Chemistry Department

Chemistry has been a part of the curriculum at Davidson College since its opening in 1837. The Reverend Robert Hall Morrison, the first president of Davidson, lectured in chemistry from 1837-1841; and its second president, the Reverend Samuel Williamson, was the first professor of chemistry at Davidson. A chemistry laboratory was included in the original Chambers Building when it opened in 1860. After the appointment in 1896 of William Joseph Martin, Jr. to succeed his father as the Chambers Professor of Chemistry, a second chemistry laboratory was constructed in the Chambers Building.

Martin Chemistry Laboratory
Martin Chemical Laboratory

In 1900, students were required to take three full years of chemistry and two of physics, as well as one-term courses in astronomy, meteorology, geology, and mineralogy. All freshmen had to take one year of physics, and all sophomores had to take inorganic chemistry. Laboratory work did not become the focus of the classes until the junior and senior years. The first building at Davidson specifically designed to house a science department was Martin Chemical Laboratory. This building was constructed at a cost of about $10,000, and it opened for classes on March 6, 1901. Named in honor of Colonel William Joseph Martin, a Davidson College professor of chemistry, geology, and natural history, the building was located on the site of the present College Union. The building was a 65 ft. by 60 ft., two-story brick building that had a library, three laboratories, its own stockroom, and a lecture hall that could seat 120 students, which was quite large relative to the total college enrollment of 160 at the time of its completion. The building was demolished in 1941 to make way for the present Martin Chemical Laboratory.

When the present Martin Chemical Laboratory was under construction, plans called for both the chemistry and the biology departments to be housed within the building. In 1960, however, the Biology department moved to Dana Science Building. That same year, Martin Science Building (as it then was called) was remodeled as a Chemistry laboratory-lecture-classroom unit at a cost of $50,000. In 1977, the Charles A. Dana Foundation gave Davidson a $200,000 challenge grant to renovate the existing chemistry building. This grant provided for central heating and air conditioning, new lighting, furniture, laboratory equipment, and altered rooms. A chemical storage room was added in the back of the building, and the attic was converted for instructional use. Total cost of the renovations was $1.1 million.


Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, North Carolina Medical College, Physics – Bibliography

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Davidson, Chalmers Gaston. “Davidson Celebrates.” Davidson Journal 1 (1987): 2-7.

Davidson, Chalmers Gaston. Mid-Point for ’28. Davidson, N.C.: Davidson College, 1953.

Kelley, Robert Lincoln. Davidson College: A Diagnosis and a Prescription. Lancaster, PA: Council of Church Boards of Education in the U.S.A., 1926.

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Logan, Van Lear. “Growing Up in Davidson.” Davidson Journal 1 (1987): 20-23.

Ratliff, Charles E. Economics at Davidson: A Sesquicentennial History. Davidson, NC: Davidson College, 1987.

Shaw, Cornelia Rebekah. Davidson College. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1923.

Spencer, Samuel R. The First Year. Davidson, NC: Davidson College, 1969.

Author: Molly Gillespie
Date: 1998

Cite as: Gillespie, Molly, “Chemistry Department ” Davidson
Encyclopedia 1998 <http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/martin-chemical/>

Related Entries: Martin Chemical Laboratory, Martin, William Joseph, Jr., Historic Buildings

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