Holly Springs was home to several colleges for African Americans—Shaw University, which became Rust College, associated with the Methodist Episcopal Church, the public Mississippi State Normal College, which closed because of state government opposition in 1904, and Mississippi Industrial College (MIC). MIC was an enterprise of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), and the particular project of Elias Cottrell, a CME Bishop. Cottrell began working to start a school, from first grade through college, in northern Mississippi in the early 1890s, and he set up a board of trustees and started raising money in 1900. Cottrell briefly named the future institution Mississippi Theological and Normal Seminary, but when it opened in 1906, it was called Mississippi Industrial College. By 1908 the school had 450 students, the majority of whom were in grades 1 to 8.
One of the intriguing features of Mississippi Industrial College, as historian Alicia K. Jackson has noted, is that it did very little industrial training. In the atmosphere of opposition to African American education of the early 1900s, Cottrell and other school leaders apparently made the decision to promote the respectability and uncontroversial nature of industrial education even though the school emphasized teacher training and liberal arts education. Students who aspired to the BA degree took multiple years of Latin and Greek, and literary study emphasized the classics of England and New England. The “industrial” feature of Mississippi Industrial College lay primarily in requiring students to sew, cook, and farm as part of their contribution to campus life.
Starting a private school for African Americans in the early 20th-century South was a challenge. Public money was unavailable; the CME Church, with its headquarters in Jackson, Tenn., did not have a wealthy group of supporters from throughout the country; and not many African Americans in Mississippi were making much money. Cottrell and future leaders relied on a combination of requests to the CME boards in Mississippi, occasional requests to a philanthropist like Andrew Carnegie, and the financial decisions of African American parents. Cottrell repeatedly mentioned the sacrifices of “struggling farmers . . . uneducated themselves, [who] have sacrificed much to promote facilities for their children.”
Mississippi Industrial College sat—and indeed, some of its former buildings still sit—across the street from Rust College, and the proximity of the two Methodist-affiliated institutions encouraged students and faculty to make comparisons in the size of the two schools and in the nature of their leadership. It was important to the identity of MIC that black educators and trustees were in charge, while they noted that Rust College had some white supporters and trustees. In the 1910s almost all MIC faculty members, led by Pres. D. C. Potts, educated at Howard University, came from historically black institutions—Fisk, Walden, Philander Smith, Lane, Mary Holmes, Payne, and Tuskegee, along with one faculty member from Berea College in Kentucky.
The nature of MIC as a church-related school dedicated to moral propriety and uplift was clear. All students wore uniforms, went to daily devotionals and a Wednesday prayer service, and many campus organizations, like the YWCA, YMCA, and the Epworth League, had religious elements. Later in the history of the institution, CME Bishop Oree Broomfield, a graduate of MIC, supported the efforts of young people to enroll in the college by allowing some of them to live free in his home and by offering scholarships to some students studying to become ministers.
In 1923 Mississippi Industrial College opened Carnegie Auditorium, a large and impressive auditorium whose size—seating for 2,000 people—reflected the ambitious goals of the college. For much of its history, MIC emphasized the training of teachers and candidates for the ministry.
In the 1960s MIC was, compared to many African American college campuses, relatively uninvolved in the civil rights movement. College president Edgar Everett Rankin discouraged student activism, but a number of students joined students at Rust College to protest segregation in Holly Springs businesses and to attend protest meetings.
After years of financial difficulties, Mississippi Industrial College closed in 1982. Some of its buildings, now owned by Rust College, house social service and educational organizations while some are in need of repair. MIC alumni organizations continue to meet.
University of Mississippi
Oree Broomfield obituary, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church website,
www.c-m-e.org; Alicia K. Jackson, “The Colored Methodist Episcopal Church and Their Struggle for Autonomy and Reform in the New South” (PhD dissertation, University of Mississippi, 2004); Mississippi Industrial College, Catalogue 1913–1914;
Joy Ann Williamson, Radicalizing the Ebony Tower: Black Colleges and the Black Freedom Struggle in Mississippi (2008).
Mississippi Industrial Institute and College
What is now the Mississippi University for Women was known as the Mississippi Industrial Institute and College from its founding in 1884 until 1920. The struggle to establish the school began in 1856 when Sally Eola Reneau prepared a presentation for the legislature urging the creation of an institution to provide a specifically southern higher education for the women of Mississippi. The legislature passed the bill but allocated no funds. After the Civil War, Reneau renewed her efforts, and in 1872 she again received legislative approval to establish a women’s college but no funding.
