The Presidents of Elon

William S. Long 1889-1894

William S. Long portraitBorn Oct. 22, 1839, on a farm near Graham, N.C., William S. Long spent his life working in Alamance County to provide quality education for young men and women. He operated a junior college in Graham, opened Graham Female Seminary in 1865 and served as the superintendent of public instruction for Alamance County. His dream of establishing a four-year coeducational college in Alamance County was realized in 1889 when he and other dedicated educators received the official charter for an institute they were planning to build in a little village called Mill Point west of Burlington. Ground was broken, foundations laid and the infant school was named Elon College. The name of the village was later renamed after the college. He served as a professor and as president of Elon from its founding until his resignation in 1894.

William Wesley Staley 1894-1905

William Wesley Staley portraitBorn in 1849, Rev. William W. Staley was a native of Alamance County. Staley studied under former President Long at Graham High School before graduating from Trinity College (now Duke University) in 1874. Following graduation, he became a member of the Graham High School faculty and was ordained as a minister of the Christian Church before pursuing graduate studies at the University of Virginia from 1877 to 1878. He served as superintendent of public instruction for Alamance County while living in Graham with his wife, Martha L. Pearce, before they moved to Suffolk, Va., where Staley served as pastor of the Christian Church. In an interesting move, Staley agreed to serve as a non-resident president of Elon, without salary or expense account, and began making frequent trips between Elon and Suffolk. As second president of the new college, Staley oversaw plans that brought the college out of debt for the first time in its history and paved the way for much-needed improvements to the campus. A new dormitory constructed in 1968 was named Staley Hall in his honor.

Emmett Leonidas Moffitt 1905-1911

Emmett Leonidas Moffitt portraitA native of Asheboro, N.C., Emmett L. Moffitt became the third president of Elon College and oversaw the expansion and modernization of Elon’s campus. Prior to his tenure as president, Moffitt served on the Elon faculty as a professor of English from 1890 to 1894. He then served as editor of the Christian Sun until 1900, finally working as secretary-treasurer of the Asheboro Wheelbarrow Company until he was selected as president. During Moffitt’s era, Elon’s campus was transformed with the addition of electric lights, running water and steam radiators. Moffitt is also responsible for the construction of West Dormitory, known today as the only original building still on campus to have survived the 1923 fire. In addition, students enjoyed participation in intercollegiate sports for the first time in 1906.

William Allen Harper 1911-1931

William Allen Harper portraitWilliam Allen Harper was born in Berkeley, Va., in 1880. He graduated from Elon College in 1899, earned a master’s degree in 1905 from Yale University and began teaching Latin and religion at Elon. In 1908 he was elected dean of the college and served in that role until he became Elon’s fourth president in 1911, a position he held for 20 years. Harper led Elon through World War I, the 1918-19 influenza epidemic and the 1923 fire that destroyed the Main Administration Building. After the fire, Harper and the board of trustees embarked on an expansive, long-term building plan for the college that included many of the key buildings still in use at Elon today, such as Mooney, Alamance, Duke, Carlton and Whitley Auditorium. During his service as dean, Harper wrote an article advancing White supremacy ideologies. As a result, Elon’s board of trustees voted in 2020 to remove Harper’s name from a campus residence hall in the Colonnades Neighborhood.

Leon Edgar Smith 1931-1957

Leon Edgar Smith portraitA 1910 Elon College graduate, Dr. Leon E. Smith was the longest-serving and one of the most influential presidents in the college’s history. His dedication to Elon and his business-minded leadership saved the institution from financial collapse. Smith carried Elon College through the Depression, three campus fires, World War II and the Korean War. Smith was the 1950 recipient of the Outstanding Alumnus Award and oversaw the construction of a new campus gymnasium that same year. Throughout the 1950s, he continued to improve Elon’s programs, opening a night school, building new residence halls and growing enrollment. Before his retirement in 1957, Smith became the first president in Elon history to be honored with the title of president emeritus.

