Whitworth College Archive

Lincoln-Lawrence-Franklin-Regional Library

Note: This is a large finding aid divided into multiple parts.

Creation of this resource was supported through Library Services and Technology Act grant administered by the Mississippi Library Commission.

Creator: Whitworth College, Brookhaven, Mississippi
Title: Whitworth College Archive
Dates: 1860-1985 (inclusive)
Dates: 1900-1985 (bulk)
Quantity: 13 cu. ft. (39 boxes)
Identification: M1
Repository: Lincoln-Lawrence-Franklin Regional Library

Abstract: From 1859-1928, Whitworth College operated as a 4-year women's college affiliated with the Mississippi Methodist Conference. It was a junior college in the Millsaps system from 1928-1937, and reemerged subsequently as a 4-year women's college (1938-1950), a night school for veterans (1950-1960), a 4-year co-educational college (1960-1976), a Bible college (1977-ca. 1980), and a leadership and career development center (1983-1984). Redevelopment of the Whitworth campus began in 1999 toward the establishment of a state School for the Arts. The Whitworth College Archive contains records, photographs, memorabilia, and publications documenting the activity of the college in its various incarnations. Many of the photographs in the collection are available online as digital images. Also available online is a scrapbook compiled by a Whitworth student from the class of 1910. 

Historical Sketch

The origins of Whitworth College are tied to the demise of Elizabeth Female Academy, Mississippi’s first attempt to provide higher education for women. With support from the Mississippi Methodist Conference, the Academy had been founded in 1818 in Washington, Mississippi, offering a curriculum in languages, history, composition, and science. Naturalist John J. Audubon was among its faculty. The school burned in 1857, however, and during the period after the fire, Rev. Milton J. Whitworth, a minister and large landowner with property in Brookhaven, Mississippi, began to promote the idea of relocating the school to land which he would provide for the purpose.

By chance, Whitworth would meet Rev. Henry J. Harris, an individual who shared Whitworth’s commitment to higher education for young women and with whom he would share a fateful, but troubled, partnership. Harris already had determined to establish a Methodist college for women somewhere south of Jackson. Hazlehurst was his initial choice of location, but Whitworth offered significant inducements to bring the school to Brookhaven. He would provide both the land and buildings for a Brookhaven campus. In May 1859, Whitworth and Harris entered into a formal partnership to open and operate the school.

In yet another chance meeting, Whitworth met architect Alfred Elliott Moreton of Baltimore on a train from New Orleans. Whitworth convinced Moreton to disembark with him in Brookhaven and recruited him to design and supervise construction of the college’s first buildings. Using mostly slave labor, Moreton built five college buildings and a new church. The first catalog describes the resulting scene: “The College is beautifully located in a retired place with ample and pleasant grounds, about two hundred yards from the depot.” The six new buildings, “all sit in happy irregularity around about an acre of woody sward, which with its fountain, its little mounds, its walks and nooks and rustic seats, makes as pretty a spot as the eye could wish to rest upon.”

The two proprietors hired Rev. John P. Lee as president with four other faculty, including Harris. Brookhaven College for Young Ladies began its first term of operation in September 1859. It offered both college and preparatory classes with a standard curriculum in English, history, mathematics, science, and philosophy. Tuition was $25 with $70 for board and extra charges for instruction in foreign languages, music, and art. Students were expected to maintain a high level of propriety and decorum; among the activities forbidden was “corresponding with young men or receiving their attention.”

Also in 1859, Milton Whitworth effectively became the sole proprietor of the college after a rift emerged between he and Rev. Harris. The school continued to operate under a new name, Whitworth College for Young Ladies. The program at Whitworth College hardly had an opportunity to become fully established when the Civil War brought dramatic changes to the school. At the beginning of hostilities in 1861, Rev. J.P. Lee--college president and a native of Canada—resigned and moved to California seeking to avoid taking a part in the conflict. Local minister George L. Crosby took over as president, serving from April to July 1862 after which the college suspended operations for the duration of the war. For a time, the otherwise empty campus became used as a Confederate hospital.

Operations resumed in 1865, and in that year state courts also decided in favor of H. J. Harris in a law suit that had been in various stages of adjudication since his rift with Milton Whitworth in 1859. As a part of the resolution of the conflict, Whitworth deeded the college property to the Mississippi Methodist Conference in exchange for $1,000. Thus, the school came under the ownership of the Conference and resumed classes under the presidency of Methodist minister George Thompson.

Dr. Harvey F. Johnson, one of Whitworth College’s most influential presidents, took office in 1867. Born in North Carolina and educated at Emory and Henry in Virginia and Centenary College in Louisiana, Johnson had been a Confederate officer and chaplain. His presidency saw a growth in student population to 200, emergence from serious debt, and expenditure of $45,000 on new buildings. This construction included Calisthenics Hall (auditorium and gymnasium) in 1869, Margaret Hall (dormitory with steam heat and water) in 1878, Johnston Institute in 1884, and renovation of Whitworth Hall to facilitate its use as dining hall, infirmary, faculty offices, and dormitory space.

