John J. Tigert
University of Florida President
John J. Tigert, circa 1930.
Born(1882-02-11)February 11, 1882
Nashville, Tennessee
DiedJanuary 21, 1965(1965-01-21) (aged 82)
Gainesville, Florida
EducationB.A., Vanderbilt University, 1904
M.A., University of Oxford, 1907
OccupationUniversity Professor
University President
Sports Coach
Political Appointee
EmployerCentral College
Kentucky Wesleyan College
University of Kentucky
National Bureau of Education
University of Florida
University of Miami
Spouse(s)Edith Jackson Bristol Tigert

John James Tigert, IV (February 11, 1882 – January 21, 1965) was an American university president, university professor and administrator, college sports coach and the U.S. Commissioner of Education. Tigert was a native of Tennessee and the son and grandson of Methodist bishops. After receiving his bachelor's degree, he earned his master's degree as a Rhodes Scholar.

After completing his education, Tigert taught at Central College; served as the president of Kentucky Wesleyan College; and worked as a professor, sports coach and administrator at the University of Kentucky.

Tigert gained his greatest national prominence as the U.S. Commissioner of Education from 1921 to 1928, and the third president of the University of Florida, from 1928 to 1947. He is remembered as a forceful advocate for American public education, intercollegiate sports and university curriculum reform.

Early life and education


Tigert as Vanderbilt football player in 1903

Tigert was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1882,[1] the third son of a Methodist Episcopal minister, John James Tigert, III, and his wife, Amelia McTyeire Tigert.[2] Tigert received his primary education in the public schools of Kansas City, Missouri, and Nashville, and earned his high school diploma, with honors, from the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.[3] He was admitted to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where he was a member of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity (Tennessee Alpha Chapter) and a standout athlete in baseball, basketball, football and track.[3] As a senior, he was honored as an All-Southern halfback for the Vanderbilt Commodores football team.[4] Tigert graduated from Vanderbilt with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1904; he was selected for Phi Beta Kappa, and was chosen as a Rhodes Scholar, the first from the state of Tennessee,[4] along with teammate Bob Blake. While at Oxford University in Oxford, England, he completed his Master of Arts degree at Pembroke College in 1907,[3] and he continued to participate in competitive university sports, including cricket, rowing and tennis.[5]

Educator, administrator, reformer

After returning to the United States, Tigert taught at the Methodist-affiliated Central College in Fayette, Missouri,[6] and, at the age of 27, was appointed president of Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Kentucky in 1909. That same year, he married the former Edith Jackson Bristol.[7] He later received an appointment as a professor of psychology and philosophy at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. While there, Tigert also served as the athletic director from 1913 to 1917, the Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball coach in 1913, 1916 and 1917,[8] the Wildcats women's basketball coach from 1911 to 1915 and again from 1916 to 1917,[9] and the Wildcats football coach in 1915 and 1916.[10]

President Warren G. Harding appointed Tigert as the U.S. Commissioner of Education in 1921, and he served for seven years during the administrations of Harding and Calvin Coolidge. As commissioner, he was an energetic advocate of education reform and greater educational opportunities for all classes of Americans, and he traveled widely and spoke often to virtually any group interested in education.[11] In particular, he took an interest in rural education, and advocated innovative ways to impart public education to a wider audience, including the use of radio.[12] During his time in Washington, D.C., he also served a term as the national president of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity.[13]

The Florida Board of Control selected Tigert as the third president of the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida in 1928.[1] He assumed leadership of the university during an extended period of economic crisis in the state of Florida.[14] When the Great Depression began with the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Florida was already suffering from the after-effects of the 1920s land boom and bust, as well the devastating aftermath of two major hurricanes in 1926 and 1928.[14]

File:President John James Tigert.png

Tigert from the 1930 Seminole yearbook

The common thread of the nineteen years of Tigert's administration was doing more with less.[14] Faculty salary cuts were common; Tigert himself never drew his full authorized annual salary of $10,000.[14] Among Tigert's many significant reforms, he decentralized the university budget to the level of the individual academic colleges, allowing them to set their own spending priorities.[15] The University Council, composed of the president, the registrar and the college deans, retained final approval authority.[15] Tigert also established the faculty senate, the Institute of Inter-American Affairs and the Bureau of Economic and Business Research.[14]

One of his most influential reforms as president was the founding of the new University College as an academic division within the University of Florida in 1935.[16] The college was modeled on the general education college at the University of Chicago, and administered the freshman and sophomore-year liberal arts education of undergraduates before they were accepted to the university schools or colleges that administered their academic majors.[16] The college's stated purpose was to "stimulate intellectual curiosity" and "encourage independent work," with new liberal arts requirements in biology, English language and literature, the humanities, logic, mathematics, physical sciences and social sciences, and thereby counter the growing trend toward "trade school" education at the university level.[16][17]

