Teacher & Patriarch
Joseph Spencer Stewart was an 1849 graduate of Emory College in Oxford, Georgia (pictured above). At the beginning of the Civil War, JSS was the Principal of the Preparatory School for Emory. After the war, the hardware firm of Tommey, Stewart & Beck was formed in Atlanta, Georgia. Operating at the corner of Pryor and Decatur Streets, the business prospered as it sent a dozen salesmen across the South. For years, Joseph Stewart took the train from Covington to Atlanta every Monday and spent the work week at his store. His loyalty remained with his alma mater and he was a trustee for Emory College for some 30 years. Stewart always kept an eye out for aspiring young men worthy of a college education. Many of the student boarders at the Stewart House in Oxford were charity cases paid for by JSS. One of those students was James William Roberts, who married the businessman's daughter, Clifford Rebecca Stewart, in 1877. The spirit of philanthropy set by Joseph Spencer Stewart continues today with the Roberts Foundation.
President of Wesleyan College
James William Roberts was born in Dalton, Georgia in 1852. His father died in the Civil War when he was ten years-old. JWR graduated at the top of his class at Emory College in 1877. He served as Pastor of various Methodist Churches across Georgia including St. Johns in Augusta and Trinity Methodist in Atlanta. In 1899, JWR became President of Wesleyan College in Macon, the alma mater of his wife Clifford Rebecca Stewart. Dr. Roberts was a noted orator and scholar. He died in Atlanta in 1917 and is buried at the Oxford Historical Cemetery in Newton County, Georgia. The Macon Telegraph editorialized that, "In the death of Dr. J.W. Roberts, Georgia Methodism loses one of its ablest ministers, and Georgia scholarship one of its most brilliant lights."
Dr. Roberts was the father of six children with his first wife, Clifford Rebecca Stewart, and two children with his second wife, Minnie Lee Oslin.
First Cardiologist in the South
Born in Oxford, Georgia in 1878, Stewart Ralph Roberts was the oldest child of James & Clifford Rebecca Roberts. SRR graduated from the Atlanta College of Physicians & Surgeons in 1900, and Emory College in 1902. He settled in Atlanta and served as Professor of Clinical Medicine at Emory and conducted a vigorous practice in internal medicine at the Roberts Clinic until his death in 1941. During World War I, SRR was a Lt-Colonel in command of the Base Hospital at Fort Jackson. Dr. Roberts was a prolific writer of both medical & historical subjects. He published 12 papers on neurology and psychiatry and 20 papers on cardiovascular disease. His 1912 book on the etiology of pellagra was the first major American study of a disease that particularly afflicted Southerners. SRR was the president of the Southern Medical Society in 1924 and the American Heart Association in 1933. He is buried next to his wife, Ruby Holbrook, at the Oxford Historical Cemetery in Newton County, Georgia.
Proprietors of the Stewart House
Joseph Spencer Stewart and Rebecca Hannah Starr were the parents of five daughters and one son. Growing up in the small village of Oxford, where commerce was forbidden, life centered around Emory College, the Methodist school for men in the state of Georgia. Lacking school dormitories, the students boarded in the local homes situated near the campus.
As a strong proponent of higher education, Joseph Stewart sent all of his children to college. The girls attended Wesleyan Female College in Macon, the first college in the world chartered to grant degrees to women. The youngest daughter, Callie Stewart, died of typhoid fever as a 21-year-old student at
Wesleyan. Two of Joseph & Rebecca's daughters married young Emory students who had been boarders at the Stewart House. "Kitty" Stewart married Angus Bird, who became an educator, businessman, and politician in Guyton, Georgia. Clifford Rebecca Stewart married Dr. James William Roberts on the day of his graduation from Emory in 1877. A woman of powerful intellect, her life was cut short in 1887 during the childbirth of her sixth child.
Sisters Sallie and Emmie (shown above) Stewart were strong Methodists who never married. For half a century they ran the Stewart Boarding House in Oxford. Their dinning hall, run with the help of butler Richard Gaither, was well known across the State for its high standards. Upon "Miss Sallie's" death in 1925, the Atlanta Journal noted on its front page that, "Many distinguished educators and public men of the Nation graced the table at the Stewart House and without exception were enthusiastic over the atmosphere of true Southern hospitality."
President of North Georgia College
Born during the Civil War in Oxford, Georgia, JSS was the fifth child and only son of Joseph Spencer Stewart, Sr. and Rebecca Hannah Starr. An 1883 graduate of Emory College, Joseph became the first superintendent of the Marietta School System at the age of 30. Four years later, in 1897, he was called to the presidency of North Georgia Agricultural College in Dahlonega.
In 1903, JSS was elected Professor of Secondary Education at the University of Georgia. This was a new position created to establish a system of accreditation and collaboration between the university and the new "High Schools" that were being created across the state. Professor Stewart was a prolific writer, lobbyist, and speaker, and his ideas about secondary education were widely adopted by school systems across Georgia and across the South.
Joseph Stewart married Sarah Martha Hahr in Atlanta in 1890. They were parents to six children. Joseph and Martha are buried at the Oxford Historical Cemetery.
Founder of Southern Methodist University
Born in Oxford, Georgia in 1860, Robert Hyer was the son of William Hyer, a railroad engineer from Charleston, South Carolina, and Laura Jane Stewart, a younger sister of Joseph Spencer Stewart. Laura died in 1872 and her son Robert was given an Emory education by his uncle, Joseph S. Stewart.
Upon his graduation, Robert moved to Georgetown, Texas, where he served as physics professor at Southwestern College from 1882 to 1911. His early work on the wireless telegraph proceeded that of Guglielmo Marconi and Nikola Tesla. Hyer also built the first x-ray machine in the state of Texas. In 1897, he became president of Southwestern University. Under Hyer's leadership, enrollment tripled, two major limestone buildings were constructed, and the medical college was established in Dallas. Convinced that Southwestern should eventually move the campus to Dallas, he was not able to convince the school's Board of Trust to follow his lead.
Dr. Hyer resigned and, with the support of Dallas philanthropists, established Southern Methodist University in 1911. As the school's first president, he planned the campus, determined the architectural design, supervised the erection of the first five buildings, hired the faculty, and obtained an endowment of $300,000. He even designated the school's colors of red and blue. With the new college struggling financially, Dr. Hyer was asked to resign as president in 1920. He remained a physics professor at SMU until his death in 1929.
Robert Hyer and his wife Margaret Lee Hudgins were the parents of one son and two daughters. Professor Hyer is remembered as a powerful thinker, writer, and speaker.