Among the faculty during this period was G.R. Eckhard, a graduate of the Berlin Conservatory. One of his piano students, Roberta Bowen, was invited to perform at the 1882 World’s Fair in Chicago. Bowen later chaired the Whitworth Voice Department.

Johnson died of Yellow Fever in 1886, and Lewis T. Fitzhugh replaced him as president. Fitzhugh’s tenure in office is best remembered for a highly successful music conservatory program led by Professor William Hennings. Whitworth had 27 pianos and 24 rooms for musical instruction. In 1893, Fitzhugh left to found Belhaven College in Jackson.

John W. Chambers succeeded Fitzhugh, inheriting a college with financial problems, declining enrollments, and a campus in need of repairs. Chambers spent $5,000 on beautifying the grounds and improving the buildings. He also added to the curriculum, so that Whitworth graduates would have to meet the same requirements as their male counterparts at Millsaps College in Jackson. Chambers made a controversial decision to purchase adjacent land by mortgaging the existing college property. Enrollment was at 195 in 1889, and in that year he resigned after experiencing serious illness and having expended his personal savings on the college.

Alexander Farrar Watkins had a successful, but brief, presidency between 1900 and 1902 marked by an improvement in the college’s finances. Watkins would become president of Millsaps College in 1912.

Inman Williams Cooper followed Watkins in the presidency and had a tenure of office rivaled only by H. F. Johnson in duration and effectiveness. During his 23 years as president, Whitworth achieved an “A” rating from the Methodist education board, and he maintained a relatively high enrollment even keeping above 200 students during the 1904 Yellow Fever epidemic. Port Gibson Female College became part of the Whitworth system, but this arrangement proved impractical and was abandoned after one year (1904).

In an attempt to secure accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, Cooper initiated an ambitious building program in 1920. It resulted in the construction of Enochs Hall (dormitory), Earl Hall (gymnasium and pool), and a Y-Hut, the latter of which the students provided as a hall for vesper and Y services. The class of 1921-1922 remodeled the president’s home, which thereafter was called Senior Hall. The college also added $1,200 in science equipment and bought 3,000 new books for the library.

These investments paid off in 1925 when Whitworth College received full membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. In the same year, Cooper died of heart failure having, according to his peers, “done more for Christian education of women in Mississippi than any other man who ever lived in the state.”

Whitworth College had reached its high water mark as a four-year institution under Cooper, for the tenure of his successor, Henry Gabriel Hawkins, would be troubled by financial struggles and declining enrollment. Hawkins was well prepared for the post, having studied at the University of Alabama and Vanderbilt, taught English in Japan, and served as a school superintendent, minister, and president of Port Gibson Female College. He had served as Cooper’s vice-president for a time. Only a year after taking office (1926), however, Whitworth lost it’s "A-1" accreditation by the Methodist church. Losing this accreditation meant losing financial support provided by the church, as well. Making matters worse, enrollment dropped from 315 to 210. Hawkins tried to save Whitworth by focusing on the school’s campaign to build a large endowment to shore up its finances, but support for the college failed to materialize in the needed amount.

In 1928, Whitworth became a two-year junior college and part of the Millsaps system. It was agreed that Millsaps would accept first-year and sophomore women only if they already lived in Jackson. Whitworth quickly received Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools accreditation as a junior college. In her 1985 dissertation, Kathleen George Rice asserts of the arrangement: “In the Millsaps-Whitworth system the Methodists of the Mississippi Conference provided for their daughters a higher education equal to what they had provided for their sons—equal in academic excellence and prestige” (p. 103). Hawkins responded to the change by resigning.

A highlight of George Freeman Winfield’s presidency (1929-1937) was Whitworth’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration in 1933 acknowledging its 75 years of existence. As it turned out, the event brought international attention to the college. Students produced a pageant entitled “A Century of Progress in the Higher Education of Women in Mississippi,” which they performed as the main event of Mississippi Day at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. They sent 150 pine and magnolia trees from Mississippi to be used for the scenery.

The period of 1933-1937 was one of decline for Whitworth. Rice identifies a number of factors that led to its ultimate demise, including: 1) the financial pressures of the Depression, 2) the emergence of public junior colleges in Mississippi, 3) a lack of adequate endowments, and 4) a trend of consolidating schools by the Methodist Conference.

In July 1937, the Mississippi Methodist Conference Board of Christian Education and the Whitworth College Board of Trustees held a joint meeting in Jackson at which the attendees unanimously adopted a resolution merging Whitworth College with Millsaps. They would liquidate the property held by the college, pay its debts, and turn over the remainder of the proceeds to Millsaps College. Whitworth held commencement in 1938, and then it closed.