As a former university athlete and coach, Tigert took a particular interest in athletics-related policy issues while he was president and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Florida Gators sports program generally, and football in particular.[18] He was responsible for the construction of the university's first and only permanent football stadium, Florida Field, in 1930.[19] He borrowed $10,000 to begin construction of the stadium, and then raised $118,000 to pay the construction costs of the 22,800-seat facility.[19] Tigert was also instrumental in the organization of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), which the University of Florida joined as one of the thirteen founding institutions in December 1932.[18] Tigert subsequently served two terms as SEC president (1934–1936 and 1945–1947).[14] As a key leader within the SEC, he worked to impose a uniform set of rules and standards for academic eligibility for SEC athletes.[18] Appalled by the under-the-table payments to amateur college athletes that were prevalent at the time, he advocated the grant of scholarships to athletes which would become the grant-in-aid of other university athletic programs and as mandated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the years to follow.[20]

Like his predecessor, Albert A. Murphree, Tigert was elected president of the National Association of State Universities, serving from 1939 to 1940.[21]

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, students began to withdraw from the university in large numbers to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces.[22] The financial impact on the university had the potential to be devastating, but Tigert navigated the war years by making the university campus, dormitories and class rooms available for the training of U.S. Army Air Force flight crews.[22] Tigert kept the lights on, and the bills paid. Veterans began to return to school with support from the GI Bill, and by the fall term of 1946, over seventy percent of the University of Florida's 7,000 students were returning World War II veterans.[23] Contributing to the shortage of facility space was the influx of new female students when the Florida Legislature reinstituted co-education in 1947.[24] The university suddenly had more students than its available housing and classroom space could serve.[25]

File:Dsg UF Administration Tigert Hall 20050507.jpg

Tigert Hall, the main administration building of the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, was completed in 1950, and renamed for John J. Tigert, the third president of the university (1928–1947), in 1960.

Tigert resigned as university president in 1947, worked as an educational consultant to the government of India as a member of the Indian Higher Education Commission, and taught philosophy at the University of Miami until 1959.[24]


Tigert served as president of the University of Florida for nineteen years, longer than any of the other presidents of the university.[26] During his term, the university awarded its first doctoral degrees in 1934, a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was installed in 1938, and total student enrollment grew from 2,162 in 1928 to over 7,500 in 1947.[27] As university president, he was responsible for significant and lasting academic, athletic and administrative reforms.[28]

In recognition of Tigert's long service as its president through depression and war, the University of Florida awarded him an honorary degree, a doctor of letters, during its 1953 centennial celebration,[29][30] and renamed its main administrative building, Tigert Hall, for him in 1960.[31] Tigert died in Gainesville, Florida on January 21, 1965;[31] he was 82 years old.[32] He was survived by his wife Edith, their son and daughter, and five grandchildren.[32]

As a fitting final tribute to a professor, education reformer and administrator, who also fervently supported college sports, Tigert was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as an "Honorary Letter Winner,"[33] and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1970.[4]

Head coaching records

Men's basketball

Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Kentucky Wildcats (SIAA) (1913)
1913 Kentucky 5–3 1–1
Kentucky: 5–3 1–1
Kentucky Wildcats (SIAA) (1916–1917)
1916 Kentucky 8–6 5–5
1917 Kentucky 4–6 3–2
Kentucky: 12–12 8–7
Total: 17–15


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs
Kentucky Wesleyan Panthers (Independent) (1910)
1910 Kentucky Wesleyan 1–2–1
Kentucky Wesleyan: 1–2–1
Kentucky Wildcats (SIAA) (1915–1916)
1915 Kentucky 6–1–1 1–0
1916 Kentucky 4–1–2 1–1–1
Kentucky: 10–2–3 2–1–1
Total: 11–4–4[34]

Women's basketball

Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Kentucky Wildcats (Independent) (1911–1915)
1911–1912 Kentucky 4–1
1912–1913 Kentucky 5–0
1913–1914 Kentucky 4–2
1914–1915 Kentucky 5–1
Kentucky: 18–4
Kentucky Wildcats (Independent) (1916–1917)
1916–1917 Kentucky 5–0
Kentucky: 5–0
Total: 23–4

