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History of Diggs

The History of the Founding of the Diggs Teaching Scholar Award and Roundtable: Perservation of Institutional Memory
Written by Edward Weisband, Edward S. Diggs Chair Professor in the Social Sciences, Department of Political Science, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Virginia Tech (January 2017)

The story of the founding of the Diggs Teaching Scholar Award and Roundtable begins with the decision by late Virginia Tech President James McComas to establish two endowed professorial chairs, one in the humanities, one in the social sciences. The terms of the gift to the Virginia Tech Foundation by the Diggs family created sufficient latitude permitting President McComas to apply these funds at his discretion. His commitment to excellence in scholarship and teaching within the liberal arts prompted him to place these two positions in the Department of English and across the social sciences with the explicit understanding that appointments would be given to faculty of distinguished quality and record whose achievements included excellence in teaching as well as scholarship. The initial call for applications came from the relevant social science departments within what at the time was the Virginia Tech College of Arts and Sciences. Individual social science departments had first to determine whom they wished to nominate; a college-wide honorifics committee chaired by an Associate Dean determined the short list of three. In the end, candidates were invited from history and psychology as well as political science. This process culminated in my appointment as the inaugural Diggs Professor in the social sciences. In this capacity, I participated in the selection committee leading to the appointment of Professor Ernest Sullivan and the inaugural Diggs Professor in the Humanities. It should be noted that in both inaugural cases, the Diggs funds and appointment went to “outside” candidates.

My on-campus interview process entailed two separate rounds, the first at the departmental, the second at the college level. (On a personal note, my wife, Lisabeth, and I unbeknownst to anyone on campus undertook a third visit to Blacksburg after the offer of appointment had been extended to me but before our decision to join this faculty. Lisabeth wanted to see for herself what Blacksburg was really “like.” Our journey proved eventful since we found ourselves driving through Hurricane Hugo. When we actually arrived in town and on campus the town’s streets and campus drill field were strewn with downed trees. But standing at the Memorial Chapel, we, like so many others, instantly fell in love with the campus and were inspired as well by the challenges this opportunity presented.)

Toward the end of the second round of interviews, I was privileged to meet with President McComas in the President’s office. During this initial conversation, he indicated that it was his hope and aim in establishing these Diggs professorial Chairs that their incumbents would contribute to the programmatic development of teaching and pedagogy on campus. I accepted this as a very personal charge, to transform the Diggs Chair into a campus-wide program dedicated to teachers speaking to teachers about teaching. Upon my arrival during the academic year 1990-1991, Dr. E. Fred Carlisle was serving as Provost and Executive Vice-President. He enthusiastically endorsed this concept and asked Professor Carol Burch-Brown, who at the time was acting as an Associate Provost, to work with me and other faculty to consider various proposals. Ensuing deliberations resulted in the proposal to establish a Diggs Teaching Scholar Award and Roundtable. The original intent of the program, at the very core of its conceptual founding, was to:

bring dedicated teaching faculty together through a sequence of conversations focused on teaching and learning; this sequence was and remains comprised of the discussions over nominated candidates and of the sets of interviews of candidates on the part of the Diggs Selection Committee (themselves former award recipients) as well as the dialogue that ensues from the Roundtable presentations to the entire Diggs community and other faculty; the selection process was not designed to become one more “battle of cv’s” but rather one that stressed the significance of dedication to student learning on the part of teachers;

support classroom, instructional and pedagogical development at the departmental or programmatic level by funding concrete proposals; for such reasons, awards were to be distributed not only to recipient faculty but to the sponsoring institutional unit. Funds awarded were to be used by departments and programs to advance the efforts by recipient faculty to contribute to teaching and learning within their respective classrooms or academic units. Diggs funds were to be encumbered for purposes designated in the nomination letter and earmarked for use by faculty award recipient. Simply stated, it would make little or no sense if Diggs award funding were granted to the general-purpose budgets of departments or programs or simply as an emolument for faculty. As initially conceived, the objective of Diggs award funding is to advance and support innovative, creative, “disruptive” forms of teaching and learning by inviting like-minded teachers to come together in a periodic way across the curriculum so as to form an inter/multi/trans-disciplinary community dedicated to instructional and pedagogical development. In this regard, community as a process is more important than the award as an end.


The Elusive Mister Diggs
Written and researched by Ezra Brown, Chair, Diggs Teaching Scholars, 1998-99

According to the staff at the Virginia Tech Educational Foundation, the Estate Hattie Wilson Diggs is on the banner system at the Foundation, but there seems to be no information at all on either the very generous Hattie W. or her late husband Edward Singleton Diggs--for whom the E. S. Diggs Professorships are named. "They remain," as my source of information put it, "a mystery."

But not for long.

