Thursday, May 19, 2011

Barber-Scotia College

Scotia Seminary, Class of 1891
Barber-Scotia College

Location: 145 Cabarrus Avenue, West Concord, North Carolina, USA

Founded: In 1867 as Scotia Seminary. Became Scotia Women's College in 1916. In 1930, merged with another women's college, Barber Memorial College, and became Barber-Scotia Junior College for women. Became Barber-Scotia College in 1932. Granted its first bachelor's degree in 1945, and became a four-year women's college in 1946.

Closed: Became co-ed in 1954. Lost accreditation in 2004, and has been struggling since then to regain its former status.

Barber-Scotia began as a female seminary in 1867. Scotia Seminary was founded by the Reverend Luke Dorland and chartered in 1870. This was a project by the Presbyterian Church to prepare young African American southern women (the daughters of former slaves) for careers as social workers and teachers. It was the coordinate women's school for Biddle University (now Johnson C. Smith University).

It was the first historically black female institution of higher education established after the American Civil War. The Charlotte Observer, in an interview with Janet Magaldi, president of Piedmont Preservation Foundation, stated, "Scotia Seminary was one of the first black institutions built after the Civil War. For the first time, it gave black women an alternative to becoming domestic servants or field hands."

As the current Barber-Scotia College website further explains, "The original purpose of the College was to prepare teachers and social workers to improve the '101 of the freedman and to provide a pool of leaders.' Accordingly, subjects classified as normal, academic, and homemaking were offered in a pattern which anticipated state certification, but which always pointed to the collegiate level."

Scotia Seminary was modeled after Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) and was referred to as The Mount Holyoke of the South. The seminary offered grammar, science, and domestic arts. In 1908 it had 19 teachers and 291 students. From its founding in 1867 to 1908 it had enrolled 2,900 students, with 604 having graduated from the grammar department and 109 from the normal department.

It has been suggested that Mount Holyoke's influence extended beyond the formalities of curriculum. As Glenda Gilmore has argued, Scotia Seminary was "calculated to give students the knowledge, social consciousness, and sensibilities of New England ladies, with a strong dose of Boston egalitarianism thrown in." At any rate, "peer relationships" at Scotia Seminary strongly resembled those at the "elite female seminaries in the Northeast." Which is to say that "smashes" (deeply emotional and erotic attachments) were a common occurrence between the students.

Jane H. Hunter, in How Young Ladies Became Girls: The Victorian Origins of American Girlhood (2003) offers the following illustration:

Roberta Fitgerald went to Scotia in the early twentieth century and kept a composition book, likely in 1902, which was filled with the talismans of schoolgirl crushes. A note inside addressed to "Dear Roberta" asked, "Will you please exchange rings with me to-day and you may ware mine again," and  Roberta herself wrote a sad poem to a friend "Lu" who had thrown her over.

And so you see as I am deemed
Most silently to wait
I cannot but be womanlike
And meekly await my fate.

Ah! Sweet it is to love a girl
But truly oh! how bitter
To love a girl with all your heart
And then to hear "cant get her."

And Lulu dear as I must here
Relinquish with a moan
May your joys be as deep as the ocean
And your sorrow as light as its foam.

On the back of the notebook, which also contained class assignments, was a confidence exchanged with a seatmate. "I was teasing Bess Hoover about you and she told me she loved you dearly."

One of Scotia Seminary's most famous alumna was Mary McCleod Bethune (1963-1955), who entered the school in 1887 on a scholarship, and graduated in 1894. It's difficult to do justice to Bethune's life and career in just a few sentences. But in a pattern often seen in graduates of women's schools, Bethune developed a passionate commitment to the advancement of women, education, civil rights, and social justice. As the National Women's Hall of Fame has said of Bethune,

In Daytona, Florida, in 1904 she scraped together $1.50 to begin a school with just five pupils. She called it the Daytona Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls. A gifted teacher and leader, Mrs. Bethune ran her school with a combination of unshakable faith and remarkable organizational skills. She was a brilliant speaker and an astute fund raiser. She expanded the school to a high school, then a junior college, and finally it became Bethune-Cookman College. Continuing to direct the school, she turned her attention to the national scene, where she became a forceful and inspiring representative of her people. First through the National Council of Negro Women, then within Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in the National Youth Administration, she worked to attack discrimination and increase opportunities for Blacks. Behind the scenes as a member of the "Black cabinet," and in hundreds of public appearances, she strove to improve the status of her people.

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Photo: Scotia Seminary, Class of 1891

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