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Polishing cornerstones: Tift College, Georgia Baptists' separate college for women

Author: Darin S. Harris
This dissertation examines Tift College, formerly in Forsyth, Georgia, and the problems Tift faced as Georgia Baptist's women's college. Many of these difficulties were a result of the beliefs of Georgia Baptists on educating women and the fact that Georgia Baptists placed a greater value on education for males. This work also examines the role of feminism in a southern women's college. To complete this task, the dissertation examines the beliefs and attitudes of Georgia Baptists about education in general, and educating women in specific and how funding played a part in their education. The dissertation addresses Tift's struggle to remain a separate school for women and examines ideas of womanhood at Tift as determined by the curriculum imposed on the women, as well as documenting what Tift students felt about womanhood based on their statements in class papers, journal and newspaper articles, and various other archival sources. These data show how attitudes and beliefs changed over the years, and while a strong feminist spirit may not have been achieved, the changes that were evident affected the purposes of the college. As the student body became more diversified, students were no longer content to become genteel, southern ladies or "polished cornerstones." Going against traditional roles, many students argued for a curriculum that would allow them to compete with men in the job market.



LIST OF TABLES............................................iv ABBREVIATIONS..............................................v

Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION AND PURPOSE..............................1

2 What Georgia Baptists Said about Education in General.............................................23

3 What Georgia Baptists Said about Women’s Education..52

4 How Georgia Baptists Paid for Women’s Education.....62

5 Tift’s Struggle to Remain a Separate College........91

6 Tift’s Merger with a Coeducational University......112

7 Tift’s Curriculum for Women........................124

8 White Women on Womanhood...........................140

9 Black Women on an Interracial Tift Campus..........161

10 Problems With Polishing Cornerstones...............176 Bibliography............................................183




Table 1 Four-Year Curriculum–Georgia Female College.........58



GBC Georgia Baptist Convention Quill The Campus Quill SBC Southern Baptist Convention TCMU Tift College of Mercer University Tift Tift College, Bessie Tift College, & Monroe College

CHAPTER 1 - INTRODUCTION The history of U.S. colleges has been dominated by the history of men and men’s colleges, and only recently have there been significant studies on the role of women and women’s colleges. Mary Ann Dzuback states, “The story of higher education in the United States is a story that cannot be understood without thorough attention to gender as the fundamental defining characteristic of American educational institutions, ideas, and practices.” 1 Since many of the histories have been about male institutions, women, Blacks as well as other ethnic groups, and the poor have often been left out of these histories, or relegated to a few sentences tucked within hundreds of pages. When historians have examined these groups, and specifically women, the theme has often been that of access. Linda Eisenmann recently posed the question of “whether access was the best such framework” 2 for examining women’s

1 Mary Anne Dzuback, “Gender and the Politics of Knowledge,” History of Education Quarterly (Summer 2003). http://historycooperative.press.uiuc.edu/journals/heq/43.2/ dzuback.html (24 Feb., 2006) , par 7, retrieved February 24, 2006 21:40 EST. 2 Linda Eisenmann, “Creating a Framework for Interpreting US Women’s Educational History: Lessons from 1

2 educational history. She suggests four other possible contexts for examining these histories: institution building, networking, religion, and money. Dzuback adds to the idea of examining institution building the notion “of gender as a fundamental category that shaped hierarchy and power within and among educational institutions.” 3

Exploring gender and power within an institution seems remarkably important, especially if the institution being examined is a female college in the South. Education in the South, as in the rest of the country, was not equitable for males and females. Many of the most prestigious colleges and universities were begun as, or at least contained, a school of religion to prepare young men for ministry. In the South this was the case as well, but this occurred much later than in the Northeast. Protestants in the South, Baptists in particular, had no college in the South for either men or women until the nineteenth century. For many years sons of Southern plantation owners, lawyers, doctors, and merchants, attended colleges abroad and in the Northern states. It was one hundred and ninety years after the founding of Harvard that the first Baptist college, Furman University, was established in the South. Other colleges under church control which Southern students attended were William and Mary College, Williamsburg Virginia, founded in

Historical Lexicography,” History of Education 30 (2001), 455. 3 Dzuback, 11.