With the generous and enthusiastic help of Jan Carlton of the Newman Library's Special Collections, I was able to put together a picture, albeit sketchy, of Our Patron Mister Diggs, as follows:

Edward Singleton Diggs was born sometime between December 3, 1893 and December 2, 1994, probably somewhere in Cumberland County, Virginia, a rural county just north of Farmville and about halfway between Lynchburg and Richmond. He and his brother Charles Douglas Diggs enrolled at Virginia Tech-known in those days as VPI-in the Fall of 1912. Their names appear in the School Catalogs of both 1912-13 and 1913-14, as being in the Two-Year Agricultural Program. Their appearance in an institution of higher education in 1912 was already an indication that they were in some way special, since in that year, fewer than 2% of southern youths went to college at all.

From the 1913 and 1914 Bugles, we learned that Edward and Charles were both Privates in Company A of the VPI Corps of Cadets for two years. They were also both on the VPI Baseball Team as a pitcher and a catcher. From other sources, we know that Edward was the pitcher, and so Charles was the catcher--to use the baseball expression, they were battery-mates. We suspect that they were also twins, but this is mere conjecture.

They graduated in 1914 with their 2-year degrees in Agriculture, and the next place we find mention of them is in a document called "1917 Great War Draft for Montgomery County, VA" (price 25 cents).The are both listed under the heading of the Virginia National Guard as privates (VPI, '14) in the 9th Company of the Coast Artillery. We also note that among those listed as serving in the Navy is one C. C. Garvin (VPI, '15) in the Hospital Corps. This is the same Clifton C. Garvin, Sr. whose son Clifton C. Garvin Jr. (VPI, '44 or so) was Chairman of the Board of Exxon Corporation--and who may have figured into the future plans of our man Edward.

Next, we find the following item from the Roanoke Times of February 17, 1922:

Former V.P.I. Star to Tryout with Senators

Washington, Feb. 16 - President Clark Griffith, of the Nationals, has just signed a right-handed pitcher in whom he thinks he may find another Walter Johnson. The party in question is Ed Diggs, a husky 25-year-old youngster, hailing from Calerndon, Va.

Diggs, who will be sent to the Tampa training camp with the first squad, is a former Virginia Poly star and also pitched winning ball with the A. E. F. as a member of the American graves registration bureau. Griff claims he is far from a "dead" one, however, notwithstanding his recent connection with the graves bureau.

This item contains some very interesting information. In particular, Ed Diggs gave his age to the Senators as 25--placing his year of birth as 1897, or three years after his actual birth year. He is listed as being from Calerndon, VA, a location in neighboring Buckingham County; does not locate a town at the place where it gives the location of Calerndon, VA. Curious. Next, his stint as a pitcher with the American Expeditionary Forces and his desk job as a graves registrar lead us to conclude that, just as it was during WWII, athletes, musicians, actors and the like were given duties out of the line of fire so that they could better serve by boosting the troops' morale. Finally, someone in the AEF, noting the Diggs brothers' curious name, had a somewhat macabre sense of humor in assigning their duties!

Apparently, Edward Diggs never made the majors, since he does not appear in the Baseball Encyclopedia, which lists everyone who played in the majors since the founding of the National League in 1876. Oddly enough, the only other person named Diggs played as an outfielder for, yep, the Washington Senators in the '30s -- he was from Mathews, VA, which is near the mouth of the York River.

The brothers disappear for almost four decades. Then The New York Times, December 5, 1961, p. 39, column 5, contains the following death notice:

Bronxville, NY, Dec. 4 - Edward S. Diggs, who retired 3 years ago as assistant to the General Manager of Marketing of the Esso Standard Oil Co. died on Saturday [December 2, 1961] in his home at 34 Forest Lane. He was 67 years old. He leaves his wife, Mrs. Hattie Wilson Diggs; a brother, C. Douglas Diggs of Staunton, Va., and a sister, Mrs. Andrew Banks of Baltimore.

Hence the apparent connection with the Garvin family. Edward was an important enough personage to rate an individual obit-item in the Times, not just a paid-for obituary in a long list of obits. We can only speculate about the source of the $1 Million gift, which was announced in April, 1989 as part of the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the founding of theCollege of Arts and Sciences at Virginia Tech. (Such an item appeared in an issue of the Spectrum from that week.)

The final chapter of the story appears in the May 17, 1990 issue of the Spectrum, in an article by Sally Harris, which announces that "Edward Weisband has been named to the Edward S. Diggs Endowed Chair in Social Sciences for the College of Arts and Sciences. The Diggs Chair is one of two made possible through a gift of more than $1 million from the estate of Edward Singleton Diggs (Class of 1916 [sic]) and Hattie Wilson Diggs of New York during the college's 25th anniversary last year. Weisband will assume the position in August."

There are many questions, of course. Formulate them, then answer them. The research possibilities are amazing!