By Joe Earle

Thornwell Jacobs
Thornwell Jacobs

As a newspaperman who understood the appeal of celebrities, William Randolph Hearst might well feel proud. The Oglethorpe University building named for his mother now houses a history of the school that showcases several of its brushes with famous people.

There’s a photo of Amelia Earhart when she came to Oglethorpe to receive an honorary degree. There’s an autographed picture of Franklin D. Roosevelt. There are letters from Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller.

There’s even a document signed by Gen. James Oglethorpe himself along with a portrait of Oglethorpe, Georgia’s founder and the school’s namesake.

“We though it would be interesting for people to get more in touch with the history of the school,” library director Anne Salter said. “It has a fascinating history.”

So school officials decided to create a small museum offering timelines, photographs and artifacts from the college’s history. The display opened to the public in April as part of the school’s celebration of its 175th year.

Oglethorpe “re-founder” Thornwell Jacobs served as president of the school for three decades. His first office has been converted

To house the new history room, school officials converted a room in Hearst Hall, the building named for Phoebe Hearst, the mother of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst Hall, now a classroom building, was the first building to rise on Oglethorpe’s Brookhaven campus.

The room they chose for the display was the original office of Thornwell Jacobs, the man known as Oglethorpe’s “re-founder” after the college, which had closed in 1872, reopened at Brookhaven. Jacobs came to Atlanta to work for Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Salter said, but ended up at Oglethorpe.

The school originally had been chartered in 1835 in a small community near Milledgeville, said Salter and Laura Masce, who along with Salter co-wrote an Oglethorpe history. Oglethorpe moved to Atlanta in 1870, but closed in 1872, they said. Jacobs reopened the school at its present location in 1914.

“He said he grew up hearing stories of Oglethorpe,” said Masce “It was a lifelong dream to re-found Oglethorpe.”

Jacobs apparently also understood the value of celebrities in promoting his college. He awarded honorary degrees to record-setting flier Earhart, education pioneer Martha Berry and others. In 1931, he oversaw the the founding of the first college radio station, according to Salter and Masce.

When school officials started thinking about a history room for the school last year, Jacob’s original office was being used as a classroom, Salter said. It was restored to reveal a pair of doors that had been covered, show a mantle above the fireplace and remove sheet-rock that had hidden plaster walls.

The room, which is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, houses displays of materials from the school’s archives, including items as varied as a photograph of the “Stormy Petrel,” a World War II airplane named for Oglethorpe’s mascot; Oglethorpe student Benjamin Hunter’s diary from 1857; and a keyboard from the school’s carillon.