Following a unanimous vote by the South Carolina Baptist Convention, the Greenville Baptist Female College was established on February 7, 1855. Without adequate time to hire a faculty, the trustees committee hired professors part-time from neighboring Furman University—a male institution founded four years earlier. These professors included future presidents of the college including Charles H. Judson and James C. Furman that were assigned to teach the seventy-seven students enrolled. However in July of that year, Judson who acted as Furman’s treasurer was appointed to the university’s executive committee and Reverend Hansford Augustus Duncan was selected as president. At that time the responsibilities of the president included paying professors, covering the costs of repairs, and paying commissions; he was compensated with a salary of $1,350 per year and would remain president of the college until 1861.
Despite being established as a comparable institution to male colleges in the area, there were distinct differences between the Greenville Baptist Female College and Furman University. For example, the female college did not have any requirements for admission while Furman held that all prospective students needed to have good morals and academic information from previous schools. Also at the female college, the young women did not have any options with regards to courses taken. There were no specific departments to choose from or areas of interests where they could chose to concentrate. Thirdly, the Greenville Baptist Female College did not offer a degree. While at Furman, a student could achieve a Master of Arts, however, the women who completed their college requirements were merely “graduates.” In addition, the women’s college had only six rules for the students to follow (Catalogue, 1857-1859). These “rules of government” consisted of the following:
1. Students must go to church
2. Students are not allowed to leave campus without permission from the principle
3. Students may not open store accounts without parental consent
4. Students may not go to parties open to the public or have any visitors
5. Students’ letters are monitored
6. Students’ money must be kept with the president
There were clearly differences between the two institutions; however, none deterred the female college from growth.
The Greenville Baptist Female College benefited from being in such close proximity to Furman. Although most people felt like the men’s education was more important, they maintained that a college for women in the area was necessary as well. There was also religious support for the college from the Baptists in the surrounding community. “Because all of the trusteeswere Baptists, and the majority of Greenvillians were also members of this denomination, they were able to combine community pride with a religious commitment to the education of young women” (Academy and College, 47). The female college also provided Greenville with hopes of growth in population and profit. The community wanted students to come from out-of-town and spend money in the local shops and restaurants. The easy access to Greenville by train made it possible for young women to do so and the therefore the town continued to grow.
Due to poor health conditions, President Duncan had to resign in December of 1859 (his resignation letter). Change in leadership led to uncertainty among students and parents of the college, which resulted in lower enrollment numbers during the following years. The college was also suffering from increased financial difficulties at this time. There was debt from the recent construction on campus and a decrease in collections paid. The trustees knew that commanding leadership wasneeded to keep the college grounded despite these institutional troubles and the outbreak of war. Thus, in July of 1862, Professor James C. Furman was appointed president of Greenville Baptist Female College and Charles Judson was put in charge of several departments. As the trustees had hoped, the distinguished names of these two men attracted more students to the college.
In contrast to Furman University which closed its doors in the fall of 1861, the female college continued to function. Since the college was not located near the battlefields at first, there were no direct effects of the war itself. However, the female college still had war efforts including the Ladies Association in Aid of Confederate Volunteers. This group of girls transformed an old educational facility into a resting place for traveling Confederate soldiers. Everyday one of the girls would go to the train station and retrieve tired and hungry soldiers. These men were given a bed, food and money (occasionally) inorder to regain strength before returning to the battlefield (Minutes, Proceedings of the Greenville Ladies Association in Aid of Volunteers of the Confederate Army).
However, during this time, the college did suffer severely from inflation. Charles Judson, who became president after Mr. Furman’s short tenure, had to make some important changes to compensate. In addition to bringing their own sheets, blankets, silverware etc., students were also asked to gather whatever schoolbooks they could because stores no longer sold them. Also, there was a discount given to families that paid tuition in provisions since there were grave food shortages. Another change Judson made to decrease the effects of inflation dealt with professors’ salaries. He began paying professors proportionate salaries which were based on the college’s income. Therefore the amount could be adjusted to ensure that the college could afford to pay its employers (Academy and College, 54-55).
Since the nation’s founding nearly a century beforehand, there were a number of shifts in the value placed on women’s education. In the early Republic, young women were encouraged to attend school so they would be better mothers to theirsons. There was also the belief in the pre-war South that women needed education to be “pleasant companions” for their intellectual husbands (Academy and College, 56). Like many other men of his day, James C. Furman held that the purpose of women’s education was limited to the betterment of the household. He said in an 1850 address to the students of the Johnson Female Seminary that “women’s sphere lies within the limits of private life” (Address, Johnson Female Seminary) meaning that her only responsibilities were to the family and the house. Likened to Mr. Furman’s beliefs was Reverend Beaker who spoke at the first commencement address of the Greenville Baptist Female College in 1858. He contended before the graduating class that a woman’s role was to remain quiet and uphold her duties as a wife and mother. However, the war drastically changed the perception on the value of women’s education (Address, Greenville Baptists Female College). Many thought that women had to be educated because the male institutions had closed for the war. As stated in an 1864 editorial in the Confederate Baptist, states women would thus have to “spread literary culture, refinement and grace, which will smooth the wrinkled front of war and give dignity and elegance to peace” (Confederate Baptist). The idea of a woman supporting a man was truly a revolutionary idea of the Civil War Era.