It has been my privilege to teach history at Belhaven College (a.k.a., University) over the past eighteen years. On October 18, 2011, I was asked to give a brief, seven minute overview of the college’s history. It was part of chapel program celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of the college’s moving to its present location. Since several individuals have asked me about its availability, I am posting it below.
Belhaven College: Historical Summary
Louis T. Fitzhugh founded Belhaven College for Young Ladies in 1894, when the city of Jackson had a population of only 10 thousand. The college was located on Boyd Street, a short distance from the present location. The Boyd Street property was formerly the residence of Colonel Jones Hamilton.
Colonel Hamilton was a descendent of Lord Belhaven of Scotland. The name “Belhaven” was carved in the stone step at the entrance to the mansion and also on inscribed on the cut glass chandelier shades. It was perhaps for that reason that Mr. Fitzhugh chose “Belhaven” as the name for the college. Wise use of available resources has been a characteristic of the school’s leadership from its founding.
In 1911, the name and goodwill of the college was donated to the Presbytery of Central Mississippi of the Presbyterian Church. The college was renamed Belhaven Collegiate and Industrial Institute and moved to its present location at 1500 Peachtree Street. It is that event that we are commemorating today. The name of the college was changed to Belhaven College in 1915.
Although the college was owned and controlled by the Synod of Mississippi from 1911 until 1973, the school has always been non-denominational and non-sectarian, rather than distinctly Presbyterian. No denominational test was required of students for admission or of in the choice of faculty. No interference “with the religious convictions of the students” was to be tolerated. Daily chapel services that included the “reading of the Scriptures and prayer” were mandated by the college’s charter of 1911. The charter also stated that: “The Bible shall be a text book in the College.”
The new campus consisted of fifty acres. Much of that acreage was devoted to a farm and pasturage for a herd of dairy cows that provided most of the vegetables and dairy products served in the college’s dining hall. They also contributed to operational costs of the college.
In 1920, then President W. H. Frazer reminded the Board that among his duties was milking the cows when necessary. “Cows,” Dr. Frazer said, “have an uncanny habit of requiring to be milked twice a day; and they are very thoughtless and inconsiderate when it comes to the Sabbath day, a rainy day, or the day when the milkman does not put in his appearance.”
The food, served family style in the dining hall, was healthy, if not always tasty by today’s standards. The menu for May 19, 1919 may be taken as typical. “[B]reakfast consisted of puffed rice and milk, browned hash, gravy, grits, hot biscuits, butter, coffee, tea, and milk. Dinner included cold ham, candied sweet potatoes, spaghetti and cheese, turnip salad, and light bread. Supper that night [consisted] of tomato and lettuce salad, hot biscuits, peach butter, iced tea, coffee, and milk.”
Student life on the new Peachtree campus was somewhat relaxed compared to what it was at the Boyd Street campus. Student life rules and regulations on the new campus would, however, be viewed as overly protective by today’s standards.
Students who boarded on campus were not allowed to leave the campus without permission. A visit to the city of Jackson required not only permission, but a chaperon, as well. No visitors were permitted on campus during class hours or on Sundays. Students were allowed to have male visitors “only on express request of the parents.” Students could receive mail only from individuals whose names appeared on a list of approved correspondents provided the by the parents. All printed material owned by the students was subject to inspection by the dean. Students who were returning from vacation were required to inform the college president of the time of their arrival. Only parents could request permission for a leave of absence. Requests from students were not accepted.
Parents were asked not to arrange for their daughters to leave home for college on at a time that would result in their having to travel on the Sabbath. They were asked not to request for permission for their daughters to leave for home, take pleasure rides, or indulge in any “promiscuous visiting on God’s Holy Day.” The college catalog during the 1920s sought to give the parents “every assurance that every precaution will be taken to guard the moral, intellectual, and physical well-being of students entrusted to our care.”
Over the years, student life regulations were relaxed, or should we say “liberalized.” Still, during the 1930s all hours of the day were regulated. Specific times for study—e.g., six hours per day for freshmen– and a designated time for lights out at night were still enforced. Students were required to spend Sunday afternoons between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. in their rooms, quiet. One absence per semester was allowed for freshmen, and up to three were allowed for seniors. Any more than the allowed number resulted, as it still does, in a decreased GPA.
In 1933, students were grounded, that is restricted to campus, for specific periods of time when student life rules were broken. Possession of bridge cards resulted in four weeks, spending a night off campus without permission resulted in six weeks, and attending a dance without permission could result in being grounded for up to eight weeks. In 1933 a student was disciplined for “ordering hamburgers through boys after hours.”
Further liberalization of rules came during the period following World War II. By 1946, “students were allowed to wear socks and go bareheaded to picnics; head bands were allowed instead at more formal occasions.” By 1953, freshmen were permitted to ride in cars with upperclassmen and to go on double dates on the bus. In 1954, the rules were changed to allow freshmen to on single dates on the bus, beginning with the second semester, and “to double date in cars going to and from specific destinations.” Daily attendance at morning chapel services was still required, and “no athletic or other recreations were permitted on the Sabbath.”
Belhaven College became coeducational in 1954. There were only six male students in 1954. By 1960, there was one male student for every two female students. Shortly before retiring in 1960, President Robert M. Crowe observed that the admission of male students had contributed to “a stabilizing of the life of the campus and an obviously increased contentment among the students.”
Coeducation resulted in a kind of double standard with respect to student life rules. The men were considered to be gentlemen, and hence had fewer rules than the women. Among them were no women or alcohol in the dormitory, no gambling, and strict adherence to rules regarding use of the swimming pool and gymnasium. The men were also expected “to cooperate in the observance of rules for women students.”
Protecting the welfare of the women on campus required that they be subject to more restrictive regulations. They had to sign out of dormitories a take care that their whereabouts were known by their dorm hostess at all times. Off campus dating privileges and attending dances at nearby Millsaps College or the University of Mississippi’s School of Medicine were granted only upon a letter of permission provided by the parents.
One of the more dramatic changes during the mid-1950s was in the dress code. Shorts and blue jeans could be worn everywhere on campus except on the front campus, the school offices, the dining hall, the library, and the classrooms.
A further change in college life resulting from the admission of men was the introduction of varsity sports. Intervarsity sports were discontinued in 1936, and replaced with intramural activities, including an annual “playday.” The 1956 yearbook included pictures of the men’s varsity sports teams. The men’s basketball team won regional and national recognition during the 1970s. The tennis team won the NAIA national championship in 1983, and a football program was introduced in 1997.
There is so much more that could be said, if time permitted. The history of Belhaven University is may be likened to one of the one of the “stately pine trees” alluded to in the school’s Alma Mater. Planted by godly men and women more than a century ago, nourished over the years since by faithful men and women, Belhaven University today is a testimony to God’s ongoing Grace.
Thanks be to God.
Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.
For more on the history of Belhaven College see:
Paul R. Waibel, BELHAVEN COLLEGE (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2000).
James F. Gordon, Jr, A HISTORY OF BELHAVEN COLLEGE, 1894-1981 (Jackson, MS: Belhaven College, 1983).