Illustrations by Mike Uriss

He’s a Pepper

Dr. Charles T. Pepper earned his medical degree in 1855 from the University of Virginia Medical School, then served as a surgeon for the Confederacy during the Civil War. After the war, Pepper moved to Rural Retreat, Va., where he practiced medicine and opened a drugstore.

Pepper employed a young pharmacist named Wade Morrison, who later moved to Waco, Texas, to open his own drugstore. There’s general consensus that Dr Pepper—the drink that Morrison and Charles Alderton, a pharmacist in his employ, served at their soda fountain—was named in honor of the University’s Dr. Pepper. The U.Va. connection has been confirmed by James Ball, who was vice president of corporate communications for Dr Pepper/Seven-Up. But beyond that, the line between myth and reality blurs.

According to some legends, Morrison was in love with Pepper’s daughter and named the drink for the doctor in hopes of winning his approval. Another story maintains that it was Morrison’s way of thanking Pepper for giving him his first job. Rural Retreat locals claim that Morrison merely mass-produced a fizzy beverage made of mountain herbs and roots originally concocted by Pepper. Others theorize that the name Dr Pepper was chosen to bolster early marketing claims that the drink was an energizing brain tonic.

Whatever the true story is, Charles Pepper never profited from the arrangement. According to a New York Times article, “Dr. Pepper went on to fame, but no fortune, as the brew’s namesake.”

Breaking Ground on the Court

alt textWhen Mary Slaughter came to the University to earn a master’s degree in education, the formation of the first women’s sports team at U.Va. was still two decades away. Undeterred, she joined the men’s tennis team in 1954 and won the Women’s Eastern Intercollegiate title, becoming the first woman to play a varsity sport at U.Va. and the first to earn a varsity letter.

Although Slaughter crossed into uncharted territory for U.Va. women’s sports, she was no stranger to the University’s department of athletics. Her father, Edward R. “Butch” Slaughter, had a lengthy U.Va. career, during which he coached football, baseball and golf, and directed the intramural program. The Slaughter Recreation Center on Grounds is named in his honor.

Mary Slaughter continued to play tennis after she graduated, winning Virginia State Women’s Championships in 1959, 1961 and 1963. She also won the 1965 Illinois State Women’s Tennis Championship in singles and doubles. After earning her doctorate at the University of Illinois and spending most of her career there as a professor, Slaughter retired to Charlottesville.

Of late, Slaughter has traded in her tennis racket for golf clubs—she’s a regular in the Virginia State Golf Association Senior Women’s Amateur Championship.

Secret Experiments on the Lawn

alt textCompleted in 1898, Rouss Hall was built to house classrooms and physics laboratories. Just over four decades later, those labs were the site of top-secret experiments conducted by physics professor Jesse Beams—experiments that would help usher in the nuclear age.

Beams, who joined the faculty in 1928 and was the head of the physics department from 1948 to 1962, was one of five scientists appointed by the National Research Council to study uranium fission before the United States entered World War II. After Pearl Harbor, the effort grew significantly in scope and became the Manhattan Project—the code name given to the U.S.-led efforts to develop an atomic bomb.

Work at the University focused on the use of an ultracentrifuge to isolate uranium-235 from U-238 and U-234. Developing centrifuge machines that created forces more than a billion times that of gravity, Beams was successful in his efforts—though his method was not used in the actual manufacture of atomic bombs. The ultracentrifuge did have other practical research applications, such as separating viruses and other biological forms from their carrying media.

Beams worked on the Manhattan Project with a team of carefully selected students and faculty, two of whom became particularly well-known at the University. Frank Hereford, the University’s president from 1974 to 1985, worked closely with Beams and was a prized student; Beams described him as “one of the best all-around physicists with whom I have ever been associated.” Dexter Whitehead, who became dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, was another young scientist in Beams’ lab.

Best in Show

alt textIn the first half of the 20th century, a pair of dogs captured the hearts and imaginations of the entire University. The first was Beta, a black-and-white mutt built like a bull terrier, who roamed freely around Grounds during the 1920s and ’30s.

Beta’s fame extended well beyond Charlottesville. Hailed as the nation’s “No. 1 College Dog,” he was pictured in a 1937 issue of Look magazine and was the topic of a national radio show sponsored by Pontiac.

Beta’s appetite for beer and hamburgers was legendary, but his interests weren’t limited to the creature comforts—he also avidly pursued his academic interests. His regular attendance at classes earned him another nickname: Aristotle.

Still, Beta enjoyed his meals. In a 1980 letter to the Washington Post, a contemporary recalls “unearthing a photo of that gentlemanly dog, ensconced at a booth in a local eatery, white napkin tied round his neck.”

Seal, a cross-eyed mongrel with a shiny black coat who was the University’s mascot from 1947 to 1953, enjoyed similar dining privileges around town. Restaurant signs of the day read, “No Dogs Allowed (Except Seal).”

Seal’s crowning moment came at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field during halftime of the 1949 Pennsylvania-Virginia football game. As described by the Cavalier Daily, Seal slowly “walked from midfield to the Quaker side. Indifferently he inspected their cheerleading appurtenances. Eighty thousand people watched with bated breath. Coolly, insolently, Seal lifted a leg—the rest is history.”

The beloved dogs are buried side by side, just outside of the University Cemetery. An estimated 1,000 mourners attended Beta’s 1939 funeral, while more than 1,500 attended Seal’s burial in 1953.

Go Figure

  • The Rotunda’s clock—replaced after the 1895 fire—was designed to be bulletproof. In U.Va.’s early days, students often used the original clock face for target practice.
  • The Greek inscription on the pediment entablature of Old Cabell Hall translates to “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
  • NFL Hall of Famer Don Shula’s first coaching job was at U.Va. Shula coached Virginia’s defensive backfield in 1958.
  • At last count in 2008, there were 5,157,713 books in the University of Virginia Library and an additional 374,731 electronic books.
  • U.Va.’s Birdwood Golf Course opened in 1984. A residential college had originally been proposed for the land, but student resistance and prohibitive cost scuttled the plans.
  • Claudio Reyna (Col ‘95), a three-time All America selection as a U.Va. midfielder, was named the collegiate male player of the century by Soccer America in 2000.
  • Of the University’s estimated 198,000 living alumni, 47.8 percent attended the University during the presidency of John T. Casteen III.