James Earl Danieley 1957-1973

James Earl Danieley portraitA native of Alamance County, Dr. J. Earl Danieley has dedicated half a century to the growth and improvement of Elon and the surrounding community. A 1946 Elon graduate, he received graduate degrees in organic chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and conducted post-doctoral research at Johns Hopkins University. Beginning his career as a chemistry instructor at Elon, Danieley served from 1953 to 1956 as dean of the college before being named president of Elon in 1957. He stepped down in 1973 to dedicate the next years of his life to teaching. Danieley was elected to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors in 1983 and served in that capacity for 12 years. In 1987, Danieley agreed to reduce his teaching hours in order to serve as Elon’s director of planned giving in the development office, a position he held until 1992. In that year he was named president emeritus of the college. Dr. Danieley continued to teach classes as a member of the faculty of the Department of Chemistry until his retirement in spring 2016. He died on Nov. 29, 2016, at the age of 92.

James Fred Young 1973-1998

James Fred Young portraitDr. J. Fred Young has spent a lifetime striving for educational excellence in Alamance County. A native of Burnsville, N.C., Young was educated at Mars Hill College, Wake Forest University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Columbia University. In 1973 Young was named the seventh president of Elon College and served until 1998, making him one of the longest-serving presidents in Elon history. During the 25 years of his tenure, the college more than doubled enrollment to 3,685 and became one of the premier undergraduate institutions on the Eastern seaboard. New academic offerings included masters programs in business administration, education and physical therapy; a new general studies program; and new majors including communications, computer systems, sports medicine and leisure/sport management. The Elon campus expanded from about 145 acres to more than 500 acres during Young’s presidency. Facilities construction and renovation included additions of the Center for the Arts; The Koury Center for athletics and physical education; the Moseley Center for campus activities; the Story Center, Jordan Center and East Campus residence hall complexes; and the McMichael Science Center. Groundbreaking was held for the Carol Grotnes Belk Library, and Young also began planning and fundraising for Rhodes Stadium. Dr. Young has been named President Emeritus by the Elon Board of Trustees.

Leo Michael Lambert 1999-2018

More information on President Emeritus Lambert

Leo Michael Lambert portraitIn 19 years of service as Elon University’s eighth president, Leo M. Lambert led implementation of two ambitious strategic plans – NewCentury@Elon and the Elon Commitment – that created a model for the modern liberal arts university. During Lambert’s presidency, applications for undergraduate admission doubled, enrollment grew from 4,000 to more than 6,700, and full-time faculty numbers increased from under 200 to 425. During this period of growth, student academic credentials increased, average class sizes dropped and the student-faculty ratio decreased from 16-to-1 to 12-to-1. Nationally accredited schools of communications, education, health sciences and law were established and Elon gained a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, achieving the highest standards of quality in the arts and sciences. Lambert increased resources for faculty and supported development of the Elon teacher-scholar-mentor model. Elon established the Center for Engaged Learning and the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning and consistently received top rankings for excellence in undergraduate teaching. Elon maintained a position as one of the nation’s best values in private higher education under Lambert’s leadership, quadrupling the university’s endowment to $230 million with a priority on funding increased student financial aid. During Lambert’s presidency, the number of endowed scholarships more than doubled; he led completion of the record-setting $107 million “Ever Elon” campaign and made endowed scholarships a central goal of the “Elon Leads” campaign. More than 100 buildings were added to Elon’s iconic campus during Lambert’s tenure, creating one of the nation’s finest environments for learning. During his presidency, Lambert awarded more than 22,000 Elon diplomas, 54 percent of the degrees conferred since the first graduating class in 1891. Dr. Lambert has been named President Emeritus by the Elon Board of Trustees.

Connie Ledoux Book 2018-

More information on President Book

Connie Ledoux Book portraitConnie Ledoux Book is a passionate advocate for higher education and its power to transform students’ lives. She spent 16 years as an Elon faculty member and administrative leader, helping to build the university’s reputation for excellence in engaged teaching and learning. In 2015 she accepted a groundbreaking role as the first female provost and chief academic officer at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. Following her impressive accomplishments there, she returned to Elon as president in 2018, bringing a deep appreciation for the university’s unique history and its rapid rise to national prominence. Under President Book’s leadership, Elon launched the 10-year Boldly Elon strategic plan to advance the university’s national leadership in experiential education, mentoring and student success. Elon has been reclassified as a Doctoral/Professional institution, ranked as a National University and named the nation’s “Best Run” university. There are many new full-time faculty positions along with innovative new academic programs in engineering and nursing and numerous new facilities. In 2022 Elon opened the Innovation Quad, providing two new buildings for engineering and sciences.