Author: Daniel Sunshine

a graduate student in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia

Venable, Charles S. (1827–1900)

Charles S. Venable was a mathematician who served as an aide-de-camp to Confederate general Robert E. Lee during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and as the chair of mathematics at the University of Virginia from 1865 until his retirement in 1896. Born at his family’s estate near Farmville, Venable pursued academics from an early age, teaching at Hampden-Sydney College (1846–1856), the University of Georgia (1856–1857), and the University of South Carolina (1857–1862) before joining Lee’s staff. His wartime experience and his close affiliation with Lee served him well in the postwar years, helping his advocacy for the University of Virginia and making him an important voice among those promoting the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War. A few months after the surrender at Appomattox, Venable accepted a position in Charlottesville and twice served as chairman of the faculty (1870–1873, 1886–1888). During his tenure he helped secure critical public and private funding for the university and pushed for the expansion of the university’s course offerings in the sciences. Exploiting a mutual interest in astronomy, he helped secure a large financial gift from Leander J. McCormick that in 1885 went toward a domed observatory and refractor telescope, the second largest of its kind in the world. Venable taught the University of Virginia’s first woman student, in 1893, but voted against coeducation the next year. He died in 1900.

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