Vinson, Robert Ernest (1876–1945)

By: Robert Adger Law

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: August 1, 1995

Robert Ernest Vinson, Presbyterian minister and university president, was born in White Oak, South Carolina, on November 4, 1876, the son of John and Mary Elizabeth (Brice) Vinson. As a child he was brought to Texas by his parents. He received a B.A. degree at Austin College in 1896. In 1899 he received a B.D. degree from Union Theological Seminary, Virginia; he was ordained to the ministry and became associate pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Charleston, West Virginia. On January 3, 1901, he married Katherine Elizabeth Kerr of Sherman, Texas; they had three children. After three years in Charleston, Vinson returned to Texas in 1902 to become a professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He studied at the University of Chicago in 1902 and was given a D.D. degree in Austin in 1905. He was president of Austin Theological Seminary from 1908 to 1916, when he was elected president of the University of Texas. Vinson was fitted primarily for the pulpit, but he had a cultural and social background useful to a college president. He acceded to the presidency of the university at a crisis in its history and threw all his energy into a fight to arouse public sentiment for the right of a state university to withstand harmful political pressure. Governor James E. Ferguson attempted to force the governing board to dismiss Vinson and a half dozen other members of the faculty whom he regarded as personally offensive. He tried to remove opposing board members and then vetoed practically the entire appropriation passed by the Texas legislature for the university's maintenance for the biennium 1917–19. Vinson accepted the challenge, and in the summer of 1917 a statewide fight by faculty, alumni, students, and friends of the university resulted in the legislature's impeachment of Ferguson. A new appropriation bill was passed, and the university remained open. Other issues that arose during Vinson's administration of the University of Texas were cooperative aid to the federal government during World War I and expansion of the university campus. In both efforts Vinson met with success, but the realization of his dream of adequate university buildings had to await discovery of oil on university lands. In 1923 he resigned the UT presidency to become president of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he remained until he retired in December 1933. He received honorary degrees from some eight educational institutions in the South, East, and Middle West and served fourteen years as a trustee of the Carnegie Foundation of Teaching. He spent most of his retirement in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in efforts to regain his health. He died in Cleveland, Ohio, on September, 2, 1945, and was buried in Sherman, Texas.

Austin American, September 3, 1945. Carl John Eckhardt, One Hundred Faithful to the University of Texas at Austin (197-?). Lewis L. Gould, "The University Becomes Politicized: The War with Jim Ferguson," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 86 (October 1982). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Robert E. Vinson, "The University Crosses the Bar," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 43 (January 1940). Who's Who in America, 1946–47.


  • Education
  • University Presidents and School Administrators
  • Religion
  • Presbyterian

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Robert Adger Law, “Vinson, Robert Ernest,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995