DeSoto Parish Louisiana

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MANSFIELD FEMALE COLLEGE
by Judy Baugh

From the early 1850's until 1930 DeSoto Parish was home to Mansfield Female College, offering primary, academic, secondary, and collegiate education to girls and young ladies, and a model school for boys of the region. Said to have been the first school for women established west of the Mississippi River, MFC's earliest incarnation may have been before 1850. Various sources credit the idea for the school to different groups or individuals. Whomever, and regardless of precisely which year, it was a telling reflection of the rapid population growth of northwest Louisiana in the 50 years after the Louisiana Purchase.

The earliest record known to this author of a girls' school in Mansfield is a tuition statement dated 1852 from the Mansfield Seminary Co. That was also the year Rev. Henry Coleman Thweatt, a minister in the Louisiana Conference of the Methodist Church[LCMC] arrived to head the school. In 1854 construction of the three-story, $33,000 main building was begun, and that year is most often cited as the date the college was founded. In January, 1855 the Board of Trustees* initiated formal transfer of the school to the Louisiana Conference of the Methodist Church [LCMC]. Two months later it was legally incorporated as Mansfield Female College. That same year the Louisiana Legislature appropriated $5000 to assist the building program, persuaded of the worth of such expenditure by the number of "prolific" male citizens in DeSoto parish. Another $30,000 had previously been donated/pledged to the college by various members of that "prolific" male citizenry. On St. John's Day (June 24) 1856, amid grand ceremony and celebration, the cornerstone of the main building was placed and filled with items of the time and location - wine, corn and oil, kid gloves, newspapers, coins, etc. One week later the school held its first commencement ceremonies.

At the inception of its first official academic year (1855-56), Elizabeth Greening DuBois Mansfield Female College was organized into three departments, Primary with 43 students, Academic (secondary) with 22, and a four-year Collegiate Department, with 30 freshmen, 15 sophomores, 8 juniors, and 4 seniors, of whom three attained the distinction of being the graduates of MFC's first official class, they being Misses Virginia Elizabeth Greening [photo at right; later Mrs. Samuel P. DuBois], Martha J. Pearson [Mrs. Campbell], and Mary E. Stuart [Mrs. Joseph B. Elam]. Decades later at an alumnae reunion Sarah "Sally" G. [Moss] Bannerman ('60), a student in the Academic Dept. that first year, shared her recollections of its year-end festivities - of the processional of students dressed in white with blue sashes at the laying of the cornerstone, of singing 'Billy Grimes' in duet with a classmate at the grand concert on Tues., July 1, and of MFC's gala first commencement on July 2. It was determined by the President and Trustees that the crowd anticipated for the commencement ceremony could not be accommodated indoors, so a rustic arbor adorned with magnolia leaves, bamboo, and native evergreen was constructed in front of the gallery, which was used as a stage for the afternoon commencement ceremony. An evening reception, or what Sally Moss Bannerman says was called a "conversation party", capped the celebratory week.

The courses of study for the three departments reflect the trivium of true classical education, augmented by instruction in the Fine Arts, a curriculum from which the college deviated but little over its ~75 years of existence. The faculty as shown in the 1855-56 catalogue included Rev. Thweatt, Professor of Moral Science and Ancient Language, his daughter-in-law Mrs. Caroline Thweatt Assistant Teacher in the Elementary branches, Dr. A. R. Rembert Professor of Physical Sciences & Mathematics, Miss Lizzie Bates, A.M. Instructress in English Literature, Modern Languages, Music, Painting, Drawing and Embroidery, Miss J. F. McCormick M.Ed. Instructress of Music, Painting, Drawing & Embroidery, Miss Mary E. Crowder M.Ed. Instructress of the Academic Dept., and Mrs. Elizabeth E. McCormick Instructress in the Primary Dept. The position of Prof. of Music & Modern Languages was listed, but no name was associated with it.

