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A Little History...

The Franklin County Board of Education is located on the site that was originally Mary Sharp College. Formerly the Tennessee and Alabama Female Institute, Mary Sharp College was chartered in Winchester in 1850. Opening in 1851, the school was named for an early benefactor. Mary Sharp College, which opened ten years before Vassar College, was the first women’s college in the United States to offer degrees equivalent to those offered at men’s colleges.

The curriculum at Mary Sharp College was patterned after those offered at Amherst College, Brown University, and the University of Virginia. Emphasized religious and moral training and required every student to attend chapel. Students at Mary Sharp, unlike those at other female colleges and academies, studied algebra, geometry, and trigonometry; Latin and Greek; English literature, grammar, and composition; ancient, English, and American history; philosophy and rhetoric; geography and geology; and botany, chemistry, astronomy, and physiology. Dr. Z. C. Graves believed that not only were women physically and mentally capable of obtaining a liberal arts education, but also that such courses contributed to their personal improvement and that of their families. Three women received the first A.B. degrees in 1855. (A.B. is an abbreviation of the Latin name for the Bachelor of Arts.)

Mary Sharp’s influence was far-reaching. Dana Slaughter Miller, a missionary and teacher at Shanghai Baptist College, and Florence Skeffington, first woman faculty member and second dean of women at the University of Tennessee, graduated from Mary Sharp, as did many of Franklin County’s early teachers. Although most students were from Tennessee, girls came from as far away as Vermont, California, and China. Over 4,000 girls attended Mary Sharp between 1856 and 1896, and 350 girls graduated during the college’s forty-year history. Mary Sharp College closed in 1896, a casualty of the financial depression of the early 1890's. Mary Sharp Elementary School in Winchester later stood on the site of the former college. When Mary Sharp Elementary School merged with Clark Memorial Elementary School the building was renovated to become the new home for the Franklin County Board of Education.

The Franklin County Board of Education had previously been located at Townsend School. Over one hundred years ago, what would become Franklin County's first African-American high school, Townsend School opened its doors to students. A lawsuit filed in 1962 led to a 1964 ruling desegregating the Franklin County Schools. For a few years, Townsend School only offered instruction through the eighth grade, but in 1934 the first high school graduating class received their diplomas. The last graduating class was in 1966.

Originally called Townsend Training School, the school was named after the Reverend "Doc" Anderson Townsend. Born a slave in Franklin County in 1848 and taught to read by his first owner, Solomon Coover, Townsend escaped during the Civil War, joined the Union army, and attended Nashville Normal and Bible Institute when the war ended. In 1869, he returned to Franklin County where he taught in local African-American schools for the next 50 years.


Citation Information: Excerpts were used from the following articles for the information provided as a little history.

Article Title Mary Sharp College

Author Tara Mitchell Mielnik

Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia

URL http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/mary-sharp-college/

Access Date June 29, 2020

Publisher Tennessee Historical Society

Original Published Date October 8, 2017

Date of Last Update March 1, 2018

Leslie Lytle, Sewanee Messenger Staff Writer

Thursday, August 24, 2017