The city of Brookhaven purchased the campus and subsequently leased it to Sinclair Daniel who operated a non-denominational private college for women there from 1941 to 1950. He retained the name of Whitworth College. By June 1950, the school had evolved into a night school for war veterans, and it subsisted almost entirely from their educational benefits. In 1959, the city refused to renew Daniels lease on the campus, and the night school operation ended the following year.

In 1960, a group of men from the Methodist-Protestant Church leased the campus and secured a charter from the state legislature. Louis H. Dobbs accepted the presidency and operated the school as a four-year co-educational institution designed also to function as a community college. Enrollment reached 150, but then declined. B. F. Gerald assumed the post of president in 1966. In ten years he was unable to secure accreditation or maintain high-quality facilities and programs, a situation he asserted was a result of lack of support for the school. Enrollment was down to 25 by 1976, and the Methodist-Protestant Church withdrew its sponsorship.

Whitworth began to evolve again between 1976 and 1978, ultimately coming under the control of members of the Presbyterian Church in America. In 1977, they gave the school the name, Whitworth Bible College, and established a curriculum for pre-seminary students, prospective missionaries, and workers in Christian education.

The short-lived Brookhaven Center for Leadership and Career Development emerged on the campus in 1983, and in 1984 the property came back under the ownership of the city.

In April 1999, the Mississippi legislature passed a law establishing a state School for the Arts at the Whitworth site. A $30 million five-year plan to re-develop the campus includes a new 58,000 square feet dormitory and an 80,000 square feet art complex. The result will be a school where highly motivated and talented students at the high school junior and senior levels can study dance, music, theater, visual arts, and creative writing.

For more information, see Kathleen George Rice, A History of Whitworth College for Women (Ph.D. diss., University of Mississippi, 1985).

Scope and Content Note

The Whitworth College Archive includes records, photographs, memorabilia, and publications documenting the activity of the college in its various incarnations, including educational enterprises that operated on the Whitworth campus subsequent to its life as a private women’s college.

The collection contains administrative records dating from 1907-1977. Notable among these documents is a charter of incorporation from 1938, when the school reopened as a non-denominational private college. Much of the correspondence in the administrative records series relates to Sinclair Daniels’ strained relationship with the city of Brookhaven. Daniels leased the campus from the city and served as college president from 1935-1960.

Also a part of the collection are lists of Whitworth students dating 1902-1972; Alumnae Association correspondence and alumnae directory information; faculty meeting minutes (1910-1911); and the records of the Alpha Sigma Delta for 1929-1937.

A strength of the Whitworth College Archive is its significant assemblage of publications. There is a run of the school newspaper, the Whitworth Whistle, from 1929-1947. Holdings of Leofost, the annual, cover 1911-1975 with scattered issues missing. There are catalogs, promotional and fundraising brochures, and event programs, including programs for Whitworth’s noted concert series that brought musicians of international acclaim to Brookhaven. Among the earliest items in the Whitworth College Archive that bear a specific date is the 1877 catalog.

The collection contains 170 loose photographs (there are additional photos in the scrapbooks series) of people, events, and structures associated with Whitworth College. These were obtained over an extensive period from a variety of sources, and many of the images were neither dated nor captioned at the time of capture, so a limited amount of information is available on these. Easing the descriptive challenge, the items from the photographs series are available to researchers as digital images linked from Part 7 in the Container Listing.

The Whitworth College Archive also contains financial records, scrapbooks, and records pertaining to the Brookhaven Center for Leadership and Career Development. The limited amount of financial records include receipts, invoices, and reports most which are from the 1960s. Highlights of the scrapbooks series are two student scrapbooks from 1909-1910, in which the students kept images and memorabilia from their time at Whitworth. Excerpts from one of these compiled by Annie Decell, Whitworth class of 1910, is available online.

Series and Subseries

Administrative Records
Student Lists
Alumnae Records
Whitworth Whistle (newspaper)
Leofost (annual)
Whitworth Clionian (literary journal)
Sheet Music
Financial Records
Brookhaven Center for Leadership and Career Development

Related Material

Methodism in Mississippi Collection

Thelma Dietrich Newspaper Clippings Collection

Administrative Information

Processing Information

Processed by Marti Parker in April 2003. Finding aid encoding by Toby Graham, and digital imaging by Diane Ross. This resource is the product of a grant provided through the Library Services and Technology Act and administered by the Mississippi Library Commission.

Proceed to Container Listing:
Administrative Records | Student Lists | Alumnae Records | Ledgers | Publications | Photographs | Financial Records | Scrapbooks | Memorabilia | Oversize | Brookhaven Center for Leadership and Career Development


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