Of the 125 students enrolled in 1855-56 (122 departmental plus 3 pursuing specialized studies who were not assigned to a department), the vast majority were from DeSoto Parish. Young ladies who lived in the parish, but well outside of Mansfield, or outside of the parish entirely, appear to have mostly boarded with local families,. Misses Alabama E. & Dolly J. Williams ('60), students in the initial Primary and Academic Depts. respectively, boarded with their aunt and uncle, Patsy & Hilliard Phillips. Mary Cornelia Wright('60) of Rapides Par. boarded with the family of her classmate Nellie Burrus. It's clear, however, from the catalogue that MFC offered on-site boarding, or planned to in the near future. Among the fees listed is "Boarding - $60 including lights, washing & c.", and one of the regulations set forth required parents of young ladies boarded with local families to obtain a guarantee from that family that their daughters would "conform as near as practicable to the rules and regulations of the Institution".

The rules and regulations regarding the students' schedules, conduct, etc. cover 6 handwritten pages of the first catalogue. The girls were to arise at 5 a.m. in the spring and summer, 6 a.m. in the autumn and winter, and must be in bed by 9 p.m. Due attention must be paid to Physical Education and exercise. Time must be set aside for studying in the morning and evening. Novel-reading was emphatically forbidden. Snuff or tobacco in any form was an "offensive, indecorous, and disgusting" abomination. Visits from any gentleman other than father, brother, uncle or guardian were expressly prohibited in the interest of "preventing the exercise of gallantry". Uniforms were mandatory, in school, on the Sabbath, and all other public occasions. "The experiences of the past in regard to Female Institutions in this country evince the great importance of establishing a permanent uniform." Dress rules which went into effect at MFC Oct., 1856 dictated green worsted for winter, period. Summer brought more options, dresses in pink calico, gingham or muslin, one white muslin dress, one brown linen dress. Aprons had to be of brown linen or barred muslin. Collars had to be plain, white, edged with black. Bonnets were to be of straw with green lining in winter or pink in summer. Ribbons must be plain and of solid color. No jewelry was permitted.

Through lively narrative in the diary of the aforementioned Mary Cornelia Wright unique insight is offered into the experiences of being a student at MFC during its earliest years, as well as into practical application of the college's rules and regulations at the end of what turned out to be a tumultuous second year for the college. The daughter of a Rapides Par. planter, Mary attended Mansfield Female College only one year. Prior to that she had been enrolled in a Connecticut boarding school. The following excerpts from her diary are unedited for spelling and grammar.

(April 5th[1857]) ".....Every body about here has a mania for these great hoops. The papers report them out of fashion elsewhere. I think it time after all the scandalous stories written and ugly caricatures. Nellie [ed. note: Mary's classmate and daughter of the family with whom she boarded] has just made her one, but she has it a little too large, and she won't wear it much because the girls laugh at it, I suppose. Eugenia calls it a 'rag-cage' (a very appropriate & original remark) and the girls have heard about it and so that is its name."

(undated, written between April 7th & May 21st)"...I have not recited a lesson today, because the teachers were with the trustees consulting about another little fuss in school. The faculty and trustees have been deeply occupied with it for the last week. Five or six of the girls have been brought before the trustees. Last Friday these girls happened to meet together in one of the rooms in the college. Some were excused to go home; some were practicing, and others putting away music. They stopped on the way and went into a room where Clara Jewel was practicing and asked her to play a piece to dance by. Some gentlemen were in the vicinity at the time, and some of the girls knew it. Mrs. Mitchel was passing at the moment and reported them, and that was all. And all this serious discussing over a few thoughtless girls! Eliza Crosby was condemned because she danced a polka instead of going directly home; Clara was brought before the band [sic] of trustees this morning because she changed her practicing piece for a polka at the request of the girls; Kate Paul and Rosa Nickleson were heathenish enough to indulge in a Polka and Delia Rogers and Laura Crosby were sinful enough to look at them. But the greatest crime was that all this happened just when these young gentlemen took the privilege of looking on. Horridly immodest in the girls! They have finally arrived at the conclusion not to expell or suspend the wretched creatures (a sad disappointment to Proff. Pitts) but let the poor things escape with a reprimand before the school, and a threat of dismissal if the offense was repeated. I believe Mrs. Jewel will take Clara away and send her to Nashvill....."

