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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Erwin, Clyde Atkinson

by Robert O. Conway, 1986

8 Feb. 1897–19 July 1952

A photograph of Clyde Atkinson Erwin. Image from Atkinson Erwin, educator, was born in Atlanta, Ga., the son of Sylvanus and Mamie Putnam Erwin. He attended school in Charlotte and Waco, N.C., and was a student at The University of North Carolina in 1915–16 and subsequent summer schools. He held honorary doctorates from Catawba College and North Carolina State College. After a brief period as a classroom teacher, he became principal of various schools in the western Piedmont section of the state and from 1925 to 1934 was superintendent of the Rutherford County schools. He gained statewide prominence as president of the North Carolina Education Association when he campaigned for a state-supported school system and adequate support in the 1933 General Assembly.

In 1934 Erwin was appointed by Governor J. C. B. Ehringhaus to succeed the late Arch T. Allen as state superintendent of public instruction. Erwin was one of the youngest men to hold a major state office. He served eighteen years in the position, winning reelection easily each time he was a candidate. While head of the state's school system, he took the lead in raising the minimum school term from eight to nine months, adding a twelfth grade to the high schools, and reducing the teacher load; expenditures grew from $19 million in 1934–35 to $103 million at the time of his death.

Erwin was a member of and officer in numerous regional and national educational organizations and served on advisory committees and as consultant to state and national officials. The day before his death he returned home from Chicago where he served as a consultant on the education plank in the Democratic party's 1952 platform. He also served on the boards of trustees for East Carolina Teachers College, the Greater University of North Carolina, North Carolina College at Durham, Agricultural and Technical College at Greensboro, and Elizabeth City State Teachers College. Erwin was active in Boy Scout work and was especially vigorous in encouraging cooperation between scouting and public schools. In 1950 he was state chairman of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and in the same year he was chairman of the U.S. delegation to the International Conference on Public Education in Geneva, Switzerland. An active member of the Methodist church, he had a lengthy record as an adult Sunday school teacher in Rutherfordton and in Raleigh.

Erwin married Evelyn Miller of Waco, and they were the parents of two children: Frances Elizabeth (Mrs. George Withers) and Clyde A., Jr. He was buried at Capernium near Waco.


Asheville Citizen-Times, 20 July 1952.

Charlotte Observer, 28 Mar. 1932.

New York Times, 20 July 1952.

North Carolina Manual (1951), for a list of his many offices and professional positions.

Raleigh News and Observer, 23 Oct. 1934, 28 May 1935, 10 Aug. 1940, 20, 21 July 1952.

Additional Resources:

Bailey, Don. "Clyde A. Erwin – Educator Extraordinaire." Remember Cliffside. The Cliffside Historical Society. 2010. (accessed July 25, 2013).

"Necrology." The Alumni Review [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] 40, no. 7 (April 1952). 186. (accessed July 25, 2013).

National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Cliffside Public School. By Dayvd Foard Hood. Vale, N.C. 1997. (accessed July 25, 2013).

Image Credits:

"Clyde Atkinson Erwin." Photograph. Biennial report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of North Carolina for the scholastic years 1950-1951 and 1951-1952 part 1. Raleigh, N.C.: The Graphic Press, Inc. 1953. 6. (accessed July 25, 2013).