University of Nashville

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The University of Nashville was an educational institution that existed as a distinct entity from 1826 until 1909. During its history, it operated at various times a medical school, a four-year military college, a literary arts (liberal arts) college, and a boys preparatory school. Educational institutions in operation today that can trace their roots to the University of Nashville include:

Founding[edit]

The predecessor to the University of Nashville, Davidson Academy, was founded as a preparatory school for boys in Nashville, Tennessee in 1789. In 1802 this institution moved to a building in downtown Nashville. The facility, named Cumberland Hall, was located at 300 Peabody St., on the corner of what is now Peabody St. and Third Avenue. The building no longer stands, but a Tennessee State Historical Marker was erected on the site.

In 1806, Davidson Academy changed its name to Cumberland College. United States President Andrew Jackson served on the board of trustees for many years during this time.

When Reverend Philip Lindsley (1786-1855) was named the chancellor of Cumberland College in 1824, he announced plans to create a grand university. In 1826, the Tennessee State Legislature changed the charter of Cumberland College to the University of Nashville. In 1827, future Confederate General Gideon Pillow was part of a graduating class of twelve.

Under Reverend Phillip Lindsley, the University of Nashville provided educational instruction to young men. The quality of the school's instruction caused the city of Nashville to be referred to as the Athens of the South during this period. Because of its high quality universities, the city continues under that nickname. Though by today's standards, the University of Nashville was more of a preparatory school than a college, it was considered one of the leading universities of the day.

Lindsley, along with George Ticknor at Harvard, Jacob Abbott at Amherst, and James Marsh at the University of Vermont, was considered one of the leading educational reformers of the era. He sought to introduce a European level of instructional excellence, and used the German education as opposed to the English model of instruction.

In 1838, the University of Nashville had 188 students.

In 1850, all parts of the college level instruction were shut down, a consequence of a cholera epidemic in the city and the demolition of its campus building, Cumberland Hall. That same year, however, the University of Nashville opened a medical college.

Though the regular college program did not operate for a four-year period from the fall of 1850 to the fall of 1854, the medical department of the university flourished. It grew from 150 students to 9000 students very quickly.

Merger with Western Military Institute[edit]

In 1853, a new building was constructed at 724 Second Avenue in Nashville, and in 1854, the literary college re-opened. That year did not see great financial success. In 1855, Lindsley's son and successor John Berrien Lindsley merged the Western Military Institute and the University of Nashville, the former becoming that institution's complete collegiate program.

Modeled on the Virginia Military Institute, the Western Military Institute had about 150 students and seven professors at the time. It moved its entire operation from Georgetown, Kentucky, where it had operated since its founding in 1847, to Nashville. Students undertook a military curriculum, and were required to wear uniforms and conduct themselves in accordance with the rules of military law. A literary arts program was not offered during this period. Bushrod Johnson was a professor at the Western Military Institute from 1851 to 1855. He served as its headmaster when it moved to Nashville in the merger, and continued in that capacity until the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. He served the Confederacy during the war as a general.

The University of Nashville ran the two educational institutions (the Western Military Institute -- a college program-- and the University of Nashville Medical Department) in Nashville from 1855 to 1861. It was during this period that Sam Davis attended the Western Military Institute; he was later called the "boy hero of the Confederacy", and hanged by Union forces as a spy in 1863.

Civil War[edit]

The Western Military Institute did not offer instruction from 1862 to 1865. During 1862, the campus building served as a Confederate hospital.

The Medical Department continued to operate, though on a reduced program.

Founding of Montgomery Bell Academy[edit]

Industrialist Montgomery Bell left the University of Nashville $20,000 in his will in 1867, and Lindsley used the proceeds to open up the Montgomery Bell Academy (MBA) that year as a new preparatory school in Nashville. The new school took over the operations of the then defunct Western Military Institute and the University of Nashville preparatory school. Lindsley opened MBA as a private institution while acting as Superintendent of the Nashville Public Schools, a post he had accepted in 1866.

Revival of the Literary Arts College[edit]

Lindsley apparently had some degree of conflict with the trustees, though he continued to have their respect. Discouraged by lagging finances, he considered the University asset rich ( beautiful campus and buildings) and cash poor, he resigned as chancellor in 1870.

Former Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith was named co-chancellor of the University of Nashville, along with Bushrod Johnson, who returned to the school as a professor in 1866, to replace Lindsley . Under their leadership a new college program in the literary arts (similar to today's liberal arts) was opened. Smith and Johnson were also responsible for the operation of the Montgomery Bell Academy preparatory school for boys. The Medical School of the University of Nashville continued to be operated by the trustees, but was not part of Smith and Johnson's responsibilities.

Separation from MBA[edit]

A financial crisis in 1875 was resolved when the Peabody Fund made a large donation, and the University of Nashville's operations were split into three different entities.

The board of trustees that had operated the University of Nashville since its re-incorporation in 1826 remained intact and were given the operations of the Montgomery Bell Academy preparatory school. The medical school became part of Vanderbilt University. The literary arts collegiate program received the financial donation from the Peabody Fund, established a new board of trusteees and was renamed the Peabody Normal School, but many continued to refer to it as the University of Nashville.

End of the University of Nashville[edit]

In an effort to create a major Southern teachers' college, the grounds and buildings of the Peabody Normal School were donated to the George Peabody College for Teachers in 1909. The value of the donation was estimated to be worth about $250,000. In 1915 the George Peabody College for Teachers purchased a new site adjacent to Vanderbilt University, with over 50 acres (20 hectares) of wooded lawn. It constructed new buildings. However, after falling upon hard times in the 1970s, Peabody College amalgamated with the wealthier university in 1979. However, the board of trustees of the formerly affiliated preparatory school, Montgomery Bell Academy, continues to operate under the name of "The Board of Trustees of the University of Nashville."

Notable alumni[edit]

References[edit]

  • Parks, Joseph Howard, Edmund Kirby Smith, CSA, LSU Press, 1954.
  • Stonesifer, Roy P. and Hughes, Nathaniel Cheairs, The Life and Wars of Gideon J. Pillow, University of North Carolina Press, 1993, ISBN 978-0-8078-2107-7.
  • Rudolph, F., The American College and University, The University of Georgia Press, 1991, ISBN 978-0-8203-1284-2'

External links[edit]