Central Female Institute - A Female College Experience in 19th Century Mississippi

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Tom Hughes

Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
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Founded in 1852 in Clinton, MS, The Central Female Institute was founded to educate young ladies.
This photo, taken around 1890, shows a chaperone leading a group of students to church on Sunday morning.
Both the men's college in town (Mississippi College) and The Central Female Institute were both rooted in the Southern Baptist Denomination and going to church was not an option.
Chaperone escorts were required for the young ladies whenever they left campus for whatever reason.
The college changed names to Hillman College around 1870.
Historically, the college was the only educational institution in the state of Mississippi that remained open during the civil war years. It's interesting to also note that Clinton was involved in the actions surrounding Grant's Vicksburg campaign. There were no recorded instances of the soldiers harming any of the girls on campus but it had to be a delicate situation.

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This colorized photograph shows two of the dormitories on campus. These structures stood on the campus for years until they accidentally caught on fire and burned in the 1950's.

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The Hillman College crest was the pride of many alumni.
To be a female and receive a college education in the 19th century was not common but looked upon as a great accomplishment.
Music and the Arts were heavily emphasized.

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Here's a dress worn by a college alumni (courtesy of the Clinton Visitor's Center).

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Central Female Institute (Hillman College) began it's decline when most of the other women's colleges across the country began to see decreased enrollments. They closed their doors in 1942 and merged with Mississippi College, making it a co-educational Baptist College.
The now "ghost campus" was purchased by the city and turned into a park.
Recently, a developer bought the property and will be turning it into a mixed use development. The land, as you see, is now being site prepped.
The beautiful old oak and cedar trees along with a branch of the old Natchez Trace bed was all destroyed and leveled in the process.

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While walking the grounds disturbed by the heavy equipment, I discovered this brick-lined tunnel leading beneath the railroad tracks that run past the old college property. Probably a drainage canal, but I'm sure it dates to the 1852 founding of the college based on design structure and brick style.

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Scattered along the ground, I managed to pick up a few artifact reminders of the old campus - a porcelain door knob, marble, and medicine bottle neck.

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I also found this interesting old conductor - Patent dated May 2, 1893.

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The nerd that I am, I picked up broken pieces of this serving plate that had been smashed by the bulldozers and I glued the fragments back in an attempt to reconstruct the dish. It is a Homer and Laughlin Co. piece, dating no earlier than 1871 but no doubt came from the old dorm kitchen.
What stories it could only tell.

It's bittersweet.
It is good to see economic development in your downtown community and see progress spring up with new vigor.
But it is also sad, in a way, to see such a historical piece of ground take on new life as a modern development, losing its old charm.
I guess it's up to us to keep the history alive through photos, blogs, artifacts, and signage.
Maybe, just maybe, this new generation will see value in the way things were with an appreciation of the past as they dive head first into the future.
With each bulldozer push of earth...we can only hope!
 

alan polk

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Jun 11, 2012
Incredible post, Tom! I had heard somewhere that the Female Institute in Clinton was the only college in Mississippi that remained open for the entire war. Not sure if it’s true, but i think it was open when Grant’s men came through.

Can you imagine what distant parents must have thought when they realized their daughters were in the path of the Yankees? It would be interesting to learn how the school responded to the Yankee occupation! Would you know?

Thanks for posting!
 
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Tom Hughes

Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
Incredible post, Tom! I had heard somewhere that the Female Institute in Clinton was the only college in Mississippi that remained open for the entire war. Not sure if it’s true, but i think it was open when Grant’s men came through.

Can you imagine what distant parents must have thought when they realized their daughters were in the path of the Yankees? It would be interesting to learn how the school responded to the Yankee occupation! Would you know?

Thanks for posting?
I’m going to try and find something.
The parents must’ve thought their girls would be safer there.
 
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Not to distract from this thread, but the The Elizabeth Female Academy, founded in 1818 is another great landmark.

If one is traveling along the Natchez Trace Parkway, I highly recommend a stop at this site.
Although there's only one wall left of this institution, it's an easy walk through some beautiful Natchez area landscapes.
The famous artist/naturalist John James Audubon taught at this school for a while.



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The Elizabeth Female Academy, although much older . . . is a perfect complement to the Central Female Institute.
 
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Tom Hughes

Sergeant
Joined
May 27, 2019
Location
Mississippi
Not to distract from this thread, but the The Elizabeth Female Academy, founded in 1818 is another great landmark.

If one is traveling along the Natchez Trace Parkway, I highly recommend a stop at this site.
Although there's only one wall left of this institution, it's an easy walk through some beautiful Natchez area landscapes.
The famous artist/naturalist John James Audubon taught at this school for a while.



View attachment 341698
https://southernhistory.blogspot.com/2010/07/elizabeth-female-academy-reminder-of.html

The Elizabeth Female Academy, although much older . . . is a perfect complement to the Central Female Institute.
I had never heard of this academy before. Thanks for sharing information about it.
 
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lupaglupa

Sergeant
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Mississippi had a LOT of schools in the mid 19th century - not only private schools but also a good system of public schooling with required local support. My great-great grandfather and two of his brothers taught in schools in Northeast Mississippi and in doing research about them I was surprised to find such a robust education system - even in areas where there were only small farms.
 
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lupaglupa

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Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Great post, @lupaglupa! I think at that time the State of Mississippi just encouraged public education but did not really fund it - at least not with much. I think you’re right that any “public school” was funded on the local level.
There was a funding for schools in Mississippi starting in 1803. The 16th section in any area, as established by the land ordinance of 1785, was set aside to provide monies for schooling. In 1821 the State created a literary fund and in 1846 the Legislature passed a bill which established Common Schools in the state to be paid for from county funds. They also dedicated certain funds and fees (from peddlers, "keepers of billiard tables, retailers of liquors and brokers" among others) to be used to support schools. Mississippi was quite forward thinking when it came to schools!
 
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archieclement

Captain
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
If it were me, I’d probably be out there with a metal detector (borrowed) on the days the machines are not running..that and rummaging through the piles of dirt! Maybe you can convince the developer to name a street after the old college?
I hunt a prewar college site here, alot of buttons and while coins are rare they are bust or spanish reales, which this is the only place i find coins that old.

 
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Mrs. V

Sergeant Major
Joined
May 5, 2017
What a great idea @Mrs. V ! At least that would in some way preserve the link to the physical site. And maybe a historic marker could be placed there.
I was thinking historic marker as well. Or if there are still architectural stones, they could be used in a public space. When some of our schools were rebuilt, the stone blocks that had the name were saved and re-used. Consolidated schools have all the names included. Our middle school had the front facade saved(brick) and incorporated into the new building.
 
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