Andrew Sledd, who actually drove one of the buggies hauling school supplies to UF’s new campus in Gainesville, was the first and youngest president of the University of Florida. Born on November 7, 1870 in Lynchburg, Virginia, Sledd earned his B.A. from Randolph-Macon College in 1894 and his M.A., in Greek, from Harvard in 1896. From 1896 to 1902, Sledd taught Latin at Emory College. Enraged by a lynching that he witnessed, Sledd wrote a critique for The Atlantic Monthly of race relations in the South. Although the article supported the continuation of the “separate but equal” doctrine, Sledd’s condemnation of brutality was immediately assailed by white southerners. Amid a hailstorm of controversy, Sledd resigned his position. He then enrolled in Yale’s graduate school and received a Ph.D. in Latin in 1903.
After graduating from Yale, Sledd served briefly as Professor of Greek at Southern University in Alabama before being selected as President of the University of Florida at Lake City in 1904. Soon after his arrival in Florida, Sledd urged the state government to consolidate its institutions of higher learning. He quickly won the support of Governor Napoleon B. Broward, and legislation was passed in 1905 that endowed two universities, one for white males and one for white females. Shortly afterwards, Gainesville was chosen as the site for the men’s university.
Sledd had never intended that the Lake City campus be abolished. He assumed, instead, that Lake City would be designated as the site of the new university. Consequently, the decision to create a new university in Gainesville and create a women’s college in Tallahassee put Sledd’s presidency in jeopardy. The political favorite for president of the men’s university was Albert Alexander Murphree, president of the Florida State College at Tallahassee. Sledd, with the support of Governor Broward and the newly created Board of Control, was selected instead to be the new university’s first president.
Sledd oversaw the transfer to Gainesville in 1906 and selected the initial faculty, most of whom were instructors at the Lake City campus. At the time, the student body was made up of about 102 students and the faculty chosen equaled less than a dozen. Along with his wife, Annie, and their children, Sledd accepted a $2,500 annual salary and moved into UF’s new dormitories, which included Buckman and Thomas Halls and some dining facilities.
Sledd’s tenure, however, was brief. When his political support came to an end with the inauguration of Governor Albert Gilchrist in 1909, the Florida Board of Education, which oversaw the Board of Control, made known its intention to replace Sledd. (At that time, the Board of Control appointed the president each year.) The Board of Control threatened to resign in protest. Sledd offered to resign, instead, and he was replaced by Murphree.
Sledd went on to serve as President of Southern University and later had a distinguished career as Professor of Greek and New Testament Literature at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Sledd was also a recognized Bible scholar and a force in ecclesiastical, as well as educational, circles in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He died March 6, 1939.