The Reconstruction era, from 1865 to 1877, was a period of dramatic change in the immediate post-civil war America. These dramatic changes began at the top with the federal government enacting the Reconstruction Act of 1867 and trickled down to small towns like that of Greenville, South Carolina. Prior to Reconstruction, on February 7, 1855, the Greenville Baptist Female College opened its doors for the first time. This tiny college, nestled in a county of 20,000 inhabitants, made huge advances in furthering women’s education. However, in relation to the era, the Female College flourished in Greenville, after the cruel war days the college began its decline.
The Civil War had ended and the college remained standing, yet its financial condition threatened its further existence. At the onset of Reconstruction, the President of the Female College, Charles Judson, was asked to raise $6,000 to further aid the college. This request, made by the South Carolina Baptist Convention delegates, was in the form of a challenge. For if Judson successfully raised this $6,000 the college would pay no rent for the next ten years. President Judson was, in fact, successful in meeting the delegates’ challenge for the first year or two. By the end of one year, he managed to raise $4,750.
During this time, seven faculty members taught the college’s eighty-one students. The faculty instructed subjects such as mathematics, philosophy, languages, English literature, science, drawing and music. However, though the college seemed to be doing well with its stronger demands and higher academic expectations, three years into the Reconstruction era the financial burdens set in. By 1868 still “no repairs had been made since the [college’s] initial construction in 1858, professors’ salaries, low before, were paid irregularly….and enrollment had dropped.” (Bainbridge, 62) With the college’s debt growing, a committee was appointed to attempt to help relieve some of this debt.
Within a month of the committee’s formation, “the only solution for making the college debt-free was to sell off land not indispensable for operation.” (Bainbridge, 63) With this the solution, 17.5 acres were auctioned off to help the college pay off its’ debt. After auctioning off the land not crucial to the college’s existence, the college had finally dug itself out of debt. However, there may have been no debt, but by 1870 there were also fewer students. In 1870, the college had less than 80 students enrolled. The college, once again, was on the brink of extinction. To assist President Judson with keeping the college alive, Mr. Basil Manly, Jr. stepped in to share the presidential duties of the institution. After only a year and a half of his services, Manly Jr. left the college and Judson was left as president.
With the college still in a financial crisis, Judson looked to Mary Camilla Judson, his sister, for her aid in keeping the college alive. Miss Judson was saturated with educational experiences and had firm beliefs in women’s education. Therefore, from 1865 to 1868, Miss Judson taught at Greenville Female College. Though Miss Judson left Greenville in 1868, she returned to the college in 1874 as a teacher. Miss Judson had an amazing impact on the students at the college. And in 1878, Miss Judson was named “Lady Principle” (Bainbridge, 71) of the Greenville Female College. Throughout her thirty-seven years at the college, Miss Judson was still left to fight the “severe financial difficulties, highly conservative social attitudes, and inadequate instructional facilities,” but she did so with such zeal and determination that a firm foundation of a tiny female college was to one day develop into a top ranking university. (Bainbridge, 72)
Daniel, Robert Norman. Furman University, a History. Greenville: Hiott Press, 1951