Written By Hunter Gentry
John LaFayette Dodson was born on April 10, 1837, to Samuel P. Dodson and Rebecca S. Gardner Dodson near Summerville, Georgia. When Dodson was nine years old, he suffered a health condition that disabled his arm—a disability that followed him for the rest of his life. As a result, his parents sent him to a local boarding school and academy so he could get an advanced education. He later attended Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, from 1857 to 1861. However, he failed to graduate due to the outbreak of the Civil War.
Dodson returned to Georgia and sought to enlist in the Confederate States Army. He was not accepted because of his disability. Dodson felt the need to contribute to his homeland and aided the Confederacy by collecting ammunition and supplies as well as educating children. During the war, he moved and received a teaching position at Brock’s School in Jacksonville, Alabama.
In 1867, after two years of teaching at Brock’s School, Dodson was asked to attend a meeting at the Presbyterian Church in Oxford, Alabama. At the meeting, he spoke out with great concern and urgency for education in Oxford. Dodson, alongside William J. Borden (later Mayor of Oxford), co-operated as the first principals of the Oxford College, as well as teachers of various subjects. Borden later resigned, making Dodson President and owner of the college.
On July 18, 1883, Dodson married Sarah Frances Gladden of Alexandria, Alabama, at the Presbyterian Church in Oxford. Sarah was the daughter of James A. Gladden and Martha Kelly Gladden. Sarah was a homemaker and later taught writing, physiology, and psychology at the Oxford College. Professor Dodson and Sarah never had any children of their own but touched the lives of many children and young adults in Oxford
Dodson taught at his beloved college until its closing in 1899. Throughout the remainder of his life, he continued teaching in several other Alabama cities including Jacksonville, Spring Garden, Lincoln, and Ethelsville (Pickens County). He also served as the Secretary of the State Board of Examiners for Teaching Licenses. Near the time of his retirement, Dodson was nearly blind and lived as an invalid for nearly two years before he passed away on September 27, 1911. He was laid to rest at the Oxford Memorial Gardens Cemetery. Former students, family, and friends erected a large monument in his memory in 1915. In 1919, the Oxford Presbyterian Church was renamed in honor of Dodson for his service to his community and church.