3 1696; Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, in 1701; Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, in 1746; King’s College (now Columbia University), New York City, in 1754; and Rhode Island College (now Brown University), Providence, Rhode Island, in 1764. One only of these, Brown University was founded by Baptists. Sixty-two years elapsed after the establishment of that university before a Baptist college was founded in the South. 4

The first degree-granting female college in the South was not established for another 11 years, with the opening of Georgia Female College in 1836. While female education in the South has often been shown to be behind the rest of the country, newer studies show that in some ways Southern female education was ahead of its counterparts in the North. Farnham, in her study of antebellum female education, showed that Georgia Female College was not only the first degree-granting college in the South, but also in the nation, and that during this period the South had more female colleges than the North. 5 Other historians have noted that female education in the South had a curriculum which was often more rigorous than education for females in the

4 Charles Johnson, Higher Education of Southern Baptists: An Institutional History, 1826-1954 (Waco: The Baylor University Press, 1955), 4. 5 Christie Anne Farnham, The Education of the Southern Belle: Higher Education and Student Socialization in the Antebellum South (New York: New York University Press, 1994).

4 North, and that this curriculum was more closely aligned to the curriculum for males. 6 However, “It was assumed in the South, unlike the North in this period, that the well-bred female would not teach school; rather her education should fit her to be a lady—polished, competent, and subservient.” 7

It is also possible, as John Hardin Best points out, “[In the South] the curriculum itself was less than crucial for the young because the teaching that really mattered would come from family, church, and social relationships.” 8 This explanation would be true for both males and females, however, and does not specifically address the difference in education of women in the North and South. Possibly this difference has had some impact on the fact that histories of female colleges in the South have

6 Nancy Beadie and Kim Tolley. Chartered Schools: Two Hundred Years of Independent Academies in the United States, 1727-1925 (New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2002); Farnham, The Education of the Southern Belle; John Rury, Education and Women’s Work: Female Schooling and the Division of Labor in Urban America, 1870-1930 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991). This is argued by Irene Harwarth, Mindi Maline, and Elizabeth DeBra in a Department of Education bulletin for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement entitled: “Women's Colleges in the United States: History, Issues, and Challenges” found at http://www.ed.gov/offices/OERI/PLLI/webreprt.html.

7 Barbara Miller Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women (Yale University Press: New Have, 1985), 21.

8 John Hardin Best,

“Education in the Forming of the American South,” History of Education Quarterly 36(1): 39- 51.

5 been fewer in number than histories of female colleges in the North. 9 The schools most often looked at seem to be those schools often referred to as the “Seven Sisters”: Barnard College (New York, NY) – founded in 1889, adjacent to Columbia University; Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, PA) – founded in 1885; Mount Holyoke College (South Hadley, MA) – founded in 1837; Radcliffe College, now the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Women's Studies at Harvard University (Cambridge, MA) – founded in 1879; Smith College (Northampton, MA) – founded in 1871; Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY) – founded in 1861; and Wellesley College (Wellesley, MA) – founded in 1870, all found in the Northeast. In 1987, Sally Schwager wrote, “Studies of women educators and institutions outside New England have been relatively few, and on the college level, attention to the eastern women’s colleges still prevails.” 10 Nineteen years later, Linda Eisenmann states: The historiography of women’s education is relatively young, whether examined comparatively across nations or individually by country.

9 Some notable exceptions: Christie Anne Farnham and Amy Thompson McCandless, “Progressivism and the Higher Education of Southern Women,” North Carolina Historical Review 70(3)(July 1993), 317; Amy Thomas McCandless. The Past in the Present: Women’s Higher Education in the Twentieth-Century American South (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1999). 10 Sally Schwager, “Educating Women in America,” Signs 12 (2)(Winter, 1987), 336.

6 Certainly, the past 25 years have produced a growing and impressive collection of studies that trace the development of educational options for women, both on the school and collegiate levels. 11

In this article Eisenmann cites almost exclusively schools in the north and east or studies about these schools. Consequently: Southern women and Southern colleges have shared many of the burdens of Southern history. The image of the South as a poverty-striken [sic], guilt-ridden, and benighted region has tinged portraits of its people and institutions for generations. Southern women have been dismissed as “belles” more concerned with marital prospects than with mental accomplishments…. Southern women’s colleges have been characterized as mere “finishing schools” for the wealthy.... More often than not, the term “educated Southerner” has been viewed as an oxymoron. The consequences of this diminution of Southern schools and omission of the Southern experience is, of course, an incomplete picture of the American educational scene. 12

In light of this, it is important for historians of women’s education to conduct historical research on female colleges in the South to gain a better understanding of how they were similar to and different from their counterparts in the Northeast. 13

11 Eisenmann, 453.

12 Amy Thomas McCandless, 1999, 8. 13 An example: all of Wellesley’s presidents have been women, and in the 140 year history of Tift College in Forsyth, Georgia only one woman was president and she only served for one year.