(May 21) . . . Monday someone tried to set the College on fire. It was discovered at noon by the perfume of burning paper and when Bob went into the music room attached to the school-room he found a pile of paper in one corner with some matches, but the fire was nearly out. Then this morning one of the desks in the school-room was found complely burnt out, but fortunately the lid of the desk had been closed & the fire was smothered. There was a heap of splinters there to kindle the fire. Dr. Thweatt does not know who did it, but asked the girls if they did it. (June 4th) Oh! How time flys! Only three weeks before that terrible examination before the Faculty and Trustees! It frightens me to think how unprepared I am for so rigid an examination. What if I make a failure? Then I shall get no diploma, which diploma I do not in reality deserve. Mr. Ritts says he will examine us on Descriptive Geometry two hours if he can have the time. I did not dislike this private examination at first; but I feel so frightened now. It seems lately that I am studying for naught; for I do not recollect any I dig & delve over for hours. It is provoking and discouraging; but it is all my own fault. I am frightened about our compositions too; for all my class are smarter than I in composing. I wonder who will get the valedictory. The girl who acquits herself the most creditably in her reasons, I suppose, I have translated _____? Lines from the Eanied for my composition which is to be delivered tomorrow. Dr. Thweatt has been ill for the last week with that everlasting old gout. I hope he will be in school tomorrow, for we should be reviewing our French & Latin before now. Besides I like him to occupy the great armchair in the school-room much better than to have Mr. Ritts. I hope I’ll get a letter from home tomorrow. (June 9th) So many things have happened since last week, I do not really know where to commence. The Trustees have dismissed Mr. & Mrs. Plagge and Mrs. Mitchel has left school to travel with her sick husband. Mrs. Quarles takes her place for the present, and Mrs. Scales occupies her & Mrs. Plagge’s position. Dr. Thweatt is well again and in school as busy as ever. There is so much disturbance in school that I fear we will stand a poor Examination. This community is so corrupt; a perfect hot-bed of scandal! Every trivial matter is exaggerated and flies like wild-fire over the country. I am very much disappointed in Mrs. Plagge. I thought her a poor, ill-used wife and pitied her accordingly; but thought it very strange for a wife to expose all her own husband’s faults. I knew he was supremely selfish, but now I know she was jealous, and a woman of no high principles. She had the impudance to tell a lady in town that Mr. Plagge had been paying attention to our Nellie and that Nellie stayed after school to take music lessons, and that she had heard them talking on different subjects from the lesson! That lady told Mrs. Burruss & Mrs. & Mr. B. have been very much distressed, and Nellie was miserable at first, but she does not care now since Mr. Plagge was dismissed. That news has been distributed over town in broken doses, & the school girls have it as a little pieces? of scandle to talk over. Nellie wished she was dead, because she feared her reputation would be tarnished. Such scandle deserves severe punishment. Some vicious person has been writing insolent missels to Dr. Thweatt. One was found this morning & the girls has the baseness to open & read. It was signed "Ulreca Catis" (on of our little scholars, and also said if Dr. T. would apply to me I would give all desired information! I expect it be all over town that I had written a vulgar letter to Dr. T. One of the scholars died yesterday & we followed her to the grave today. A great many persons have died lately and the girls are getting alarmed and leaving school in groups. The school cannot be sustained long at this rate.

