Friday, April 29, 2011

Christian Female College (Christian College)

Old Main Building, Christian Female College
Christian Female College (Christian College)

Location: Columbia, Missouri, USA

Founded: April 7, 1851

Closed: In 1970, Christian College changed from a two-year all-female college to a four-year coeducational college, and changed its name to Columbia College.

Christian Female College was granted a charter from the General Assembly of the State of Missouri on January 18, 1851. According to the State Historical Society, it was the first women’s college chartered in Missouri, and one of the first (if not the first) chartered west of the Mississippi River. The College officially opened on April 7, 1851, with the buildings and grounds formally dedicated in 1852. At that time, the University of Missouri, which was also located in Columbia, did not admit women.

Christian Female College, Class of 1857
According to Paulina "Polly" Batterson, a typical day for female students in 1851 started at 6 a.m. with a morning walk, followed by worship in the chapel. They attended classes until late afternoon and then wrote a daily composition. After they studied and did chores, the students attended a Bible lecture every evening. They studied arithmetic, ancient history, grammar, ancient geography, philosophy, five books of Moses and composition. By 1856, there were 150 students, including 85 boarders.

In 1893, Franklin St. Clair assumed the presidency of Christian Female College. He died just a few months later, and in a rather unusual move, his widow, Luella St. Clair, was chosen by the College Board to take his position. Luella St. Claire, "a steam engine in petticoats," was Christian’s first female president and one of the first female college presidents in the United States. This dynamo was in so productive that she was forced to leave Christian after just four years and travel abroad in order to restore what was labeled her "failing health."

Emma Frederick Moore, an associate of St. Clair’s, replaced her as president. In a bold and innovative decision, the board elected St. Clair co-president with Moore in 1899 (this must be one of the very few cases where two women served as co-presidents at a women's college). And in an apparently even more unusual move, the Board deeded the college to the two women in exchange for the construction of some badly needed buildings. Through private fundraising campaigns, St. Clair and Moore were able to add four new buildings to the campus.

St. Clair Hall was completed in 1900. Originally meant as a memorial to Franklin St. Clair, the hall ultimately came to be regarded as a tribute to Luella St. Clair. Construction of the Launer Auditorium was finished in 1903; the architect was a local Columbia woman, Mary Hale. (Somehow, it is hard to believe that a woman architect would have been chosen for such a prestigious commission in 1903 without female leadership behind it.) Dorsey Hall was dedicated in 1911, and Missouri Hall was completed in 1920. All of these building are still in use today.

During this flurry of building, St. Clair resigned to accept the presidency of Hamilton College in 1903. She returned to Christian six years later to reassume the presidency after Moore’s early retirement. Soon afterward both women deeded Christian back to its trustees. St. Clair remained with Christian until her own retirement in 1920.

During her tenure, St. Clair also doubled the size of the faculty, held the first Ivy Chain ceremony, launched a college magazine, created a college orchestra, started a women's basketball team and implemented the then-innovative cap-and-gown uniform, which students wore in public. She also changed the college from a four-year school to one of the first accredited junior colleges in the country.

Upon St. Clair's retirement, all of Christian Female College's subsequent presidents were men--clear up until the time it went co-ed in 1969. The name was changed to Christian College in 1929.

On July 1, 1970--in exchange for a $5 million contribution--the Board of Trustees renamed the school Columbia College.

Interestingly enough, the women's basketball team that President Luella St. Clair started back near the turn of the century? At some point the program was discontinued, and women's basketball as a varsity sport wasn't reinstated until 2000.

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