William Louis Poteat

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For other people with this name go to William Poteat (disambiguation).

William Louis Poteat (1856-1938), also known as "Doctor Billy", was a professor (c. 1880-1905) and then the seventh president (1905-1927) of Wake Forest College (today, Wake Forest University). Poteat was conspicuous in many civic roles becoming a leader of the Progressive Movement in the South, and a champion of higher education. Though a Baptist, he defended the teaching of evolution as the "divine method of creation", arguing it was fully compatible with Baptist beliefs.


Poteat was born in Caswell County, North Carolina to a noted Baptist, slave-owning family; among his siblings was Ida Isabella Poteat, who taught art at Meredith College for many years. He went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wake Forest College (then located in Wake Forest, North Carolina) in 1877. Shortly after graduating, he was hired by his alma mater as a natural science instructor.


He taught himself biology (with which he had little previous experience) and his studies led him to discover Darwinian concepts of natural selection and evolution. Poteat reconciled the contradictions he found between these notions and his Christian outlook.[1] His beliefs were not shared by many conservative Baptists, who tried to remove him. Poteat fought back and survived, and helped persuade the North Carolina General Assembly to defeat a bill that would have banned the teaching of evolution (as other states had done; see Scopes Monkey Trial).


  1. ^ Hall, Randal L. (2000). William Louis Poteat: A Leader of the Progressive-Era South. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 49-59. ISBN 0-8131-2155-8

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