Dr. Joseph Harris Chappell was born in Macon, Georgia in 1849. After attending the University of Virginia for one year, Chappell’s abilities in organization and administration earned him honorary degrees from Emory University and Peabody Normal School in Nashville, Tennessee. Chappell took his place as the first president of GN&IC in the summer of 1891. He served as President and lived in the Old Governor's Mansion until he stepped down in 1905 due to many years of poor health from a case of tuberculosis. He later died in April 1906 and was interred in Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville.
During his tenure, Dr. Chappell oversaw the construction of the first campus buildings, which included Main Building and Atkinson Hall. He expanded the curriculum to include six classes: preparatory. sub-freshmen, freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior; established the Peabody Model School; ensured that all GN&IC graduates received instruction in at least one industrial art; and required all courses to be of the highest quality available.
From his appointment as president in 1891 until his death in 1906, J. Harris Chappell worked tirelessly to elevate the integrity and legacy of GN&IC. By today's standards, his rules and regulations seem a bit outdates; however, Chappell promulgated these rules with one goal in mind: to further the education of the young women in his charge.