|Date(s):||August 10, 1859|
|Location(s):||GREENVILLE, South Carolina|
|Tag(s):||Woman's College, Greenville, SC, Women's colleges, Greenville Female College|
|Course:||“Urban and Suburban America,” Furman University|
On August 10, 1859, The Charleston Mercury printed a letter from a young man traveling in and around Greenville, South Carolina, who, during his travels, attended the commencement ceremony of the Greenville Baptist Female College. When he arrived, he found a hall overflowing with attendees and was forced to push his way into the room, along the way enduring several “such tight squeezes as no sensible man desires repeated.” His efforts, however, were well-rewarded, as he soon found himself surrounded by an “immense crowd of beautiful ladies with which the hall was almost entirely filled.”
Eight of the students, however, impressed him with more than their beauty. They gave speeches on topics as varied as “The Free Press a Greater Blessing than a Curse” and “Vanity the Most Unsocial of All the Passions.” The author was particularly impressed with one young woman, seventeen years old, who wrote on the “Crowning Glory of our Country’s Constitution.” He exclaimed that her speech evidenced a more thorough understanding of American law and politics than any attorney. Suitably impressed, the author argued that these speeches entirely dissipated the idea that women were men’s intellectual inferiors and made laughable the antiquated notions “that, in the first place, she is not susceptible of liberal education; and, in the second, that it is not necessary…that she should be educated more than to read and write.” He went on to express outrage at the point of these unfounded notions: to keep women in a position subservient to that of men. He concluded, “the time is forever past when such an absurdity will find credence or support in or from an intelligent mind.”
The mission of a Greenville Baptist Female College education was in fact one of gender equality, as the young man realized, though not for its own sake. At its founding in 1854, the reasoning behind women’s higher education was justified by the logic that a well-educated mother would raise well-educated sons. It is unclear whether the young bachelor would have supported this less-than-progressive reasoning. The extemporaneous address of a local doctor at the ceremony, however, indicates that at least some saw women’s education as valuable for its own sake. He reportedly pleaded with the graduates to continue their studies after marriage, implying that the thoughts of women were valuable regardless of marital or child-rearing status.