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 University of Florida, Past Presidents, John J. Tigert (1928–1947). Retrieved February 14, 2010.
  2. E. Polk Johnson, A History of Kentucky and Kentuckians: The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities, Vol. II, Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois, pp. 827–830 (1912). Retrieved October 24, 2012. Tigert's father later became a professor and a Methodist bishop. See also "Bishop J.J. Tigert dead: Head of the Methodist Episcopal Church South dies in Indian Territory," The New York Times, p. 9 (November 22, 1906). Tigert was also the grandson of Methodist bishop Holland McTyeire, the founder of Vanderbilt University. Samuel Proctor & Wright Langley, Gator History: A Pictorial History of the University of Florida, South Star Publishing, Gainesville, Florida, p. 34 (1987).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Johnson, A History of Kentucky and Kentuckians, p. 827.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 College Football Hall of Fame, John Tigert Member Biography. Retrieved February 14, 2010.
  5. Julian M. Pleasants, Gator Tales: An Oral History of the University of Florida, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, p. 28 (2006).
  6. Proctor & Langley, Gator History, p. 34.
  7. Johnson, A History of Kentucky and Kentuckians, p. 830.
  8. UK Athletics, Men's Basketball, All-Time UK Coaches. Retrieved March 30, 2010. Tigert compiled a record of 17–15 during three seasons as the Kentucky men's basketball coach.
  9. UK Hoops 2008–09 Women's Basketball Media Guide, The Early Era, University of Kentucky Athletic Department, Lexington, Kentucky, p. 152 (2008). Retrieved March 30, 2010. Tigert's Lady Wildcats posted a 23–4 record in five seasons.
  10. College Football Data Warehouse, All-Time Coaching Records, John J. Tigert Records by Year. Retrieved February 14, 2010. Tigert compiled a record of 10–2–3 in two seasons as Kentucky's head football coach.
  11. "Education: Tireless Tigert," Time Magazine (February 8, 1926). Retrieved February 14, 2010.
  12. Paul Saettler, The Evolution of American Educational Technology, Libraries Unlimited, Denver, Colorado, p. 213 (1990). Retrieved February 14, 2010.
  13. Lee Lamar Robinson, "Head of United States Educators," Kentucky in Washington: A History in Brief of Participation of Kentucky through Kentuckians in Affairs at Washington 1792 to 1928, publisher unknown, p. 44 (1928). Retrieved February 14, 2010.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 Proctor & Langley, Gator History, p. 37.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Pleasants, Gator Tales, p. 29.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Pleasants, Gator Tales, pp. 29–30. University College was first known as General College.
  17. University College was disbanded, and its role in administering the liberal arts education of underclassmen was assumed by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in 1978. Proctor & Langley, Gator History, p. 58.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Pleasants, Gator Tales, pp. 31–32.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Pleasants, Gator Tales, p. 31.
  20. Fred Russell, "Columnary Craft: Pioneer of Open Aid," NCAA News, p. 2 (December 15, 1970). Retrieved February 14, 2010.
  21. University of Kentucky Alumni Association, Hall of Distinguished Alumni, John James Tigert. Retrieved February 14, 2010.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Proctor & Langley, Gator History, p. 38.
  23. Pleasants, Gator Tales, p. 32.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Proctor & Langley, Gator History, p. 39.
  25. Proctor & Langley, Gator History, pp. 38–39.
  26. Pleasants, Gator Tales, p. 34.
  27. Proctor & Langley, Gator History, pp. 35–38.
  28. See, generally, Proctor & Langley, Gator History, pp. 34–39.
  29. Associated Press, "7 Honorary Degrees to be Conferred," Daytona Beach Morning Journal, p. 6 (March 10, 1953). Retrieved March 8, 2010
  30. The highest academic degree Tigert completed was a master of arts degree, but he was the recipient of at least five other honorary doctorates before his appointment as president of the University of Florida. See University of Kentucky Alumni Association, Hall of Distinguished Alumni, John James Tigert. Retrieved February 14, 2010.
  31. 31.0 31.1 University of Florida Foundation, Named UF Facilities, John J. Tigert Hall. Retrieved February 14, 2010.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Associated Press, "John J. Tigert, 82, Educator, Is Dead: Ex-head of U. of Florida and Federal Commissioner," The New York Times (January 22, 1965).
  33. F Club, Hall of Fame, Honorary Letterwinners. Retrieved May 28, 2010.
  34. College Football Data Warehouse, All-Time Records, John J. Tigert Records by Year. Retrieved April 16, 2010


  • Johnson, E. Polk, A History of Kentucky and Kentuckians: The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities, Vol. II, Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois, pp. 827–830 (1912).
  • Osborn, George Coleman, John James Tigert: American Educator, The University Presses of Florida, Gainesville, Florida (1974). ISBN 0-8130-0498-5.
  • Pleasants, Julian M., Gator Tales: An Oral History of the University of Florida, University of Florida, Gainesvile, Florida (2006). ISBN 0-8130-3054-4.
  • Proctor, Samuel, & Wright Langley, Gator History: A Pictorial History of the University of Florida, South Star Publishing Company, Gainesville, Florida (1986). ISBN 0-938637-00-2.
  • Van Ness, Carl, & Kevin McCarthy, Honoring the Past, Shaping the Future: The University of Florida, 1853–2003, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida (2003).

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Philander P. Claxton
U.S. Commissioner of Education
Succeeded by
William J. Cooper

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