north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     William L. Poteat, innovative educator and president of Wake Forest College, was born on October 20, 1856, to James and Julia McNeill Poteat of Caswell County. He graduated from Wake Forest College in 1877 and became a tutor there the following year. By 1881 Poteat was an assistant professor of natural science and by 1883 he was a full professor of biology. He introduced the laboratory method of teaching biology, which, at least in the South, had been entirely a recitation class.

     William Poteat was elected president of his alma mater in 1905 and held the job for twenty-two years. During the 1920s he was at the center of the evolution controversy in North Carolina. Poteat was a proponent of the Darwinian theory of evolution and believed that it demonstrated the “divine method of creation.” A devout Baptist and leader of a Baptist college, he believed that evolution was in keeping with fundamental tenets of the church. In 1925 Poteat helped to defeat legislation that would have prevented the teaching of evolution in North Carolina classrooms. He was an active member of a variety of social and professional organizations and was a popular lecturer on subjects such as religion, science, temperance, and education. Poteat was the author of Laboratory and Pulpit (1901), The New Peace (1915), Can Man Be a Christian Today? (1925), and Stop Light (1935).

     Poteat married Emma James Purefoy in 1881. They had three children. He died at his home on March 12, 1938, and was buried at the cemetery at Wake Forest.

William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 131—sketch by John R. Woodard
Randal L. Hall, William Louis Poteat: A Leader in the Progressive-Era South (2000)
Suzanne Cameron Linder, William Louis Poteat: Prophet of Progress (1966)
William Louis Poteat Papers, Baptist Historical Collection, Wake Forest University
Location: County:

Original Date Cast:




north carolina highway historical marker program

William L. Poteat

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources