Tag Archives: Jackson MS

Belhaven College: Historical Summary

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 (College History)

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).

“The Help”: Memories Awakened by Kathryn Stockett’s Novel

I seldom read novels, but I was persuaded to pick up Kathryn Stockett’s  The Help (New York:  G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009) and give it a go, when it was highly recommended by a friend whose opinion I trust.  Also, I lived in the South, in Lynchburg, Virginia during the 1960s, the period in which the novel is set.  I have lived the past eighteen years in the Jackson, Mississippi metro area, and taught at a private college located in the Belhaven neighborhood, also the geographic setting of the novel.

I can remember those turbulent days of the Civil Rights struggle, but from the skewed perspective of one who was, as we would say in those days, “free, white and twenty-one.”  Those were some of the “good old days” for me.  I could eat in any restaurant I could afford, which were few. I could attend a movie theater and sit wherever I wished.  Of course, there were places that even some of us “whites” could not go, unless we were of the right socio-economic class.  In Virginia it helped if you were related to one of the patriarchal families, for example, Jefferson, Lee, Byrd, or Glass.

Thomas Jefferson’s summer home, Poplar Forest, is located within the current city limits of Lynchburg.  It was a private residence during the sixties.  Today, it is a tourist attraction. 

Lynchburg was also the home of Senator Carter Glass, co-sponsor of the Glass-Owen Act (1913) that created the Federal Reserve System, and the Glass-Steagall Act (1933) that created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.  “Mountview,” commonly referred to as the “Carter Glass Mansion,” was located just outside the city limits on a hill overlooking the Norfolk and Western railroad line.  During the years that Senator Glass served in Washington, DC, the train would make a special stop at Mountview to pick up or return the senator.

Glass bought the Lynchburg News for $13,000 in 1887.  He paid $100 down on the purchase.  Only twenty-three years old at the time, within a couple years he purchased the two competing newspapers, thus becoming the sole newspaper publisher in Lynchburg.

As I recall, the Glass family still owned the newspapers in the sixties.  The Lynchburg News appeared in the morning and the Daily Advance in the afternoon.  My older brother worked as a part-time proof reader while attending Lynchburg College.  In addition to correcting misspelled words, he told me that he was instructed to remove the courtesy titles—Mr., Mrs., and Miss—from the names of known “colored” people.

During my tenure as a student at Lynchburg College, also during the mid-sixties, I worked as a clerk in a department store downtown.  I remember an elderly lady who had a habit of shopping there.  Whenever she entered the shoe department in which I worked, I was the one who had to serve her.  No one else could stand to wait on her.

Mrs. “B,” was a cousin of Senator Harry Flood Byrd.  The “Byrd Machine” controlled politics in Virginia from the mid-1920s to the late 1960s. Mrs. B never passed up an opportunity to point out that she was related to the senator every Virginian either loved or feared.

I sort of inherited her one afternoon, when Mr. Martin, the department head, tried to fit her with a pair of shoes.  She tried on a number of pairs before finding a style she liked.  Unfortunately, we did not have her size.  Trying to explain why he could not produce the pair she wanted, Mr. Martin commented on the fact that her feet were a rather “average” size, and hence a popular size. 

Mrs. B suddenly became very angry.  “I want you to know,” she announced loudly and forcefully, “I am NOT average!” 

The customer is always right, even when the customer is wrong.  Mr. Martin remained polite, but swore that he would never wait on her again.  Henceforth, if I was working when Mrs. B came in, I had the privilege of waiting on her.

I knew how to handle her, and others like her.  Patience and a smile was my secret.  I would listen politely as she told me stories about what life was like on the plantation when she was a little girl.  Judging from the fact that she must have been in her seventies, at least, that was an era that only the planter aristocracy would look back on with nostalgia.  But I would listen, and I would smile, and she adored me for it.  I adapted to my environment as a clerk in a department store, much as a maid adapted to the domestic environment in which she worked.

I remember in particular one story Mrs. B told me of a visit from a lady “from up North.”  As Mrs. B and her husband were driving their visitor through the beautiful foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, their guest commented on a “colored lady” she noticed along the road. 

Mrs. B looked me straight in the eye.  Her face became very serious, almost scary.  “I told her,” she said shaking her finger in my face, “that is NOT a lady!  That is a N****R!”

There were, no doubt, many people like Mrs. B.  But, there were many who were not like her.  Many who grew up under segregation took it for granted as part of the natural order of society.  Many, black and white, observed the color line without animosity towards one another.  That people could be content with such an injustice is sad, but unfortunately true.

Mr. Hunt, an older gentleman who also worked part-time in the shoe department, pointed out to me the obvious contradiction in segregation.  He came from a family of ten children.  His father owned a general store in a rural area.  The store sold everything a person needed in life, and upstairs above the general store was a funeral parlor, also operated by Mr. Hunt’s father.

Mr. Hunt said that his parents kept an African-American wet nurse in the home as long as there was an infant present.  He and his siblings were raised, as he said, by “colored nannies.” How could a person who was raised by an African-American nanny and even nursed by one, Mr. Hunt asked, consider himself superior?  That is the very question Ms. Stockett explores in her novel The Help.

Ms. Stockett was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi.  Educated at the University of Alabama, she spent nine years in New York City—a different universe compared to Jackson, Mississippi—before settling down in Atlanta.  Her novel draws heavily on her experiences growing up in Jackson during the 1970s, a time when blacks and whites were still, as Ms. Stockett recalls, “staunchly separated.”

The delicate and very complex relationship between whites and blacks is explored through the eyes and voices of three individuals,  Miss Eugenia Phelan, or “Miss Skeeter,” and two African-American maids, Aibileen and Minny.  Miss Skeeter returns to home to Jackson after graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1962.  Upon arrival home, she discovers that the beloved African-American nanny who raised her, and whom she loved, has been dismissed from service by her mother.  No one will say anything about why Constantine was dismissed, or what has become of her.

In her search for answers, Miss Sketter is forced to confront the reality of the world in which she grew up, but never really knew.  Aibileen and Minny become her guides, and friends, as she begins to see how the “other half” live.  It takes time to win the trust of the two maids and other members of the underclass of domestic servants.

As Miss Sketter’s eyes are opened, she is determined to write a book about the outwardly tranquil world of segregated bourgeois Jackson.  She wants the ladies whose lives are made comfortable by their maids to see and feel what it is like to be the ever loyal, ever quiet, ever smiling servant living a life that is a lie.   

The Help could just as easily have been set in early twentieth-century England.  A life “in service,” as the English described domestic service, was in many ways similar to a life of domestic service in the “Old South.”  The popular BBC television series “Upstairs Downstairs” (1971-1975) provided insight into the real world behind the outward glamour and pretense of Edwardian England.

Both worlds are now a part of social history, but the further we are in time from the world of formal segregation, and the fewer voices there are of those who experienced that world, the more we are in danger of viewing it in a purely nostalgic fashion.  Ms Stockett’s novel, although fiction, will help us keep a balance between life as we would like to remember it, and life as it really was during those turbulent and exciting years of the 1960s.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.

For further insight into the connection between the novel and Ms. Stockett’s own life experiences, see her article “This Life:  Kathryn Stockett on her childhood in the Deep South” online at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1199603/This-Life-Kathryn-Stockett-childhood-Deep-South.html

A trailer for the movie based on the novel can be found online at http://collider.com/the-help-movie-trailer/86182/