Enrollment grew from 106 in 1909 to 2,200 by 1927 under the leadership of the University of Florida’s second president, Albert A. Murphree. Murphree was born on April 29, 1870 in Walnut Grove, Alabama, where he spent his childhood years until he enrolled in the University of Nashville, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1894.
Murphree’s professional career before coming to Florida was limited to teaching mathematics, a favorite subject of his, at high schools and small colleges across the South. In 1895, he received an appointment as instructor of mathematics at the West Florida Seminary in Tallahassee. Two years later, after assuming the presidency of the institution, Murphree married the daughter of a seminary trustee, Jennie Henderson. Murphree, after realizing the need for college-level education in western Florida, then proceeded to expand and upgrade the seminary’s curriculum until it became Florida State College in 1901. Murphree gave his duties as president a personal touch by participating as coach in such activities as drama, football, and basketball.
When the Florida legislature created a new state university in Gainesville in 1905, Murphree was the legislature’s favorite for the post of president. The Board of Control and Governor Broward, however, preferred Andrew Sledd, president of the University of Florida at Lake City, who received the appointment as the University of Florida’s first president. Murphree stayed in Tallahassee and served as the first president of the Florida State College for Women. When political pressure forced Sledd’s resignation in 1909, Murphree was chosen to be his successor.
Upon his arrival in Gainesville, Murphree immediately reorganized the University into four academic colleges: the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Law, the College of Agriculture, and the College of Engineering. The Graduate School was also created in that year. A Teachers’ College and Normal School were established in 1912, a School of Pharmacy in 1924, a School of Architecture in 1925, and the College of Commerce and Journalism in 1927. During his term some forty-six buildings were erected, including ten major structures. One of these was a library building, the first unit of which was completed in 1925.
Murphree encouraged faculty participation in the running of the University by forming a number of standing committees to oversee curriculum, student affairs, and public relations. Despite the increasing number of students, historical accounts say he took the time to listen to students and their problems, and that he knew each by name. In addition, he stressed the importance of faculty involvement in professional and civic organizations and set an example by serving on the Florida State Teacher’s Association, the National Education Association, the National Association of State Universities (vice-president, 1921), and the Florida State Educational Association (president, 1906).
Apart from the University, Murphree was well known nationally as both educator and church layman. In 1912, Murphree declined a national political role after William Jennings Bryan announced that he would nominate him to run for President of the United States. Preferring to remain more active in church than in politics, Murphree led several denominational brotherhoods as a devout Baptist.
Murphree died in his sleep on December 20, 1927. Vice President James Farr served as acting president until the arrival of John J. Tigert in September 1928.