“For over one hundred years, Greenville had been fostering education. Greenville was one of the first villages in the country to found a school for girls” (Alford 97). Seeking to fill the void of women’s educational opportunities, “an aristocratic society in the most individualistic state in an individualistic age turned instead to academics for the education of the children” (Bainbridge 2). The Greenville Female Academy (GFA) was founded in 1819, based upon these individualistic principles. It was funded by religious organizations, local residents, and by self-perpetuating trustees. Throughout the 1820s, the academics were successful, but money was always an issue of concern. “Johnson [President of the G.F.A.] left the G.F.A. with an excellent reputation. He planned the curriculum, taught all of the ‘solid branches’, and had created a school for girls that probably rivaled any in the new nation” (Bainbridge 14). By the 1840s and 50s, much concern came from the city about the campus. The Baptists desired to sponsor the GFA and to change the name from female academy to female college. They called a convention together to “establish a female college of high order which would embrace all branches of liberal education that are pursued in our colleges for young men; with such modifications and differences as experience and sound judgment may dictate; and that the standard of attainment in these branches be high” (Bainbridge 35). This resolution was approved and the college was placed under a board of trustees.
By 1858, the Greenville Female College (GFC) was well-established. The first administrative building, called the “Main”, was erected in 1855. The 1860s presented financial difficulties for the academy; however, the GFC managed to get the second building constructed in 1870. The East Dormitory, which was the third building, was built in 1900 (Alford 34-5). Financial problems arose again for the GFC in the early 1910s and 1920s. However, the academy managed to keep individual fees low, while acquiring money through the fund-raising and campaigning of the Board of Trustees (Alford 76-83). The Alumnae Association also contributed to the college by furnishing many memorial rooms on campus such as the Gardner Auditorium and the Literary Society Halls. They also made a point to contribute money to scholarship funds (Alford 87). In 1914, the GFC changed its name officially to the Greenville Women’s College (GWC). “1917 marked the first year for class reunions for the annual Alumnae Banquet, which was during the commencement season. Eventually customs were made for the graduating class to present a gift with the Alma Mater” (Alford 89).
The 1920’s were some of the most developing years for the GWC. The president of the GWC wanted to standardize the college “(1) by securing the required $300,000 for endowment, (2) by raising the entrance requirements from fourteen Carnegie units to fifteen Carnegie units, (3) by increasing the number of books in the library to at least 7,000 volumes, (4) by installing additional Science equipment, (5) by separating the Academy and College, (6) by addition of other teachers holding advance degrees, to meet the demands of the increased student body.” This process enabled the college to receive full recognition by other colleges. The Fine Arts building was finally erected in 1921. “The G.W.C. is distinctively a Christian college...Christian to the very core.” (Alford 93) The college established several Christian based organizations, such as the Young Womens Christian Association (YWCA) and the Young Womens Auxillary (YWA), that contributed to the Salvation Army, the local orphanages, the county homes, and many other needy people (Alford 94-5). Although the GWC was thoroughly developing and the student body was growing, the college still had some financial problems. These financial setbacks called for actions to be taken; thus the Board of Trustees, with their “face to the future,” decided to join the GWC with Furman University (Bainbridge 197).
Academics became increasingly harder over the years. There were social and educational standards that the college had to meet in order to keep its recognition in the country. By the 1880s, the classes were held regularly beginning the fourth Wednesday in September and ending the third Thursday in June; however, “students could still enter at the mid-year” (Bainbridge 92). The college’s school calendar always coincided with Furman’s calendar. By 1911, there were no definite entrance requirements except a certificate from a school confirming the pupil’s “evidence of the thoroughness of their preparation” (Bainbridge 138). Academic clubs and activities, such as calisthenics, were greatly encouraged. By the 1870s and 80s, organizations such as Girls’ Temperance Society, Lula Whilden Missionary Society, and Judson Society were formed by women who wanted to discuss and develop both old and present ideas regarding religion, social, and educational interests of women (Bainbridge 85). Several educational organizations, such as the “The Prelude” (honoring the English Society), “Science Club”, Le Salon Francais, and International Relations Club, did much to develop the spirit of as well as the character to the college and student body (Bainbridge 164).
The first Academic Honor Society was called “Zetasophia” (Bainbridge 164). The arts flourished as well. Associations such as the Glee Club, the Dramatic Club, and even an orchestra were formed (Bainbridge 143). Another crucial aspect of the academics at the college was the emphasis on Christianity. Because of the Christian roots in this institution, the president of GWC required students to complete classes taught about the Bible in order to graduate with a degree or receive a diploma.
Under the President Ramsey and the Dean Paschal, the social environment at the GWC flourished. Mrs. Rosa C. Paschal was the first full-time dean in the history of the GWC. “She brought direct supervision of all college activities…and social life.” Her services to the student body and the college were of “incalculable value.” (Alford 72-3) Under Ramsey’s Presidency, the first National Greek Letter sororities, Eta Upsilon and Pi Sigma Phi, and several self-perpetuating clubs were established (Bainbridge 144). Intramurals and intervarsity games were played between the college and Clemson University. There were many social traditions of the GWC. Mountain Day, when the faculty and students escaped to Paris Mountain for a day of playing games, reading, hiking, and picnics, and The Hanging of the Greens, a Christmas tradition of food, fun, and seasonal festivities, were some of the girls’ favorites. The girls were most proud of their Honor System in which the girls firmly supported. They were trusted to take an examination anywhere on campus, with or without their professor present, and expected not to cheat. (Chiles) As a faculty member, Camilla Judson was another important figure in developing the social spirit and character of the girls. She “brought the wonderful rigor and stern morality and forceful personality…to the little struggling school;…she breathed into it through her pupils the will to do and to dare…for intellectual freedom” (Bainbridge 69-70).
Alford, Elizabeth. The Story of Our Mother. Furman University: Greenville, SC, 1925.
Bainbridge, Judith T. Academy and College: The History of the Women’s College of Furman University. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2001.
Chiles, Marguerite. Interview with Melissa May. Furman University Special Collections and Archives. 2 July 2001.