7 The South has had a distinctive culture from the Northeast or the West, and this distinctiveness must be addressed in dealing with the history of southern education. John Hardin Best, in his article “Education in the Forming of the American South,” gave three causes for the distinctiveness of southern culture. The first of these was the climate, which allowed for the agrarian foundations of southern society. The second was “the ethnic and racial mix of the people.” 14 Best claimed the traditional folk culture of the South has been another contributing factor. “Song, story, and myth have been richly effective in defining and sustaining what is southern.” 15

According to Best, however, the southern distinction has not been constant. There have been distinct shifts in the culture that must be acknowledged. Best describes three “broad chronological arenas.” The first he terms the Old South. “The Old South extends from the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century foundings through the years of the early Republic – the agrarian economy based on slave labor that ended with the Civil War and Emancipation.” 16

14 Best, 40.

15 Ibid, 41.

16 Ibid, 48.

8 Best termed the second era, the New South. “The New South made the transition to a free labor economy with the caste division of White and Black firmly in place.” 17 Along with this division of the races, this era “was accompanied by efforts to reach beyond agriculture to develop a more diverse economy in towns and small cities.” 18 According to Best, this era ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which marked “the legal and official demise of the caste system.” 19

The final period Best describes is the American South. In this era, the 1970s and following, there was growth in the economics of the South, both in industry and agriculture. Along with this there was political moment throughout much of the South that pushed society closer toward the mainstream of American society. These cultural distinctions are important to note when examining a school in the South, especially when that school’s history covers, to some degree, all three of the chronological eras Best described. One other area of southern society that Best only slightly touched on, but that is especially important in examining a religious school in the South, is that of

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

9 cultural religion. “The South’s commitment to a particularly fundamentalist brand of Protestant Christianity, has been noted by many commentators on Southern society but left relatively unexplored by historians and other scholarly students of Southern education.” 20 In the South this “particularly fundamentalist brand of Protestant Christianity” found its roots in Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians predominantly, and although they were different denominations, they had distinct similarities when it came to moral laws and family and social structure. 21

Though the more Puritanical Protestantism in the North was early tied to education, Southern Protestantism did not have the same educational stance. Timothy Smith describes the situation encountered by missionaries sent to the early nineteenth century South: The young Congregational ministers sent out by the American Home Missionary Society [a Northern organization] after 1827...professed amazement at...the educational neglect of children which

20 Wayne Urban, “History of Education: A Southern Exposure,” History of Education Quarterly 21 (Summer 1981), 138. Since this time the study of religion’s impact seems to have grown. 21 For more detailed analysis of these distinctions see the following church historians’ work: Robert T. Handy, “The Protestant Quest for a Christian America 1830-1930,” Church History 22 (March 1953), 12; and Samuel S. Hill, Jr., The South and North in American Religion (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980).

10 they observed in Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian families. The missionaries immediately reacted by shifting their emphasis from primarily pastoral and evangelistic ministry to an educational one. 22

While education was slow in coming to the South, it did find its place, and Protestantism was one factor that influenced its growth. One area in which Protestant groups impacted education was in the area of women’s education. Most of the women’s colleges in the nineteenth century were begun by religious groups, and in the South the majority of these were Protestant in their foundations. The Baptists of Georgia were active in establishing women’s colleges throughout the nineteenth century; one in particular was Tift College. In 1849 the citizens of Forsyth, Georgia began a college for females. Tift College was originally founded as Forsyth Female Collegiate Institute on December 21, 1849. 23 The school was strongly Protestant with three Baptists, three Methodists, and one Presbyterian on the original board of trustees. The school was technically non-denominational until 1855 when the three Baptists on

22 Timothy L. Smith, “Protestant Schooling and American Nationality, 1800-1850,” Journal of American History 53 (March 1967), 690. 23 B. D. Ragsdale, Story of Georgia Baptists: Volume Two - Mercer University in Macon, Colleges for Women, Secondary School (Macon: Mercer University, 1935), 198.

