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Edward Carroll James:
A Man with Legacy
Edward Carroll James

Edward Carroll James was one of the most important and influential presidents of Greenville Female College. He saw the College through good times and bad, but eventually left the school better than he had found it.1 He was loved by students and the community. As president of Greenville Female College, James left his legacy through his expansion of the education facilities, his improvement of student life, and his attainment of independence for the College.

James’ upbringing gives some insight into his accomplishments as an adult. He was born to Thomas Benton James and Eliza Pleasant Bleakly on June 19, 1866 in Chase City, Virginia.2 Inspired by his parents’ integrity and work ethic, he was determined to live a noble life and to achieve from a young age.3 He expressed his gratitude to his mother later in life through his poem, “Mother’s Arms,” in which he describes the special role mothers have in comforting their children.4

James received his higher education at Roanoke and Richmond Colleges, the latter now the University of Richmond. However, because of financial difficulties he had to alternate time spent between going to school and teaching to earn money. While at Roanoke, he helped establish the Irving Literary Society at the young age of seventeen.5 Given this early history of success, it is no surprise that he was destined for great things. After graduating from the school of modern languages at Richmond College, James traveled to Germany to study at the University of Leipzig, and then in Paris. James’ last place of formal study was Harvard University where he studied during the summer of 1895.6

James had a magnetic personality and was active socially.7 James married Fannie Thornhill on August 5, 1897; they had one son and one daughter together.8 He was a very involved member of Salem Baptist Church in Salem, Virginia, where he served as enrollment clerk and church historian.9 Politically, he was a Democrat and supported advancements in women’s education.10

By the time James began working at Greenville Female College, he had already acquired an extensive and impressive resume. He taught at Culpeper Female Seminary in Virginia from 1892 until 1894. From there he moved back to Richmond to be the head of the modern languages department at the Women’s College, Richmond until 1897,11 when he got his first job as the head of a school. James served as the principal of the Southside Academy in Chase City, Virginia for four years. During those four years he played a huge role in advancing the educational facilities.12

James was offered the presidency of Greenville Female College in July of 1901, and served in that role until 1911. Upon accepting, he became the College’s eleventh president.13 Immediately upon securing the post, he sought ways to improve his school. In 1903, he requested that the South Carolina Baptist Convention fund the building of a new dormitory with $12,000. The Convention initially agreed to raise the money, but never took action. Again, in 1904, the Convention agreed to raise $25,000 for new facilities at his request but never took action.14 Though frustrations such as these were prevalent during James’ tenure as president, he made the best of what he had; his contributions to the school, rather than his failures, mark his legacy.

As president, James gave his students unprecedented freedom. During his tenure the behavior code was slightly relaxed because he wanted his students to enjoy themselves, as long as they were engaging in morally upright activities. For example, he allowed his students to be visited by young men as long as they had parental permission. In fact, he even encouraged “known and approved young gentlemen” to “meet the young ladies.” James provided opportunities for his students to socialize with the male students at nearby Furman University through school-endorsed monthly receptions. He expected students to follow established rules. He admonished students to “think not too much about personal liberty, but adhere to the precepts and highest ideals of parents and teachers.”15

James also placed a high emphasis on student life and school spirit. The class of 1902 was the first to wear caps and gowns at graduation. Students began wearing class rings in 1907. The same year, James started the tradition of College Day, a school-wide celebration including a parade, class banners, songs, speeches, trolley-car rides, concerts, receptions, and gifts to the school from alumni and other supporters. After 1908, when alumna Emily Gaines Padgett wrote “The Call of GFC,” the alma mater was a part of this event. The first yearbook for Greenville Female College, The Blue and the Gold, was published in 1901, but it died after a few years until 1909 when James resurrected it with the new name, Entre Nous. Other examples of the increase in school spirit under James include the invention of class colors and mottos and the introduction of athletics. The most popular of the sports teams was the basketball team, called the “Invincibles.” In addition to intramural competitions, the “Invincibles” also developed a rivalry with nearby Chicora College, a Presbyterian-affiliated woman’s college also located in Greenville.16 This phenomenal increase in student programs and activities created a strong sense of pride for the students. Greenville Female College was no longer just a place to acquire knowledge and earn a degree, but now a place to belong, have fun, and be enriched. As a result, the college began to receive increasing amounts of assistance from alumni.17

