While researching the history of East Asian students at Davidson, I came across the name Evander Bradley McGilvary (class of 1884)–Davidson’s first “Asian” student. His biography teaches us not only a bit about the history of Davidson’s early Asian students (many of whom were the children of missionaries to Asia born abroad), but also about the important intellectual impacts Davidson alumni have made.
Evander Bradley McGilvary was born to missionaries Daniel and Sophia Royce McGilvary, while they were teaching abroad in Bangkok, Siam, on July 19, 1864. He lived abroad until age 9, when he was sent back to the United States for education, first in Moore County, NC then in Fayetteville from 1874-1876. In the fall of 1876, McGilvary became a cadet at the Bingham School, where he excelled in all subjects of study.
After graduation from the Bingham School, McGilvary enrolled at Davidson in 1880. At Davidson McGilvary again excelled as a student. He won the Latin prize as a sophomore, and the Essayists’ Medal in the Phi Society as a junior. Additionally, he won the gold medal in Greek and Mathematics during his junior year at Davidson. By graduation, McGilvary had achieved such academic success at Davidson that he was named the valedictorian of his class in 1884.
McGilvary’s academic success did not cease when he graduated from Davidson. After teaching for two years at the Bingham preparatory school, McGilvary entered Princeton Theological Seminary in 1886. By 1889, McGilvary completed his seminary studies, and won a fellowship to do post-graduate work at Princeton in Greek.
Following his familial footsteps, McGilvary entered the clergy as the pastor of the Munn Avenue Church in Princeton in the spring of 1891, before returning to Siam as a missionary in July 1892. While in Siam, McGilvary and his mother Sophia translated portions of the New Testament in the local Lao dialect.
After returning to the United States in 1894, McGilvary took up a different course of study, enrolling in the University of California Ph.D. program in English. However, after meeting the famous philosopher George Howison, McGilvary quickly changed fields to study philosophy.
After completion of his Ph.D. in Philosophy, McGilvary took a position as Assistant Professor of Logical and the Theory of Knowledge at University of California. In 1899, McGilvary transplanted his family across the United States by taking a position as the Sage Professor of Ethics at Cornell. His final move, in 1905, would take McGilvary to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he served as Chair of the Department of Philosophy until his retirement in 1934.
In the course of his philosophical career, Evander Bradley McGilvary became an expert in Epistemology, Ethics and the Philosophy of Science. He was among few leaders of his field to be elected president of both the Eastern (1912-1913) and Western Divisions (1910-1911) of the American Philosophical Association. Additionally, in 1939, McGilvary was awarded the Paul Carus Lectureship, the highest honor bestowed by the American Philosophical Society.
After his death on September 11, 1953 at age 89, students and friends remembered McGilvary as patient, friendly, and sympathetic, while maintaining the highest standards of rigor. Clearly, the late Dr. Evander Bradley McGilvary demonstrates the important impact Davidson alumni can make!