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A Family Home: A History of the President

By: Nell Richardson
Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds
The University of Alabama Press, 2009
$24.95, Hardcover

For the Auburn aficionado who thinks he or she has bought every piece of merchandise available that celebrates his or her beloved orange and blue, Nell Richardson, wife of former Auburn University president Dr. Ed Richardson, has added one more little souvenir. Mrs. Richardson has documented the history of the school’s President’s Mansion in her book A Family Home: A History of the President’s Mansion at Auburn University. It’s a written history packed with candid photographs of the university’s presidents and their families (and dogs) who have ruled over the academic/football kingdom in the Loveliest Village on the Plains.

The white-columned, colonial-style mansion was built in 1939 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). A Family Home recounts the historical journey that led to Auburn’s reputation as a world-class agricultural institution. Richardson reveals that the first public livestock auction on campus took place in 1913 on the grounds where the mansion now stands. Readers also learn that the Richardson grandkids “have spun around the grounds in go-carts, and competed with their parents in croquet tournaments on the lawn.”

Richardson reminds readers that it was under President Ralph Draughon’s administration that Auburn and Alabama renewed their football rivalry in 1948 after having stopped playing one another for forty-one years “due to a fight over the reimbursement requested by Auburn from Alabama for team expenses incurred in playing the 1907 game in Birmingham.” Lillian Carter, mother of President Jimmy Carter, served as Kappa Alpha housemother from 1956 to 1962. Ralph “Shug” Jordan was hired as head football coach by Draughon, and it was under Draughon that Auburn eventually accepted African-American students.

Richardson shares the riveting secret that 1965 university president Harry Philpott and wife Polly were so ordinary that they helped to prepare food for mansion soirees. Apparently, Polly Philpott was quite a talented Auburn First Lady: “In her spare time, Mrs. Philpott enjoyed reading, growing orchids, knitting, and embroidery. She had a special tablecloth on which she collected the names of the prominent guests who visited the President’s Home, embroidering over these signatures in her spare time.” Philpott proved to be among the most daring of any of the school’s presidents, boldly ending women’s dormitory curfews, according to author Richardson.

If anything exciting ever happened at Auburn’s President’s Mansion, author Nell Richardson is keeping it to herself. Regardless, the book will no doubt be a fun source of trivia at tailgate parties on game day outside Jordan-Hare Stadium. Sept 2009

Edward Reynolds, a writer in Birmingham, is an Auburn graduate, class of ’78. His fondest memory of the President’s Mansion is the daring streaker who dashed across its lawn in 1973 when the now-lost performance art of streaking on college campuses was all the rage.

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