In addition to inspiring students, James also worked hard to advertise the school. He frequently claimed that the school was an incredibly healthy place because a student had never died on campus. In 1902 he initiated the publishing of the Bulletin, which was printed in four editions per year and contained the school’s announcements, calendar, and photos. This greatly enhanced the school’s visibility and attracted many new students. Under James, the enrollment grew from 193 to 393 students, making it the second largest school for women in the state, behind only Winthrop.18

James was a big supporter of vocal music, and sought to implement it more strongly within the curriculum. In fact, more employees were dedicated to the different branches of music than any other field. James added additional requirements for students in “special” programs such as music, art, physical culture, and kindergarten normal training. These requirements were one year of math, one year of German, and one year of French or Italian for music students; physiology, botany, and psychology for art students; ancient history, English history, physiology, and psychology for oral communication students; and four years of English and Bible for all “special” program students.19

Perhaps the most significant way in which James impacted Greenville Female College was in 1905 when he suggested to the South Carolina Baptist Convention that they provide the College with a separate charter from Furman University.20 With this separate charter, the Female College would have its own board of trustees, comprised of men who had a specific interest in women’s education, rather than just Furman University. His plan was approved and in February of 1909, the separate charter was issued and the Female College broke its bond with Furman.21 This proved to be an important move because it allowed the college to pursue its own interests and grow independently from Furman University.

Edward Carroll James had a lasting impact on Greenville Female College because he inculcated its students and graduates with pride, both by endearing students to the College through activities and programs, and by giving the College a sense of independent identity. James helped Greenville Female College, and women’s colleges in general, break the bonds of male dominance by establishing an institution that was dedicated to women’s education, and women’s education only. Because of James and men like him, the quality of a student’s experiences at the Greenville Female College developed significantly.

Written by Joel Cook


Works Cited

1Baptist Courier, December 8, 1910, Furman University, Special Collections and University Archives, James B. Duke Library, Greenville, SC.
2James Hemphill, Men of Mark in South Carolina (Washington, D.C.: Men of Mark Publishing Company), 246.
3James Hemphill, Men of Mark in South Carolina (Washington, D.C.: Men of Mark Publishing Company), 247..
4Edward Carroll James, Mother’s Arms, Furmaniana Folder, Furman University, Special Collections and University Archives, James B. Duke Library, Greenville, SC.
5James Hemphill, Men of Mark in South Carolina (Washington, D.C.: Men of Mark Publishing Company), 247.
6James Hemphill, Men of Mark in South Carolina (Washington, D.C.: Men of Mark Publishing Company), 247.
7The Blue and the Gold, 1902, Furman University, Special Collections and University Archives, James B. Duke Library, Greenville, SC.
8James Hemphill, Men of Mark in South Carolina (Washington, D.C.: Men of Mark Publishing Company), 248.
9Salem Baptist Church Bulletin Furmaniana folder, Furman University, Special Collections and University Archives, James B. Duke Library, Greenville, SC.
10James Hemphill, Men of Mark in South Carolina (Washington, D.C.: Men of Mark Publishing Company), 248.
11Obituary of Edward Carroll James, Unknown origin, Furmaniana folder, Furman University, Special Collections and University Archives, James B. Duke Library, Greenville, SC.
12James Hemphill, Men of Mark in South Carolina (Washington, D.C.: Men of Mark Publishing Company), 247.
13Obituary of Edward Carroll James, Unknown origin, Furmaniana folder, Furman University, Special Collections and University Archives, James B. Duke Library, Greenville, SC.
14Elizabeth Alford, The Story of Our Mother, Told by a Daughter, 64-66.
15Judith Bainbridge, Academy and College: The History of the Women’s College of Furman University (Mercer University Press, 2001), 125
16Judith Bainbridge, Academy and College: The History of the Women’s College of Furman University (Mercer University Press, 2001), 122
17Judith Bainbridge, Academy and College: The History of the Women’s College of Furman University (Mercer University Press, 2001), 121
18Judith Bainbridge, Academy and College: The History of the Women’s College of Furman University (Mercer University Press, 2001), 117
19Judith Bainbridge, Academy and College: The History of the Women’s College of Furman University (Mercer University Press, 2001), 127
20Furman University, “A Guide to GWC,” History, http://library.edu/special collections/GWC_guide.htm (accessed September 21, 2010).
21Elizabeth Alford, The Story of Our Mother, Told by a Daughter, 64-66.