(June 16th) Well it is all over and here we are set adrift upon the Ocean of Life! We were examined privately today--only before the Faculty and five Trustees. This disease--Flux[ed. note: probably dysentery] , has become an epidemic and the girls are in a general panic. Dozens of them have been thas beome cepiaken home, and as the Trustees saw the school was declining, they decided to have the general examination a month earlier. We seniors, then had only two days warning to prepare ourselves for a rigid examination on studies which we had never reviewed! The whole affair was very unjust. Dr. Thweatt made no oppology for the short time we had to prepare, and then gave us no chance to display our acquirements. The (two) first) hours of this morning were taken up in calling the Trustees together. The poor creatures were so loth to come that Dr. Thweatt was obliged to send for them twice. I was frightened at first in one? Discriptive Geometry, but afterwards I did not care. After dismissing us this evening the Faculty & Trustees remained to decide & vote who should get Deplomas & who the honors. It was decided, & very unjustly, to give us no Latin Deplomas. Nellie obtained the valadictory & I the salutatory. The rest of the girls write common compositions.
 
Undoubtedly, Dr. Thweatt and the remaining faculty breathed a deep and thankful sigh of relief at the conclusion of the 1856-57 academic year. Infractions of the college rules were just 'part of the territory', as of course was the occasional need to dismiss faculty members. Epidemics were unfortunate, but not uncommon. The attempts at arson, however, were singular and unpleasant phenomena. Especially taxing must have been the fact that so much happened during so brief a time, but as Louise Hewitt would write a century later "MFC had its tragedies and mysteries, its comedies and romance".

It is a credit to H.C. Thweatt's firm but benevolent administration that the next few years at Mansfield Female College were, as far as can be discerned, far less eventful. Only with difficulty could a better administrator have been found for an incipient institution. In addition to his apparently superior interpersonal skills, Dr. Thweatt seems to have possessed a talent for fund-raising that would have warmed the heart of Regents or Trustees at any school, anywhere, any time. In addition to the finer details of each event attendant MFC's first commencement, the then 12-year-old Sally Moss Bannerman would later recall Dr. Thweatt's "call for money that day, for the purpose of purchasing that old bell, lightning rods, and a chemical apparatus--the Laboratory was already projected. Dr. Thweatt knew when and where to make that important call, and the good people under that rustic arbor responded liberally and with alacrity--the bell and lightning rods were paid for and $1,700 subscribed for the apparatus". On Feb. 28, 1857 Mary Cornelia Wright noted in her diary that ". . . We are to have regular concerts, and pay for the College pianos with the money so received. . . .".

It is unclear when Dr. Thweatt's tenure as President of MFC ended and Charles Stuart's begain. Three months after the abrupt termination of the 1856-57 academic year, Dr. Thweatt wrote in postscript to A.G. Jordan of Pleasant Hill that "The college here is nearly completed....". It seems reasonable to presume that the Louisiana Methodist Conference would soon have desired the presence of so able a man at any among a number of other incipient institutions under its wing, but anecdotal evidence suggests Dr. Thweatt was in Manfield through the close of the 1862-63 year. His memories of the old school must have been fond ones, for on his instructions he was buried on the campus after his death in 1881, "where the children can crack hickory nuts on my tombstone".

Enrollment increased and the college continued to prosper through the end of the 1860-61 school year. Once the war began enrollment diminished somewhat, but the college remained open during first two years, graduating classes in 1862 and 1863. The young ladies did their part for the Confederate cause, raising $95 to send to aid sick and wounded Louisiana soldiers in Kentucky with a presentation of Tableaux Vivants, followed by vocal and instrumental music in Dec., 1861. That the school didn't re-open in the fall of 1863 was more likely due to the economic strain of the war and a prolonged regional drought than to the advancing federal army. With less tuition coming in, and subscribers unable to meet their pledges, the college could not satisfy $10,000 remaining construction debt, and was forced to auction off its land, buildings and furnishings. The buildings, as well as most every other structure in the parish, were pressed into service as a hospital before, during, and after the battles at Mansfield & Pleasant Hill, April 1864.

