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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thelma Stevens, February 13, 1972. Interview G-0058. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

History of Scarritt College for Christian Workers

Stevens discusses the history of Scarritt College for Christian Workers, which she attended during the mid-1920s. Stevens begins by describing the school's early history, noting that it was established in 1892 by the Methodist Episcopal Church to train women missionaries. Originally based in Kansas City, Missouri, the school was moved to Nashville, Tennessee, during the early 1920s. Stevens describes the changes the school witnessed over the years, primarily in regard to the student population, emphasizing the strong role of women as students and as administrators and teachers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Thelma Stevens, February 13, 1972. Interview G-0058. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACQUELYN HALL:
Well, I would like to know something about what kind of place Scarritt College is or was.
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, I'd love to tell you about Scarritt.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I've always had the impression . . . I've started coming across the name of Scarritt College an awful lot, in turning out women who went into these kinds of professions.
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes, well, Scarritt College had its original home in Kansas City. It was started back in 1892, if my dates are correct. Yeah, I think I'm right. 1892, in Kansas City. Because the Woman's Home Missionary Society and the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South wanted a training school for the missionaries that they were going to send overseas and that they were going to use for the deaconesses, in the home mission program here. And there was no place that they felt was adequate for that kind of training. There was a training school, called the Nashville Training School here in Nashville It was training of a kind. But they started this one in Kansas City, and it stayed in Kansas City from 1892 till 1924, and then it was moved to Nashville. It had, as its purpose, when it moved to Nashville, becoming a standard graduate school. See, in Kansas City it was a training school, not a college, not any of the standardized programs. So it was moved to Nashville in 1924. It still continued to have the same purpose, but with much better, and much different, type of training for the people who went there. See, they came to Nashville because you have Vanderbilt University and you have Peabody College and Fisk University. Of course, I must admit sorrowfully that in those days Fisk University and Maharry and Tennessee State University, which was called "A&T" in those days, were not allowed to play much of a role in the life of Scarritt. Some of the students were deeply involved, and some of the faculty were, but Scarritt, for the first . . . up until 1951 or '52 - I can't remember the exact date - up until that time it was for whites only. In my day there, it was for whites only.
BOB HALL:
It was always co-ed, though?
THELMA STEVENS:
No. In those early days, when I was there . . . well, when I was there, there were Vanderbilt students who took classes there, but no full time men students in those early days. There were no dormitory facilities, no apartment facilities, no housing facilities, for men students on the campus. And men could come in and take courses, but it was primarily for women, in the days when I was there.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were the teachers primarily women?
THELMA STEVENS:
Oh, no. Oh, no. We had . . . well, let's see. My major professor was Dr. Albert Barnett, who was a New Testament man. Strangely enough, I wrote my master's thesis in the New Testament field. had two sociology professors. Both of them were great people, Miss Louise Young was a sociology professor, and Dr. Duncan was a sociology professor. I had all the work that they gave.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Was there an orientation toward social consciousness in those days here?
THELMA STEVENS:
Oh, mercy, yes. Oh, mercy, yes. You couldn't take a course in New Testament without being alerted to the whole world in which you lived. It was . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Do you think more so at Scarritt than at other . . . ?
THELMA STEVENS:
Well, you see, the purpose of Scarritt was to stimulate you to understand the world in which you lived. In those days, Scarritt was really geared to the issues in the world. Of course, I . . . there were some of the professors that were not quite so much so as others, but by and large it was socially oriented.
JACQUELYN HALL:
And did the women's division of the Methodist Church cooperate? They financed it . . .
THELMA STEVENS:
They paid your . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
. . . and did they have control over it?
THELMA STEVENS:
Yes, yes. Up until the women requested the General Conference to make Scarritt a General Conference school. But even through the years since then, the Woman's Division made the greatest financial contribution. The Board of Missions as such, I mean, the other divisions of the Board, paid little to Scarritt until 1964. I think at the present time the Women's Division makes its contribution to Scarritt through the National division. But Scarritt was a child of the women. I mean by that it was . . . it was born for a purpose, see. And they still support it, and still supported it. And I remember when Mrs. Bragg retired as president of the Woman's Division after having served eight years, the Woman's Division gave the money for this Bragg Dormitory. That's where the continuing education is housed today. And then when Mrs. Laskey retired as president of the Woman's Division, four years ago, they gave most of the money for that new library that's there. The Virginia K. Laskey Library. And then, many years earlier, when Rankin Hall was built, it was named for a long time missionary, Miss Lochie Rankin. Well, anyway the women have built buildings over the years.