Tennessee College of Women once jewel for Main Street

Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal, September 10, 2018

Tennessee College for Women’s Come and Go Club is shown in this photograph from 1926.

A jewel in Murfreesboro was birthed in 1905 on 15 lovely acres with the creation of a charter by our state legislature for Tennessee College for Women. The school was widely known for strong educational instruction and Christian values under the establishment of the Southern Baptist Association.

My cousin Frances Johns attended this exciting school and later taught at Jefferson School.

This special college lay on a lawn of huge oaks in a stunning landscape on present-day East Main Street. With 200 students eagerly enrolled, the doors opened wide in 1907 at the chapel. Only 70 lived off campus with the remainder as boarding students. The college was situated on the site of the former Union University (1848-1861), a Baptist school for training ministers, which was destroyed in the War Between the States.

George Burnette served as initial president of Tennessee College for Women. A premium course of study included five languages, science, philosophy, Bible, history, economics, math and home economics. Music, drama, art and health classes were also on the agenda.

Frances Bohannon was the active piano instructor on campus. Hockey, track and soccer were two of the popular sports for women. An advanced athletic agenda and secretarial courses were later developed into the program.

Tennessee College for Women (taken 1905) operated on East Main Street, site of present day Central Magnet School, till 1946.

Graduates received lifetime teaching certificates. The yearbook over decades was entitled “Dryad,” and several of these heirloom annuals exist today.

Requirements for the school exacted two years of high school, a principal’s endorsement and admission exam. The first bachelor’s degrees were awarded in 1910 .

May Day festivities began on May 1, 1910, with a parade and queen arriving in a coach for the highly anticipated annual event. Young women danced around the flag pole, as many local residents gathered for the festivities.

With the roll call of warfare and defense for our country, World War I altered the scope of this college. From 1917-1923, enrollment was stagnant. Before the war, 260 students were actively attending, but those numbers fell sharply. Dr. Edward Atwood served as president during this era, along with a beloved dean, Dr. James Kirtley.

After the war, the Great Depression was a new deterrent, and enrollment stalled with a mere 78 students. Further, education combined for men and women was the new trend.

Nonetheless, from 1942-1945, Dr. John Clark was president of the college and worked diligently to stabilize the school as debt-free and prosperous once more. However, the board of the Southern Baptist Convention closed the school of 40 years on Dec. 11, 1945, and merged with CumberlandUniversity in Lebanon under the influence of 

the Presbyterian Church.

Tennessee College for Women and Central High School once sat upon the same large lot. After Central High burned on North Maple Street, students attended classes in the old Women’s College. The new building that is still there was completed by 1949 and classes were first held in the building by fall 1950. The old college building was razed in 1963.

Following integration in 1965, the building was no longer large enough for the student body. The high school was converted to a middle school in 1973 and designated a magnet school in 2010.

Meanwhile, the assets of Tennessee College for Women were moved to Belmont College in September 1951. Thus, the accreditation of Murfreesboro’s 1905 school for educating young ladies was operating under Belmont, a thriving university in Nashville today.

The original outline for the school over 38 years was to train women to be educators, homemakers and missionaries. So many outstanding individuals passed through this school to flourish as productive and honorable citizens of our county and our country.

Contact Susan Harber at susanharber@hotmail.com.

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