Thirteen local planters subsequently pooled cash and cotton to buy back the school for $2000 Confederate money. The LCMC agreed to resume its stewardship, and the school reopened in fall, 1865 under the presidency of Charles B. Stuart. Enrollment was 50 students. The 1867-68 college catalogue reflects a slight increase in enrollment to 64, of whom 21 boarded at the school, and also offers the first documentation in possession of this writer of the Model School for boys. In the back of the catalogue is a page advertising the "Male School, Classical and Mathematical, Mansfield, La. The Seventh Session of this school will commence on MONDAY the 7th day of September, 1868......John W. Stuart, Principal". Classes at that time were held in a building at the northwest corner of Franklin and Madison. The boy's school would eventually count among its alumni Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Hawthorne and theatrical producer Josh Logan.

Although it would be the dawn of the 20th century before the college's enrollment approached its antebellum strength, the MFC maintained a steady following and consistently operated on sound economic footing. The curriculum changed but little, conduct remained carefully regulated, and uniforms were still the order of the day - but fees did increase somewhat. By 1882 the boarding fee had increased to $150, and tuition had increased commensurately from the $25 per session for students in the Collegiate Dept., 1855. In 1881, Kate DuBois, daughter of Virginia Elizabeth [Greening] DuBois('56) had become the first second-generation MFC graduate. As such she stood at the forefront of what would become an extraordinary number of legacied graduates following in the footsteps of mothers, aunts, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. Over the next six years Kate's four younger sisters would not only follow suit, but would enter brief careers as teachers before marrying. This was not unheard of in graduates of their mother's generation, some of whom came back to teach at their alma mater, but after the war and reconstruction it was much less exceptional.

The only major disruption to life at MFC after the war occurred June 16, 1883 when then President J. Lane Borden was murdered by a member of a prominent Mansfield family who believed that Borden had seduced his affianced, a student at MFC. The killing was heavily reported, and with no shortage of bias, in denominational publications. Borden was, of course, a Methodist. The man who killed him was of another major Protestant denomination. The accounts in the denominational publications favored their respective affiliate. Only from extant city newspapers is it possible to find a somewhat objective account of the facts. Borden was shot once inside a store in downtown Mansfield. He ran outside, pursued by his killer who shot several more times, hitting Borden twice more. He died two hours later. Satisfied at having exacted his measure of revenge, the man who shot him did not flee, but surrendered to local law enforcement. He was tried, convicted, and had served less than three years in prison when pardoned by Gov. McEnery, Jan., 1886 "because the prison air did not agree with him".

Excepting the two years MFC was closed during the war, 1895-96 was the only year the college had no graduates. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also the first year of public high school in Mansfield - and the first Assistant Principal of Mansfield Central High School was an MFC graduate, Miss Annie DuBois ('83). The void of graduates at MFC that year is somewhat misleading, however, as the late 19th century was a time of expansion for the college. New classrooms and dormitories were added, and they would be needed to accomodate the increase in enrollment that would take place in the next century.

Changes in accreditation requirements for institutions of higher education in Louisiana resulted in MFC's formal accreditation as a junior college early in the 20th century. Sources differ as to precisely when MFC officially became a two-year instead of a four-year college, but records indicate the last 4 year degrees were conferred in 1912. Thereafter, the vast majority of graduates are recorded as having received "L.I." degrees. At that time, the two year course leading to the Licentiate Instructor degree qualified the recipient for lifetime certification to teach in elementary or grade schools in Louisiana (and many other states).

These regulatory constructs changed day-to-day life at MFC little if at all. By then educating no small number of third generation students, the college held fast to the long established standards and traditions that had well served the mothers and grandmothers of current students, and which made the school a source of great pride to the region. A comparison of the first and last catalogues of the school reveals more descriptive detail, but few changes in the core curriculum from that of 1855. It began, and was always, a solid classical education. From alumnae reminiscences may be discerned an equally solid esprit-de-corps born of shared experiences at the old school - the rigors of oral examinations, the week-long celebrations attendant the annual commencement exercises (which by the 1920's had become a regional event complete with college queen and her court), the legend of Peg-Leg (a ghost said to have haunted the main building since it was used as a hospital), the annual gathering at the battlefield - and many more. Mary Cornelia Wright, who was shocked by her classmates' spur of the moment polka, might simply have perished had she witnessed some spirited young ladies slipping off to swim in their underwear during the annual battlefield picnic some 50+ years later. (They were caught by the Dean, who apparently exercised the same firm but benevolent discipline as had Dr. Thweatt.)

