Tennessee College for Women

In 1905 the Southern Baptist Convention authorized the establishment of a college for women to be located in Murfreesboro and to be known as Tennessee College for Women. The institution was founded on the principle of offering the very best educational advantages under a positive Christian influence. The Murfreesboro site selected for the college was on property formerly owned by Union University, another Baptist institution ruined by the Civil War.

Tennessee College for Women opened in the fall of 1907 with George J. Burnette as its first president. The first year, 199 students enrolled, and of that number 131 were boarding students. In 1909 the trustees dropped the elementary division and added the junior and senior years of liberal arts that led to a Bachelor of Arts degree. Music, drama, health, and physical education became integral parts of the college curriculum, with students taking part in soccer and hockey as well as field day activities such as the high jump and the 60- and 100-yard dash.

One of the most hallowed traditions of the college began about 1910, when the first “May Day” celebration took place. These festivities, set among the massive oaks that dotted the campus, became an enduring part of the institution’s activities. Each May 1, heralds led the parade which preceded the May Queen, who arrived in a coach. Large numbers of townspeople came to watch the young ladies from the college as they danced around the flag pole.

World War I disrupted college activities, and from 1917 to 1923 attendance dropped due to the war and competition from the adjacent Middle Tennessee State Normal School (now MTSU). President Burnette offered his resignation and was replaced by Dr. Edward L. Atwood. Dr. James A. Kirtley, one of the best-loved administrators, served as dean.

The college encountered financial difficulties during the Great Depression, and enrollment dropped to 78 students. In 1942 Dr. John Clark, former dean of Mercer University, became president. Under Clark’s leadership, the school’s fiscal health improved dramatically. During the depression the debt had reached $24,000, but by 1945 the school was debt-free and had $135,000 in excess funds.

In 1945 the executive board of the Southern Baptist Convention closed the forty-year-old institution. The board voted to merge Tennessee College with Cumberland University, located in nearby Lebanon and operating under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church. Alumni and townspeople took legal steps to prevent the merger and keep the college in Murfreesboro. Their efforts, however, proved futile, and in January 1946 the merger went into effect. Unfortunately, the merger with Cumberland did not succeed and Cumberland later lost its law department to Sanford University, an Alabama Baptist institution. The remaining departments from Tennessee College at Cumberland merged with Belmont College in Nashville. The heritage and high ideals of Tennessee College were perpetuated at the new institution.

Suggested Reading

Homer and Mabel Pittard, Pillar and Ground (1993)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Tennessee College for Women
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 15, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018