Charles Scott Venable was born on April 19, 1827, at Longwood, a family estate near Farmville. (The future Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston had been born there in 1807, four years before the Venable family acquired the estate.) He was the sixth child of Nathaniel Venable and Mary Scott Venable. Venable hailed from a family of slaveholding planters, although his great-grandfather, Nathaniel Venable, of Slate Hill, had helped to found Hampden-Sydney College and steer it through the American Revolution (1775–1783). The Venable family remained closely associated with the college in subsequent generations.
Venable rejected farming and politics, and instead threw himself into academia. In 1839, at the age of twelve, he enrolled at Hampden-Sydney College, graduating with an AB degree in 1842 and remaining to work as a mathematics tutor. In 1845, Venable matriculated at the University of Virginia. He took courses in law but ultimately returned to mathematics. The following year, at nineteen, Venable accepted a professorship in mathematics from Hampden-Sydney and held the position until 1856, earning a reputation as a strict, sometimes boring, but otherwise effective and enthusiastic teacher.
In 1856, Venable took a new job teaching natural philosophy and chemistry at the University of Georgia, leaving some at Hampden-Sydney feeling betrayed, especially given the institution's granting of his sabbaticals. He left Georgia after a year for reasons that are unclear, but he immediately secured the chair of mathematics and astronomy at the University of South Carolina.
Venable was an ardent defender of the South and slavery, and in an 1858 address to University of Virginia alumni he compared the northern barbarians who threatened Rome to the northerners in the United States who, he said, then threatened the South. Even after the Civil War, Venable extended this argument, advocating for improved higher education in the South by suggesting that northern universities had been overcome by sophistry. In 1860, Venable sailed to the Labrador Coast of Canada with a team of astronomers to observe the total solar eclipse on July 18. His tenure at the University of South Carolina ended with the outbreak of the Civil War, although he technically remained on leave until 1862.
On January 16, 1856, Venable married Margaret Cantie McDowell, of Lexington, the daughter of James McDowell, a Democrat who had served as the governor of Virginia from 1843 to 1846 and in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1846 to 1851. The couple had one boy and three girls who survived to maturity.
University of Virginia
At the same time, Venable lobbied for overhauling the university's finances. The university had long operated under a decentralized fee system in which tuition was paid directly to the university's various schools, or departments. This led to wide discrepancies in salaries and implicitly discouraged the opening of new schools, which might siphon off students, and therefore money, from existing schools. At a June 1867 meeting of the faculty, Venable proposed equal pay for all professors—despite being one of the best compensated members—and the setting aside of funds to attract talented scholars to open new schools at the university.
Toward that end, and in spite of his pay plan failing a faculty vote, Venable advocated for the expansion of offerings in the applied sciences. Virginia had strayed little from the classical liberal education laid out by its founder, Thomas Jefferson, but Venable believed that the postwar South required engineers and scientists to prosper. By making the University of Virginia's educational offerings more relevant to the needs of the moment, Venable hoped to attract more students and thus badly needed tuition. He was largely responsible for securing funding and hiring professors for the new School of Agriculture (1869), the School of Geology (1879–1880), and the School of Theoretical and Practical Astronomy (1882–1883).
Robert E. Lee died on October 12, 1870. A few weeks later, on November 3, his former comrades in arms held a memorial meeting in Richmond to commemorate the late general's life and legacy. The next day they organized an alumni society, the Association of the Army of Northern Virginia, and elected Venable as recording secretary. Jubal A. Early, the association's president, had served as a general under Lee and after the war became famous for his fiery speeches at Confederate reunions and memorial rallies across the South. Through these speeches and associated writings, he and others developed what became known as the Lost Cause view of the Civil War, which sought to discount the importance of slavery and emphasize the valor of Confederate soldiers.
Venable resigned as faculty chairman in 1873, likely to care for his ailing wife, who died on January 15, 1874, in Charlottesville. In 1876, he married Mary Southall Brown, the widow of J. Thompson Brown, a Confederate artillery officer killed at the Battle of the Wilderness. They had one son.
In May 1894 Venable joined a majority of faculty in voting 14 to 7 against the admission of women to the university. A brief exception had been made for Caroline Preston Davis, the granddaughter of the former law professor and faculty chairman John A. G. Davis, who had been murdered on the Lawn by a student in 1840. She received a pass certificate in mathematics, signed by Venable, with whom she studied, on June 14, 1893. The faculty and subsequently the board of visitors disallowed any further coeducation.