11 the seven member Board of Trustees and the Baptists of the town of Forsyth pushed to place the school under Baptist control. Tift survived until 1986, when it merged with Mercer University. 24

As I study the history of women’s education at Tift College, it is important to determine what Georgia Baptists thought about education in general, and specifically for women through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Early Baptist education in Georgia was concerned first and foremost with educating White males for ministry. This can be seen in J. H. Campbell’s account of the beginnings of the school that would later become Mercer University. The Georgia Baptist Convention, at its annual sessions in the spring of 1831, at Big Buckhead church, Burke County, adopted a resolution to establish a classical and theological school, the main object of which was the improvement of the rising ministry. If memory is not at fault, the resolution was offered by Rev. Adiel Sherwood. That school was located in Greene county, at what is now known as the village of Penfield, and was called Mercer Institute, in honor of Rev. Jesse Mercer.... Mercer Institute was opened as a Manual Labor School the 2d Monday in January, 1833, with thirty-nine pupils, (seven of whom had the ministry in view). 25

24 For a detailed discussion of dead colleges, see Linda Buchanan, “Not Harvard, Not Holyoke, Not Howard: A Study of the Life and Death of Three Small Colleges” (Ph.D. diss., Georgia State University, 1997). 25 J. H. Campbell, Georgia Baptists: Historical and Biographical (Macon, GA: J. W. Burke & Company, 1874), 46.

12 The education of females was not mentioned in an Education Report 26 of the Georgia Baptist Convention before 1850, however, in the second half of the century it became a frequently discussed topic. This is not to say that Georgia Baptist were not involved in educating women before 1850, though on a state level it was not a major published concern. Before this time female education was a much more localized activity, but a reading of the Education Reports shows that the education of females became an important

26 The Georgia Baptist Convention created a committee to oversee educational endeavors in the state near the beginnings of the Convention in 1822. At each annual meeting of the Convention, the committee would submit a formal report. The annual reports of the Education Commission of the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) are one of the most important primary sources available on the topic of Georgia Baptist education. These reports were written by a group of individuals who were addressing a much larger body as to the state of Baptist education for the year. Obviously, since the reports are only a few pages long, not every detail of what happened in Georgia Baptist education is contained in the report. The report may present a glowing report of what has happened in the year; the next year may not describe much of what has happened in Georgia Baptist education, but instead may be very preachy about the importance of education, the lack of support in education, or a warning of what might happen if education is not supported. The reports are written by Baptists for Baptists, and as such Georgia Baptist biases are expected. While this is true, these are still one of the most important pieces of evidence as to what was going on in Georgia Baptist education. In fact, sometimes the biases that are very evident in the writing may tell as much as the more descriptive and statistical data that is given. These reports show the ideas of at least a small portion of the leadership of the convention, and what the pastors who were present were exposed to and commissioned to take back to their individual churches.

13 task for Georgia Baptists. The education of females by Georgia Baptists began around 1830; it is difficult to determine the exact date since the schools were operated by Baptist Associations, individual churches, or even church members. As the 1852 Education Report states, “Seminaries for the education of the sons and daughters of our people are springing up in all parts of the commonwealth, and are receiving a large and growing patronage.” 27 By 1859, the Report claimed that there were “not less than 30 Female Seminaries, where the learned languages are studied and degrees are conferred.” 28 However, it will also be seen that female education was separate, as well as different, from education for males. Several of the Education Reports give a glimpse of what educating for womanhood might look like. The 1878 Report speaks to this, Nor can we too earnestly recommend the education of our daughters - their education for proper station in life which woman was designed to fill and to adorn. Their education should be practical, as well as ornamental, and thus suited to the changing state of their social condition. 29

27 “Education Report,” The Annual Report of the Georgia Baptist Convention, (1852), 15. In Special Collections, Tarver Library, Mercer University, hereafter referred to as GBC Education Report. 28 GBC Education Report, (1859), 15. 29 GBC Education Report, (1878), 24.

14 Womanhood was a “station in life” or sphere very distinct from manhood, and females, according to Georgia Baptists’ thinking, were designed for this purpose. The idea of separate spheres was not unique to Georgia Baptists, but was characteristic of much of U.S. society. According to Barbara J. Harris, there were “two widely held social prejudices. One was the belief that females were intellectually inferior to males.... The second prejudice held that respectable women should not work outside the home.” 30 Catherine Clinton’s description of the differences in the spheres for men and women is helpful in clarifying the distinct stations in life for each: In this new mythological kingdom, women reign from within the comfortable confines of the home. The hearth was her throne. Men ventured out of the household and into the workplace, which was increasingly perceived as the “real world.” Although males were forced into competition and conflict outside the domestic household, every man could return to his own unchallenged rule: his home was his castle. 31

While these separate stations in life allowed for the subjugation of females by males, these roles were slowly changing. In the North, women began to work outside of the

30 Barbara J. Harris, Beyond Her Sphere: Women and the Professions in American History (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1978), 3. 31 Catherine Clinton, The Other Civil War: American Women in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Hillard Wang, 1984), 18-19.

