The Francis P. Venable Professorship in Chemistry
The Francis P. Venable Professorship in Chemistry was established in 1992 as part of a $1.3 million bequest to the University by Venable’s daughter, Frances Venable Gardiner. Venable was the head of the department of chemistry from 1880 until 1900 and president of the University from 1900 until 1914.
The professorship was originally created in 1914, when Venable resigned as president. He held the professorship until 1918, when he became one of the first Kenan Professors. The professorship was not awarded between 1918 and 1992, when Gardiner’s bequest endowed the professorship.
Venable was born in Prince Edward County in 1856. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1879 and, after studying at Bonn, received an M.A. and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Goettingen in 1881.
When he became a professor of chemistry at UNC at age 23, he was the sole faculty member in the department. He presided over the chemistry department during a time of dramatic increases in students and staff. However, Venable “sacrificed a brilliant scientific career” in order to accept the UNC presidency, author William D. Snider wrote in Light on the Hill: A History of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Venable ruled out formal inaugural ceremonies for himself, made as few speeches as possible during his presidency and had a skeptical view of public relations, Snider wrote. Still, as president, Venable promoted and strengthened UNC’s commitment to scientific research and was known as an excellent administrator and library advocate. He presided over the early stages of UNC’s “transformation from a small, provincial college into a national university.”
One of Venable’s principles was good teaching. Under his direction, the University hired prominent faculty members William C. Coker, Edward Kidder Graham, William M. Dey, Marvin H. Stacy and Edwin Greenlaw. In 1924, a new chemistry building — Venable Hall — was named in his honor.
Venable married Sallie Charlton Manning, daughter of the head of the law school, in 1884. They had five children.
In the summer of 1913, because of poor health, Venable requested and received a year’s leave of absence. Accompanied by his wife and two of their daughters, Venable traveled around Europe. A year later, though, his health had not improved, and Venable resigned as UNC president to return to teaching chemistry at the University.
Venable died in 1934.
Venable’s daughter, Frances Venable Gardiner, was a Chapel Hill resident. She died in 1990. In addition to the Venable Professorship, her bequest created the Venable Scholarship and Awards Fund, which provides funding to outstanding graduate and undergraduate chemistry students.
Gardiner had one daughter, Preston W. Fox (B.A. ’50), a resident of Hawaii. Preston and her husband, Charles Fox (B.A. ’51), played a critical role in facilitating Gardiner’s bequest.
Francis P. Venable Professors
1994 – 1999: James W. Jorgenson
2002 – Present: Joseph L. Templeton