Educator, author. A prominent figure in U.S. higher education, Rice was born at Tanglewood Plantation in Lynchburg (Lee County) on February 1, 1888. He was the eldest son of John Andrew Rice, a Methodist minister, and Anna Bell Smith, the sister of U.S. Senator Ellison D. “Cotton Ed” Smith.
During Rice’s early childhood, his family lived in several South Carolina towns as his father moved from one Methodist congregtion to another, finally securing the presidency of Columbia Female College in 1894. After his mother died in 1899, Rice lived with relatives near Varnville in Colleton County. He left South Carolina in 1905, when his stepmother, Launa Darnell Rice, urged him to attend the Webb School, a highly regarded preparatory academy in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.
After graduating with a B.A. from Tulane University in 1911, Rice won a Rhodes Scholarship. He graduated from Oxford with first honors in jurisprudence in 1914 and in the same year married Nell Aydelotte. They had two children. He later attended the University of Chicago but left before completing his Ph.D. in classical Greek and Latin philosophy and language. During a succession of faculty appointments, Rice developed a reputation as an expert classics scholar and brilliant Socratic teacher. He also became known as critical and candid, railing openly at the administration of his own institutions and others. In widely published articles he chastised American higher education for teaching unconnected course subjects with pedagogy that still emphasized lecture and response.
In 1933 Rice first gained nationwide attention when the demand for his resignation from Rollins College sparked a highly publicized investigation by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Although the AAUP exonerated Rice and censured Rollins, Rice had already made plans to start Black Mountain College, near Asheville, North Carolina. Black Mountain became a renowned site of experimental and progressive education, especially known for Rice’s commitment to experiential learning, artistic expression in support of learning in any discipline, democratic governance among faculty and students, and the absence of outside trustees. As founder and first rector of the college, Rice recruited faculty talent that included Josef and Anni Albers, Buckminster Fuller, and Dante Fiorello. Other visitors who frequented the classrooms included John Dewey, Thornton Wilder, Aldous Huxley, Henry Miller, and Marcel Breuer.
Rice, ever unable to check his stinging candor, left Black Mountain College in 1940 at the insistence of his colleagues. He divorced and returned to South Carolina and began a second career in writing with his memoir, I Came Out of the Eighteenth Century (1942). With his second wife, Dikka Moen, and their two children, he lived in the Charleston area from 1945 to 1948, writing short stories for the New Yorker, Collier’s, the Saturday Evening Post, and other periodicals, largely on themes about life and race relations in the South. These appeared in anthologies and were collected as Local Color (1955). Later, Rice and his family moved to Maryland, where he died on November 17, 1968.
Duberman, Martin. Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community. New York: Dutton, 1972.
Reynolds, Katherine C. Visions and Vanities: John Andrew Rice of Black Mountain College. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.
Rice, John Andrew. I Came Out of the Eighteenth Century. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1942.