15 home, even for short periods of time. The ability to work outside the home allowed women to be self-supportive. 32 In the South women were not granted the ability to work outside the home as early; “Women had limited opportunities for social contact, and those they had were almost exclusively with other women.” 33 The 1848, Seneca Convention in Seneca Falls, New York did not have a great impact on southern feminism directly, however, the publicity it generated, often negative, allowed the ideas of feminism to became more widely known. “The ideology of women’s liberation, which was being worked out in the North by Sarah Grimke, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and others, had only begun to take shape in the minds of southern women.” 34 One important aspect of feminism that arose from the convention was the distinction of feminists who believed that women’s place was in the home and those who disagreed. This distinction gave common ground to suffragists and anti-suffragists. “On one subject all of the nineteeth-century antisuffragists and many suffragists

32 Thomas Dublin, ed., From Farm to Factory: Women’s Letters, 1830-1860 (New York, 1981). 33 Paula Baker, “The Domestication of Politics: Women and American Political Society, 1780-1920” The American Historical Review, 89 (June 1984), 620-647.

34 Eisenmann, 463. Sarah Grimke, from Charleston, South Carolina is an exception to this.

16 agreed: a woman belonged in the home.” 35 This common ground allowed for women in the South, where separate spheres were strongly tied to Protestant doctrine, to espouse some aspects of feminism without causing social unrest. This was often done within the realm of motherhood. Through motherhood, women attempted to compensate for their exclusions form the formal political world by translating moral authority into political influence. Their political demands, couched in these terms, did not violate the canons of domesticity to which many men and women held. 36

Many women in the South were also able to find ways of expressing themselves outside the home, usually through the church. “Organized church groups became one of the few institutional contexts in which women could connect purposefully to the community.” 37 In the latter part of the nineteenth century, women’s groups in churches began to influence society through ministries to the poor and missions groups, as well as through politically-oriented societies such as temperance groups. These groups created the platform for later feminist societies. According to Holly J. McCammon, “The move from working for these sorts of reforms to agitating for woman suffrage was not

35 Ibid, 620.

36 Baker, 625. 37 Linda K. Kerber, “Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History,” The Journal of American History, 75 (June 1988), 9-39.

17 difficult, and where such organizations existed, state suffrage associations may have been more likely to spring up, particularly so in the West and South.” 38 With these changes taking place in society, the position or station in life does not appear to have been static, and so this may have been what prompted an emphasis on practicality of education as will be seen in Chapter 3. Many historians have focused on the concept of separate spheres for men and women that were prevalent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 39 Kerber asserts that while the separate spheres metaphor does seem to ring true in the early Republic, the rise of capitalism and industrialization, by the antebellum period, began to erode these spheres. Eisenmann seems to echo this sentiment, stating: The notion of an appropriate and “separate sphere” for women has been both a useful and a controversial metaphor in women’s history. As some historians have observed, the line between the “public” and “private” realms is not nearly as clear as might be supposed from the frequent nineteenth- and twentieth-century admonitions for women to mind their own sphere. What is clear, however, is that certain issues were sometimes ceded to women, including most matters related to home and children. Women’s history has also made apparent the notion that women frequently

Full document contains 215 pages
Abstract: This dissertation examines Tift College, formerly in Forsyth, Georgia, and the problems Tift faced as Georgia Baptist's women's college. Many of these difficulties were a result of the beliefs of Georgia Baptists on educating women and the fact that Georgia Baptists placed a greater value on education for males. This work also examines the role of feminism in a southern women's college. To complete this task, the dissertation examines the beliefs and attitudes of Georgia Baptists about education in general, and educating women in specific and how funding played a part in their education. The dissertation addresses Tift's struggle to remain a separate school for women and examines ideas of womanhood at Tift as determined by the curriculum imposed on the women, as well as documenting what Tift students felt about womanhood based on their statements in class papers, journal and newspaper articles, and various other archival sources. These data show how attitudes and beliefs changed over the years, and while a strong feminist spirit may not have been achieved, the changes that were evident affected the purposes of the college. As the student body became more diversified, students were no longer content to become genteel, southern ladies or "polished cornerstones." Going against traditional roles, many students argued for a curriculum that would allow them to compete with men in the job market.