- "An Address Delivered Before the Society of Alumni, of the University of Virginia, at its annual meeting held in the Public Hall, July 26, 1858" (1859)
- "Report of Prof. C. S. Venable on the Total Eclipse of July 18, 1860 in Report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey … 1860" (1861)
- Arithmetic, Pure and Commercial (1868)
- First Lessons in Numbers—A Primary Arithmetic: Combining Mental and Slate Exercises (1870)
- Higher Arithmetic for Advanced Students (1871)
- An Elementary Algebra (1872)
- "The Campaign from the Wilderness to Petersburg. Address of Col. C. S. Venable, (Formerly of Gen. R. E. Lee's Staff,), of the University of Virginia, Before the Virginia Division of the Army of Northern Virginia, At their Annual Meeting, held in the Virginia State Capitol, at Richmond, Thursday Evening, Oct. 30th, 1873" (1879)
- Teacher's Manual of Venable's New Practical Arithmetic (1892)
- A Key Containing Solutions of the More Difficult Examples in Venable's Practical and Mental Arithmetic (1893)
- Mental Arithmetic Containing Oral Exercises in Abstract and Commercial Arithmetic (1894)
- An Easy Algebra for Beginners; Being a Simple, Plain Presentation of the Essentials of Elementary Algebra (1895)
- Elementary Arithmetic (1896)
- Practical Arithmetic (1902)
- High School Algebra (1904)
April 19, 1827 - Charles S. Venable is born at Longwood, a family estate near Farmville.
1839 - Charles S. Venable enrolls at Hampden-Sydney College, in Farmville.
1842 - Charles S. Venable graduates from Hampden-Sydney College, in Farmville, with an AB degree.
1845 - Charles S. Venable matriculates at the University of Virginia.
1846–1856 - Charles S. Venable is the chair of mathematics at Hampden-Sydney College, in Farmville.
1847 - On furlough from Hampden-Sydney College, Charles S. Venable studies astronomy, geology, and chemistry at the University of Virginia.
1852 - On furlough from Hampden-Sydney College, Charles S. Venable studies astronomy with Johann Franz Encke in Berlin and with Friedrich Wilhelm Argelander in Bonn.
Summer 1855 - Charles S. Venable joins a geological expedition in New York to examine rocks and fossils from the Paleozoic era.
1856–1857 - Charles S. Venable teaches natural philosophy and chemistry at the University of Georgia.
January 16, 1856 - Charles S. Venable and Margaret Cantie McDowell marry. They will have one boy and three girls who survive to maturity.
1857–1862 - Charles S. Venable is the chair of mathematics and astronomy at the University of South Carolina.
July 18, 1860 - Charles S. Venable joins a team of scientists on the Labrador Coast of Canada to observe a total solar eclipse.
April 12, 1861 - Charles S. Venable is present for the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter as a member of a South Carolina cavalry company.
June 23, 1862 - The Confederate general Robert E. Lee, newly in command of the Army of Northern Virginia, names Charles S. Venable one of his four aides-de-camp. Venable serves as Lee's secretary for the duration of the war.
August 18, 1865 - The University of Virginia names Charles S. Venable chair of mathematics.
1866 - Charles S. Venable, the chair of mathematics at the University of Virginia, offers the school's first academic prize.
June 1867 - At a meeting of the University of Virginia faculty, Charles S. Venable argues unsuccessfully against the fee system in favor of centralizing the university's finances. He also advocates expanding the number of schools in the sciences.
1870–1873 - Charles S. Venable serves as faculty chairman at the University of Virginia.
November 4, 1870 - Charles S. Venable is elected recording secretary of the newly founded Association of the Army of Northern Virginia, in Richmond.
January 15, 1874 - Margaret McDowell Venable, the wife of Charles S. Venable, dies. She is buried at the University of Virginia Cemetery.
1876 - Charles S. Venable and Mary Southall Brown marry. They will have one son.
April 13, 1885 - McCormick Observatory is dedicated at the University of Virginia.
1886–1888 - Charles S. Venable serves as faculty chairman at the University of Virginia.
June 14, 1893 - The University of Virginia issues a pass certificate to its first woman student, Caroline Preston Davis.
May 1894 - The University of Virginia faculty votes 14 to 7 against the admission of women.
1896 - Charles S. Venable retires from teaching at the University of Virginia and is elected professor emeritus.
August 11, 1900 - Charles S. Venable dies at his Charlottesville home. He is buried at the University of Virginia Cemetery.
September 1, 1925 - Venable School, named for Charles S. Venable, opens in Charlottesville.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Sunshine, D. Charles S. Venable (1827–1900). (2017, December 11). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Venable_Charles_S_1827-1900.
- MLA Citation:
Sunshine, Daniel. "Charles S. Venable (1827–1900)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 11 Dec. 2017. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: November 17, 2017 | Last modified: December 11, 2017