Gordon Williams Blackwell, son of a Baptist minister, was born on April 27, 1911 in Timmonsville, South Carolina but grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He graduated from Furman University in 1932 and went on to receive a M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1933) and a M.A. (1937) and Ph.D. (1940) from Harvard University.
From 1937 to 1941, he was head of the Department of Sociology at Furman and a staff member of the Greenville County Council for Community Development. In 1941, he came to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as Associate Professor of Sociology and research associate at the Institute for Research in Social Science. In 1942, Blackwell became Research Professor and Director of the Institute. Blackwell continued in these positions until he was appointed Chancellor of the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (UNCG) in 1957. After three years at Woman’s College, he became President of Florida State University (1960-1965) and ended his career as President of Furman University.
During his career Blackwell published much on the sociology of the South, community life and development and higher education. He was a prolific contributor to scholarly and professional journals and wrote or collaborated on nearly a dozen books. He edited Studies of Southern Resources and Southern Forces and has been active in numerous professional and regional organizations.
When Blackwell served as Chancellor of the Woman’s College, the state and the national governments had begun to place more demands upon colleges and universities. The anticipated increase in college enrollment, the expanded American role in world affairs, and the challenge of Russian science and technology after sputnik forced a reassessment of the role of higher education and a sustained effort to provide quality education for greater numbers (Academic Policies Committee, 1957). Even more important for the Woman’s College, the increased opportunities for women after World War II and the postwar commitment to improved community services made it especially urgent to expand and improve programs at the college. Blackwell devoted most of his time to finding the means and methods for fulfilling this expanded mission for a Southern woman’s college during a period of limited resources, both financial and professional.
Blackwell died at his home in South Carolina on January 26, 2004) at the age of 92.