Strict Women’s College Entertained Local Community

As published by the Daily News Journal, Sunday, November 28, 2010

By Greg Tucker, President Rutherford County Historical Society

The sweater ban and window prohibitions were eventually eased, but car rides and movies still involved chaperones, and any contact with the State Teachers College required “special permission.”

For nearly four decades (1907-46), the Tennessee College for Women (TCW) was the pride of  Murfreesboro.  Not only was it known throughout the southeast for the quality of its programs and the caliber of its graduates, it also provided the community a menu of high quality and usually free entertainment — music, theater, pageants and garden parties.

Unofficially, there were also night swims and memorable dating opportunities.

TN College for Women 1905 JPG

The college was chartered in 1905, organized in 1906, and opened for students in 1907 by the Tennessee Baptist Convention as “Tennessee College, Murfreesboro … a college for women under Christian control, of high grade and honest standards.”  (Although TCW was always exclusively a women’s school, the “for Women” phrase first appeared as part of the school’s name in 1941.)

The land was given to the new school by the local trustees of Murfreesboro’s long defunct Union University.  Funding for TCW was supplemented substantially in 1915 when the Union trustees gave the new school the federal reparations payment made for damages to the university building during the Civil War.  (What remained of the building was demolished for construction of the new TCW facility.)

TCW 1922 JPG

Built in the center of a 21-acre campus on the north side of East Main Street (six blocks from the courthouse), the main TCW building was “of pressed brick, trimmed with stone.”  Three columned entrances faced Main Street.  According to a 1921 description, the building was “two hundred and fifty-six feet long, one hundred and twenty-eight feet deep, and three stories high…(plus) basement.  Laboratories are in the basement. On the first floor are offices, parlors, a faculty room, recreation rooms for students, dining hall, lecture rooms, an assembly hall, and the library … The  rooming capacity of the dormitory is one hundred and fifty.”  A swimming pool and other athletic facilities were added on the north side of the campus.  (Boys living in the neighborhood in the decades between the wars regularly climbed the pool fence and swam in the county’s only swimming pool while the TCW women slept.)

From its outset, TCW offered 4-year degrees (Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts).

Other two-year “certifications” (such as “Secretarial Sciences”) were also available. Additionally, “thorough training in piano, voice, violin and art” was offered.TCW Hockey Club 1914 JPG

The first four-year degrees were conferred in 1912 to Alice Eaton Burnett, Julia Brown, Louise Hibbs and Ophelia Selph.  The first reunion of graduates was held in 1917 and the first graduates were honored on the fifth anniversary of their graduation.  Hibbs (Mrs. Roscoe Meadors) was given special recognition as the first to marry and the first to have a child.

From its beginnings, TCW required “proper behavior” and manners.  A 1917 student handbook prohibited “unnecessary noise…at any time” and mandated “absolute quiet” during specified sleeping and study hours.  No student was permitted off campus or even outside the dormitory after dark without special permission.  Windows seem to have been a special concern.  Prohibitions included talking from the windows, sitting in the windows, drying articles on windowsills, drying hair at windows, dumping water, or keeping items outside windows.

Proper ladies were expected not to throw things on the campus.  They also did not wear pullover sweaters, except for athletic activity or picnics in the country.  All were required to attend church services and to be always punctual.  Dentist, doctor and photographer visits off campus required a chaperone — no exceptions!  Freshmen were chaperoned whenever they left the campus.  All were required to sign in and out, and none were to ride in cars with males (brothers and fathers excepted).

Social contact was also closely regulated.  “No young lady shall encourage the attention of young men while she is off the campus.”  Sophomores could receive “young men callers” on campus once a week; freshmen once every two weeks.  Upperclass women with “satisfactory scholarship” enjoyed more liberal regulation: “They must make no social engagements which in their nature are contrary to the wishes of the college administration.”

By 1940, window and sweater concerns had disappeared, but cooking in rooms was banned, no typing after TCW 1 JPG10:30PM, telephone calls had to be limited to three minutes, “students shall not go in places where beer is sold,” and “students must get special permission to go to S.T.C.”

Dating activity was linked to class level and grades.  Freshmen and sophomores could have two dates a weekend; upperclass women could date more than twice on a weekend.  Underclass students on the Dean’s List got one extra date opportunity and Dean’s list seniors were without numerical limits.

Chaperones were still required, however, for movies and car rides.  Casual social contact was apparently still a concern: “Freshmen shall not meet and talk with young men in town or elsewhere.  Sophomores may have the privilege of talking to young men.  This privilege does not include previously arranged meetings, picture show engagements, extended conversations, or privilege of taking a walk.”

Wordna Bragg Black (1939-41) was one of a dozen or so students that lived at home.  “The local girls were always popular in part because we could take classmates home for the weekends,” explains Black.  “As far as we were concerned, if a student went on a weekend visit in a local home, she was beyond the reach of the college dating rules.”

The college had many traditions, remembers Florence Cox McFerrin (Class of ’36).

Among these was the “daisy chain.”  In anticipation of the annual Easter program and senior week, the sophomore class was sent to Burnt Knob to pick bushels of daisies.  McFerrin remembers earning a painful sunburn for her efforts, and Black recalls an attack of spring allergies.  The daisies were woven into a chain that was used imaginatively for the Easter and Senior celebrations.

The daisy picking created a special memory for Mildred Harrell Carmack (1939-40) who was working in the college dining room in 1940 to help cover her school expenses.  “We opened the dining room early on daisy day to serve breakfast for the sophomores that were going to the daisy field. It was just at sunrise and suddenly the room was filled with the earliest rays of the rising sun.  Elene Smith went to the piano and played ‘Sunrise Serenade.’  It was a magical moment I have never forgotten.”

Music was an integral part of college activity, and was also used quite effectively as a recruiting tool.  The Wandering Minstrels, a choral group of particularly talented voices, performed for local gatherings and toured high schools around the midstate.  Carmack recalls that she was first attracted to the college by a performance of the Minstrels at Murfreesboro Central High School.  “They did a variety of musical styles, but at the high schools they would feature a lot of popular songs to appeal to the young people.”

Pageants and theatrical productions were also shared with the community sometimes with an admission charged, but often free to the public.  The women students played both male and female roles.  One of the more unusual productions was the all-girl wedding.  “The wedding was complete with music, costumes and procession.  It was open to the community for entertainment and always drew a good crowd during the Depression years,” remembers McFerrin.  “Some of the girls were real good at the male roles.”

Greg Tucker can be reached at [email protected].

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