Charles Lewis Cocke 1846 – 1901
In 1842, the Rev. Joshua Bradley, a minister who had established schools in his home state of New York, purchased the property of the defunct Roanoke Female Seminary and named the new school Valley Union Seminary, including separate departments for male and female students. Due to a number of difficulties, he leaves Valley Union in 1845.
Bradley’s successor, Charles Lewis Cocke, arrived at Valley Union Seminary on June 23, 1946 to find the campus was in worse shape than he was led to believe and nearly withdraws his offer to lead the school. Reportedly, changes were made to his contract and condition of hiring to change his mind. One day after his arrival, on June 24, Cocke issued a receipt for John (Jno) R. Guerrant of Franklin County for his daughter’s tuition as one of his first official acts of business. Cocke went on to earn designation as the school’s founder because the institution would not have survived without his leadership during financial crises, disease epidemics, the Civil War, and other challenges.
On May 4, 1901, Charles Lewis Cocke died having devoted 55 of his 81 years to Hollins Institute.
Matty Cocke 1901 – 1933
One day after the death of Charles Lewis Cocke, on May 5, 1901, Martha Louise “Miss Matty” Cocke became the first woman president of any college in Virginia at the age of 45. Her only academic qualification was her full diploma from Hollins Institute, but through a quarter-century she had taught mathematics, acted as librarian and registrar and as secretary to her father, and became thoroughly conversant with the workings of the institution.
Under her 32-year leadership, Hollins evolves and grows swiftly. A four-year bachelor’s degree option is introduced in her first year, and the school’s first official seal is revealed, including the still-extant motto, Levavi Oculos. In 1908, the Cocke Memorial Library opens its doors for the first time, and the institution officially changes its name two years later from Hollins Institute to Hollins College.
Other structures would follow. Ground was broken for Pleasants Science Hall in 1914. The Little Theatre opened in the spring of 1924, and Tayloe Gymnasium opens in November of the same year. The school also launches its first endowment campaign soon after in 1927. In December 1932, Hollins is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, one of the most demanding of the accrediting agencies.
Bessie Carter Randolph 1933 – 1950
Bessie Carter Randolph, who graduated from Hollins in 1912 and then taught history at the school until 1915, succeeded Miss Matty as president of Hollins in 1933. She took part in the first presidential installation in the school’s history on the morning of Founder’s Day the following year.
When she retires from office in 1950, an article in the Alumnae Quarterly describes her as having “a keen judicial mind, trained by long discipline to weigh and balance without emotion or prejudice the essential values in any conflicting group of issues,” with a “fearless, incisive power of penetration to the core of the problem.” It also notes “her delightful humor and her whimsical charm in conversation.”
John Rutherford “Jack” Everett 1950 – 1960
John A. Logan, Jr. 1961 – 1975
Carroll W. Brewster 1975 – 1981
Paula Pimlott Brownlee 1981 – 1990
Jane Margaret “Maggie” O’Brien 1991 – 1996
Janet E. Rasmussen 1996 – 2001
Nora Kizer Bell 2002 – 2004
Nancy Oliver Gray 2005 – 2017
Pareena Lawrence 2017 – 2019
Willard James (Interim) 1960 – 1961
Samuel Spencer (Interim) 1990 – 1991
Walter Rugaber (Interim) 2001 – 2002
Wayne Markert (Interim) 2004 – 2005
Nancy Oliver Gray (Interim) 2019 – 2020