a significant historical figure in the genesis of Mary Baldwin University.”