Thursday, August 18, 2011

Alabama Girls' Industrial School

Alabama Girls' Industrial School
Alabama Girls' Industrial School

Location: Montevallo, Alabama, USA

Founded: 1896

Closed: Began admitting men in 1956

From the University of Montevallo website:

In October of 1896, the Alabama Girls’ Industrial School opened its doors to some 150 young women from all parts of the state. They had come to participate in a great experiment, in an innovation in education for Alabama. They had come to be trained to be teachers, bookkeepers, artists, musicians, dressmakers, telegraphers and milliners. In other words, at last, there was a school in Alabama whose purpose was to educate women to be self-supporting; at last, here was an opportunity to escape from the drudgery of field work, mill work or from the ignominy of depending on a father or brother for lifelong support if there was no husband. At last, here was an opportunity for young women to expand their minds and dreams in a state, poverty-stricken by economic circumstances, that could provide little public education for its citizens.

The school had its beginnings with the dream of Julia Tutwiler, a proponent of education for women, and the vision of Senator Solomon Bloch, who introduced the bill in the Alabama Legislature establishing the school. On October 12, 1896, their efforts—and the efforts of scores of townspeople and other advocates—bore fruit with the opening of the school on that crisp fall day.

Of course, the first president chosen was a man (they nearly always were, even at women's schools). This despite the fact that Julia Strudwick Tutwiler (1841-1916) was an accomplished educator, prison reformer, writer, and outspoken proponent of education for women. Like many proponents of women's education, Tutwiler attended a women's college (Vassar) while also receiving additional training at Washington & Lee College and other schools in  France and Germany. Tutwiler later became the first (and only) woman president of the Livingston State Normal School (later the University of West Alabama). Though it's impossible to review her entire life's work here, it is interesting to note that Tutwiler's prison reform work included the establishment of the first separate prison facility for women in the state of Alabama.

By 1899, more than 400 students were enrolled at the Alabama Girls' Industrial School. By 1908, the school had acquired its "first ghost" when Condie Cunningham died in a dormitory fire. The tale is spun this way:

On the evening of February 4, 1908, Sophomore Condie Cunningham and her roommate were attempting to melt chocolate for fudge in a chafing dish. They missed one curfew bell and when the second bell rang at 10 PM, they tried to put away the dish. Alcohol from the burner spilled and ignited Cunningham’s dress. Startled, she ran and the flames burned her severely. She died two days later. According to the librarian, this information was gleaned from the minutes of a board of trustees meeting. This lines up with the legend.

Not long after Cunningham’s death, residents began to report the screams of cries of a young woman. The grains of the wood on the girl’s former dorm room began to show a screaming face and the door was replaced. The door still resides in storage and does bear some likeness to a screaming face.

Shortly therafter, the school underwent a number of rapid name changes: 

Alabama College students (1944)
In 1911 AGIS became Alabama Girls’ Technical Institute. The phrase “and College for Women” was added in 1919. The Class of 1919 observed that “now that our school is becoming a college, we have begun to take up college stunts,” and College Night began on March 3. High school courses were gradually phased out and, in 1923, the school became Alabama College, State College for Women, a degree-granting institution.

Of course, it was too good to last:

For 60 years, student expression had a decidedly feminine perspective at Montevallo, but in January 1956 that began to change. Backed by Alabama College’s board of trustees, administration, faculty, alumnae association and eventually the student body, the state legislature passed a bill on January 15, dropping the designation “State College for Women” and enabling the college to admit male students.

Two men enrolled at Alabama College in January 1956. By September there were 35 men on campus, and a new era had begun. Seven years later total enrollment had tripled, and more than 40 percent of the students were men.

Alabama College was renamed the University of Montevallo in 1969.

Photos: Students at the Alabama Girls' Industrial School, Students drinking sodas in the "tea room" at Alabama College (1944)

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