Ironically, MFC's enrollment peak was within a few years of its closing. Several times during its last decade the school exceeded 200 students, and graduates usually numbered between 30-40. There was a slight decline subsequently, but one that probably could have been weathered had it not been for the Great Depression. Finding the school on shaky financial ground again, the Methodist Conference reluctantly decided not to re-open the school after the end of the 1929-30 year. Again, there was an attempt by generous patrons to save the school, but this time it wasn't enough, and for the parish, faculty, students and alumnae, the curtain fell on an educational era. The colleges' buildings and grounds were sold to State Sen. Reimer Calhoun, whose family has now so generously donated the old main building to the state of Louisiana, in recognition of its historic significance.

Long after it closed, the spirit of MFC lived on through its alumnae. The last of their reunions, at least to this writer's knowledge, took place in 1980, honoring the 50th anniversary of the colleges' last graduating class. No doubt they would all have agreed with the spirit of the verses quoted by Sally Moss Bannerman at a reunion long 'ere that one-
Backward turn backward, O' time in thy flight. Make me a girl again just for tonight


*Dr. Robert T. Gibbs was the first president of the Seminary's Board of Trustees, which included Jacob D. Wemple, William Crosby, Col. Richard T. Johnson, Rev. W.W. Bell, Col. Hamilton Sloan, Sam H. Rives MD, J.D. Wilder MD, Alex M. Cambell, Gen. Henry Phillips, John Jordan, Jesse M. Williams, Daniel Brown, Henry Moss, Col. R. H. Caruth, Rev. William E. Doty, Lewis Phillips, Jones Persons, William H. Terrel, George C. Burns, Maj. Joseph Harper, Benjamin W. Pearson, J. H. Mumford MD, George R. Draughon, and Rev. John Burrus(3). 1867-1868 Rev. William E. Doty of Caddo Par., President, Rev. John Pipes of Mansfield, Rev. Benjamin F. Alexander of Pleasant Hill, Maj. John J. Greening of Mansfield, and John Holmes Esqr., of DeSoto Parish.
 

Reminiscences of Mansfield Female College First Commencement

Graduates 1856-1895
Graduates 1897-1930
All Students 1855-56
 

DO YOU RECOGNIZE THESE MFC GRADS?


 

Photo courtesy of Linda Trichel

 

 

THE MANSFIELD FEMALE COLLEGE MUSEUM
101 Monroe St., Mansfield

In 2002 the Huckaby and Calhoun families donated the MFC property and grounds to the State of Louisiana.
It was added to the Secretary of State's Museum Programs during the 2003 legislative session
and is now open Mon. - Fri. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., admission free.

Join Friends of the MFC Museum

 

 

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Copyright 1997-present by Jane Keppler This information may be used by individuals for their own personal use, libraries and genealogical societies. Commercial use of this information is strictly prohibited without prior written permission from Jane Keppler. If material is copied, this copyright notice must appear with the information and please email me and let me know. Neither the Site Coordinators nor the volunteers assume any responsibility for the information or material given by the contributors or for errors of fact or judgment in material that is published at this website.


Page Modified: 06 February 2017                           
 

DeSoto is part of the LAGenWeb Project, State Coordinator: Edward Hayden

 


Copyright 1997-2009 by Jane Keppler This information may be used by individuals for their own personal use, libraries and genealogical societies. Commercial use of this information is strictly prohibited without prior written permission from Jane Keppler. If material is copied, this copyright notice must appear with the information and please email me and let me know. Neither the Site Coordinators nor the volunteers assume any responsibility for the information or material given by the contributors or for errors of fact or judgment in material that is published at this website.


Page Modified: 06 February 2017
 

DeSoto is part of the LAGenWeb Project, State Coordinator: Edward Hayden