In the early 1880s Annie Coleman Peyton and Olivia Valentine Hastings took up the cause. Peyton published numerous newspaper editorials under the pseudonym “A Mississippi Woman” and made presentations throughout the state. Hastings earned the support of Sen. J. McCaleb Martin of Claiborne County, who brought the Establishment Bill to the Mississippi legislature on 12 March 1884. The bill passed by just two votes in the House and one vote in the Senate. The legislature also appropriated forty thousand dollars to support the new school. Students were required to take courses in liberal arts and to learn a practical skill to prepare them to support themselves. Each county received an enrollment quota, and education was to be free for any student appointed by her county’s superintendent of education.
Although many Mississippi towns and cities actively vied to become the site of the new school, the board of trustees chose Columbus because the facilities of the Columbus Female Institute were available for free and the city offered an additional fifty thousand dollars in bonds. Richard W. Jones, a professor of chemistry at the University of Mississippi and the new school’s first president, hired seventeen female faculty members, including Pauline Van de Graaf Orr, who served as “mistress of English” until 1914.
The Mississippi Industrial Institute and College opened with great fanfare on 22 October 1885, with 341 students from all parts of Mississippi and from all economic circumstances. These students were largely unprepared for higher education. As young as fifteen, many had completed no schooling past the primary grades. Student life was strictly regulated and regimented, down to such matters as types of buttons and underwear. Almost immediately, considerable controversy developed both on and off campus as to whether the school should focus on providing a liberal arts education or job skills for poor girls.
Jones resigned after three years, and the school endured four changes of administration during its first six years of operation. Charles Hartwell Cocke, the second president, was mediocre and unqualified, and the board removed him from office in March 1890, naming Mary S. J. Calloway to serve as temporary president. Arthur H. Beals, the third president, proved another poor choice, and the board did not ask him to return for a second year. For those who opposed women’s education, the lack of administrative stability reflected the futility of the enterprise. However, the board’s next choice, Robert Frazer, was more successful, and he remained president for eight years, although his administration was hampered by a significant financial downturn in the 1890s. Following Frazer’s resignation in 1898, the Mississippi legislature sent a ten-man investigative committee to evaluate the presidential turnover. Although the committee members found the school in administrative disarray, they recognized that it had done much good for Mississippi’s young women.
The board appointed native Mississippian Andrew Armstrong Kincannon to be the school’s fifth president. Kincannon had previously served as the state superintendent of education, which made him both politically savvy and well connected. Before accepting the position, he demanded that the board seek additional funding and pledge not to interfere with his administration. Kincannon became a tireless promoter of the school, visiting many parts of the state and seeking to reassure citizens about the school’s aims and policies. He took a particular interest in teacher training, establishing a model school and offering summer sessions for both male and female teachers. Kincannon resigned after nine years to accept the chancellorship of the University of Mississippi.
In 1907 Henry Lewis Whitfield became the school’s final president. Whitfield felt that the school should offer both liberal arts and industrial courses, and his decisions about curriculum led to much controversy and dissension. In 1914 a statewide scandal erupted when someone distributed pamphlets highly critical of Whitfield and signed them only “S. T. Payer.” During Whitfield’s presidency, student preparation for higher education had improved to the point that the school abolished its remedial program in 1914. In 1918 the last two-year diplomas were issued to prospective teachers, who thereafter took a four-year program.
In early 1920 the legislature considered changing the Industrial Institute and College into a junior college for women. After Whitfield invited the legislators to visit the school, they voted to keep the school autonomous and changed its name to the Mississippi State College for Women in recognition of its primary academic purpose.
- Deborah A. Hall, “‘Coming of Age’ in the Progressive Era: The Role of Southern Women’s Higher Education between 1900 and 1917” (PhD dissertation, University of Kentucky, 1991)
- Loyce Braswell Miles, “Forgotten Scholars: Female Education in Three Antebellum Deep Southern States” (PhD dissertation, Mississippi State University, 2003)
- Sarah D. Neilson, “The History of the Mississippi State College for Women” (1954)
- Bridget Smith Pieschel and Stephen Robert Pieschel, Loyal Daughters: One Hundred Years at Mississippi University for Women, 1884–1984 (1984)
- David G. Sansing, Making Haste Slowly: The Troubled History of Higher Education in Mississippi (1990)