A Tarnished Success
The Reverend Madison Monroe Riley was President of Greenville Baptist Female College for six years, from 1894-1900. He had an illustrious tenure as president and a long list of accomplishments and scandals that all pack into his years at Greenville Baptist Female College. President Riley helped add many aspects to the College that improved it overall including: improved college curriculum, adding the first admission requirements to the College and financial stability over his tenure as president.
Madison Monroe Riley had a heavily religious and strong educational background throughout his childhood and adult life. Riley was born on November 16, 1846 in Kentucky.1 He graduated from Georgetown College in Kentucky with honors in 1872. After graduating he attended the Southern Baptist Seminary for two years and became a Reverend. One of the main reasons for his attendance was the fact that Southern Baptist Seminary moved to Louisville, Kentucky in 1877.2 He served two churches in Kentucky before returning to Georgetown 1891 to become its business manager and financial agent.3 He was selected to become the president of Greenville Baptist Female College in 1894, when he was 48 years old.
Even though he took over as president of a college that was still trying to recover from the horrors of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Rev. Riley’s first years at the College were very successful. He focused on three areas of the college while he was president, including bringing financial stability to the College, increasing enrollment and improving facilities. He was very successful in achieving two of these goals.
Riley was active as the president of the College. He taught intellectual and moral philosophy, and he helped build a dairy barn at the rear of the college to help supply the dining hall. Riley consistently hired teachers with a bachelor’s degree or higher as well as increasing course offerings in history, civics and “physical culture.”
Riley had an interesting relationship with Mary Camilla Judson, who had remained at the college after the departure of Alexander Townes. As Riley has become the president of the college, Judson became the “Lady Principal”4 of the college. Together, Riley and Judson operated the college. They both taught the majority of the classes and took care of any problems and scandals that arose through the college.
Riley helped the college to remain financially stable during his tenure by paying bills on time as well as publishing advertising circulars to promote the college and attract more students.
Riley helped improve enrollment by advertising the college in his circular as well as instituting the first admission requirements for the college in 1897. These requirements were stated as a certificate from a GFC graduate or from a ‘a school sufficiently known’ would be necessary, or else an entrance exam would be given.5 This was a big improvement, as enrollment increased from 80 in 1894 to 140 in 1895 to 158 in 1896 and to 192 in 1897.6
Another reason why Riley was so successful in increasing enrollment at the College during his tenure was the fact that more and more women around the country were starting to go to college. For example, at Stanford, the proportion of women students was 40 percent in 1899.7 The reasons for this are numerous but date back to the speech that Rev. J.M.C Breaker gave to the college when he said the intellectual powers are neither equal nor unequal to those of man.8 This means that men need women as much as women need men. It can also be attributed to the fact that many colleges that had been open only to males needed coeducation to survive financially after the Civil War.
Despite his achievements in increasing enrollment and maintaining financial stability, Riley was unpopular with the majority of the students. Many scandals occurred during Riley’s tenure as president but none more prevalent then a scandal involving a girl who mysteriously left the school after apparently becoming pregnant by Riley’s son. In a letter that Riley wrote to CC. Brown, a trustee of the college, Riley called the accusation “a base slander”9 and asked Brown many questions, such as: “Who were those said to have left the college very mysteriously?”10 And he even lists a name. He also asked the question, “Who told you that many of the girls had complained of the great familiarity of my son and did your informant name the son?”11 Brown responded frankly to many of these questions, which caused even more rumors to swirl around Riley. It is clear from this letter that Riley was concerned about the possible truth and seriousness of this scandal. Riley denied the many accusations until the scandal died down, but his reputation was still scarred beyond repair, forcing him to leave the college in 1900.
Riley did not accomplish his goal of improving facilities during his years as president. Other then building the dairy barn and improving the look of some of the buildings, no other construction occurred. The library also grew very slowly during his tenure, with only 30-40 books a year being added.
Riley left Furman in 1900 to take a job at Brenau College in Gainesville, GA. He served at Brenau for two years before retiring. Riley died in Gainesville on June 23, 1928. He was 81 years old when he died.
In conclusion, Riley was successful as president of the Greenville Baptist Female College because of his achievements in increasing enrollment and providing financial stability to the college. Despite the many scandals that scar his tenure, Riley should be remembered as a great president who helped shape the Greenville Baptist Female College.
Written by Michael Rabb
2Mueller, William. “A History of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary”. Pg. 32, Nashville Tennessee: Broadman Press.
3Bainbridge, Judith T. Academy and College. Pg. 150, Macon: Mercer University Press, 2001.
4“Greenville Female College.”Baptist Courier, 16 July 1896. Special Collections, James B. Duke Library, Furman University, Greenville, SC.
5Bainbridge, Judith T. Academy and College: The History of the Women’s College at Furman University (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2001) pg.128.
6Bainbridge, Judith T. Academy and College: The History of the Women’s College at Furman University (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2001) pg.128.
7Frederick Rudolph, The American College and University (New York: Knopf, 1962), 324.
8Rev. J.M.C. Breaker Speech to the Greenville Baptist Female College, 23 July 1858, G. E. Elford, Book and Job printer, Greenville, South Carolina, 1858. Special Collections, James B. Duke Library, Furman University.
9M.M Riley to C.C. Brown, 20 July 1896, Correspondence, Special Collection and Archives, Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina.
10M.M Riley to C.C. Brown, 20 July 1896, Correspondence, Special Collection and Archives, Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina.
11M.M Riley to C.C. Brown, 20 July 1896, Correspondence, Special Collection and Archives, Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina.