Friday, September 2, 2011

Tift College

Tift College
Tift College

Location: Forsyth, Georgia, USA

Opened: Founded in 1849 as the Forsyth Female Collegiate Institute

Closed: Merged with Mercer University in 1986, which then closed it in 1987

Tift College was one of those women's colleges that went through a lot of name changes over the years. Founded as Forsyth Female Collegiate Institute in 1849, it was renamed Monroe College in 1857. The trustees then renamed again in 1907, this time as Bessie Tift College, in honor of loyal alumna Elizabeth "Bessie" Willingham Tift. (Tift managed to persuade her persuade her wealthy businessman husband to make large and frequent benefactions to the school and save it from bankruptcy.) The name was finally shortened to Tift College in 1956.
Tift College students (1929)

In 1898, the school became affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention. Darin Scott Harris has argued that Tift College's association with the Georgia Baptists created many tensions and conflicts, as the Georgia Baptists put far more value on educating men. The school's chronic funding problems were a direct result of that conflict. Within this context, Tift College and its students were forced to struggle with what it meant to remain a separate school for women, as well as what womanhood and feminism meant to them. According to Harris, "attitudes and beliefs changed over the years, and while a strong feminist spirit may not have been achieved, the changes that were evident affected the purposes of the college. As the student body became more diversified, students were no longer content to become genteel, southern ladies or "polished cornerstones." Going against traditional roles, many students argued for a curriculum that would allow them to compete with men in the job market."

Like many small women's liberal arts colleges during the 1970s and 80s, Tift College faced a shrinking student body. Enrollment at Tift declined steadily from 489 in 1979 to 236 in 1985. Nevertheless, the 1986 merger with Mercer University was not passively accepted by Tift's students, staff, and alumnae. In fact, the district attorney of the Flint Judicial Circuit, three former trustees of Tift, a former professor of Tift, an organization called SavTift, Inc., and several alumni and donors of Tift College filed suit against the corporate entities of Mercer University and Tift College, their presidents and boards of trustees, in order to have the merger set aside. Unfortunately, there effort was not successful.

Postcard of Tift College, students at Bessie Tift College gather in front of Upshaw Hall to participate in May Day festivities (1929)

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