The Peabody Student Protest of 1883

Excerpted from Minute Book #55 of the State Board of Education, pages 145-155, transcribed by Kathy B. Lauder.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the role of the Tennessee State Board of Education was to oversee the finances and administration of Peabody Normal College, formerly the University of Nashville. The Board met in the office of the governor, who served as board president. Members included Governor William Brimage Bate, John Berrien Lindsley, Frank Goodman, W. P. Jones, J. W. Hoyte, George H. Morgan, and Leon Trousdale. Eben S. Stearns, Chancellor of the University of Nashville and President of the Peabody Normal School from 1875 to 1887, was also present on this occasion.

Office, State Supt. of Public Instruction, Oct. 27, 1883.

The Board met at 3 o’clock P.M.  Present, Gov. Bate, W.P. Jones, Geo. H. Morgan, Leon Trousdale and Frank Goodman, also Dr. Stearns by invitation . . ..

William Brimage Bate (1826-1905), Governor of Tennessee (1883-1887), U.S. Senator (1887-1905) — portrait by George Dury (courtesy of Tennessee State Museum)

Gov. Bate stated that the graduating class of last year had called on him in a body and asked to be allowed to present a memoreal [sic] in the interest of the College. — The Senior Class of this year had made a like request.  He had told them they must present their memoreal in the most respectful terms and furnish a copy to Dr. Stearns. They had done so, and a committee representing the Alumni and another the present Senior Class, had asked the privilege of appearing before the Board, and were now in waiting; he therefore favored admitting the Chairman of each committee and allowing him to read his petition before the Board.

Dr. Jones thought no notice should be taken of the petitions and moved they be laid upon the table. Lost, for want of a second . . .. Dr. Stearns also opposed hearing the students, as he thought it would encourage insubordination and asked the Board if it was going to allow the students to be judges. Col. Trousdale thought they should be heard, as did also Gov. Bate and Messrs. Morgan and Goodman, and on motion of Senator Morgan the Board ordered the petitioners be heard, through their chairmen. Dr. Jones voted in the negative and prepared [a] protest in writing . . ..

The Board then admitted Mr. J. C. Shirley who represented the Alumni.  He read the following:

Memoreal of the Alumni of State Normal College

To the State Board of Education. — Gentlemen.

We the undersigned members of the graduating class of 1883 of the State Normal College, would respectfully present to you as follows:

First. — That as to the past we have been more or less disappointed in the College in every respect.

Second. — That as to the present we feel deeply aggrieved by the action of the College toward us as students.

Third. — That as to the future we are without home as to the success and permanence of the institution unless immediate and radical changes are made.

Eben S. Stearns (1849-1855), President of Framingham State University, Chancellor of University of Nashville, President of Peabody Normal College.

Therefore, in all humility as becomes our youth and with the greatest consideration for Chancellor Stearns, for whom we have the highest personal regard, and with a deep and abiding interest in the welfare of our Alma Mater, we ask — nay in the name of right and justice we demand the following measures:

First. —  That only teachers of well known reputation, experience and ability be employed – those who are not only specialists in their several departments, but those who enter heart and soul into the Public School and Normal School work. – representative teachers of the new education and the Public school spirit of the times, – men and women of the highest attainment and the broadest culture.

Second. —  A supply of text books suitable to the needs of a Normal College, plenty of text and reference books of the most approved kinds and a reasonable adherence to them in instruction, in place of random lectures or stereotyped note-taking.

Third. —  A supply of apparatus to enable students to prosecute successfully, the study of the sciences; and at the same time access to the cabinet and library, and that the library be to represent the advanced spirit of education in all departments pertaining to our professional work.

Fourth. —  Facilities for publishing a paper, either by the faculty of the college or by its students and alumni, this especially, that the gross ignorance, which breeds a deep and almost unconquerable prejudice against our college may be removed.

Fifth. —  That co-operation and harmony be secured between the various boards of trust connected with college.

Sixth. —  That the immediate administration of affairs be placed in the hands of a regular faculty of eminent professors.

Seventh. —  That co-operation and harmony be secured between the President and teachers and that regular and frequent meetings of the faculty be held in order to secure such result.

Eighth. —  That co-operation and harmony be secured between the students and the teachers and that facilities be provided for daily as well as social intercourse between pupils and teachers.

Ninth. —  That measures be taken to secure the co-operation and sympathy of the community and general public.

Tenth. —  That measures be taken to secure the co-operation and influence of the alumni of the College.

Eleventh. —  That stricter regulations be had in order to secure benefits of the college to professional teachers only.

Twelfth —.  That the so-called teaching exercise be either abolished or entirely changed.

Thirteenth. —  That the Literary Societies be recognized and given proper encouragement.

Fourteenth. —  That the standing and marking of examination papers be made known to the students respectively.

Fifteenth. —  That measures be taken to extend the benefits of the college to a wider circle and to a greater number.

Sixteenth. — That a suitable course of study and lectures be provided in Pedagogics and kindred subjects.

Seventeenth — In a word, that our College be made what the people, its students and the times demand – the center of Public Schools – and Normal education in the South and South West.

And, finally, we ask a favorable and early consideration of the above petition and have requested a reply from Chancellor Stearns, in writing, to each specification before a lapse of time should make it necessary for us to seek elsewhere for reforms, in regard to which we have already been silent too long.” 

Second Ave. entrance to University of Nashville/Peabody Normal College

After Mr. Shirley had finished reading the above, the Chairman asked Dr. Stearns if he had any questions to ask Mr. Shirley; as he had none, several members of the Board questioned Mr. Shirley, after which he retired. –

Mr. Brandon of N.C. a representative of the present Senior Class was admitted and read the following memoreal which was signed by every male member of the class except one who was sick. – it was as follows:

Memoreal of Senior Class, 1883.  State Normal College

To the Honorable State Board of Education. –

Gentlemen. —  We the undersigned, members of the Senior Class of 83-4 of the State Normal College of Tenn. Do hereby respectfully memorealize your honorable body in regard to the status of affairs of said Institution.     

First. — However, we desire to say that we are actuated by no spirit of malice, dissention or insubordination whatever. For the Chancellor and Faculty, personally we have the highest regard. We are moved only by a desire to see the College raised to that position which it should of right occupy, so that those who come after us may have and enjoy the advantages of which, we feel, we have been deprived.

It is an open secret that there has existed all the while great dissatisfaction and discontent among the students of said College, and why?

1st.  Because the College is not what the catalogue advertises it to be.

        (a)  The course of instruction is said to include the general management of classes and schools, organization, government and discipline &c. (catalogue p 6). In these most essential particulars we have had no instruction whatever, either from the chancellor, any member of the Faculty, or any paid Lecturer.
	(b)  The following studies have never been taught according to catalogue since our connection with the College; to wit: Moral Sciences, Spherical Geometry and Trigonometry, Calculus, French.
	(c)  A system of espionage is practiced in times of examination, and constant aspersions are cast upon the honor of those “who are expected to conduct themselves as cultivated ladies and gentlemen.”
	(d)  The Library of the University has been entered by only one member of our class. There is no Librarian, nor has the Library been opened to the College since our connection with it. Hence we have access to no technical books, pertaining to our profession, pedagogical or otherwise.
	 (e)  The “large collection of well selected apparatus” is actually insufficient to afford us any practical knowledge of the sciences, first, – because there is a lack of such apparatus, and secondly, – because what there is, is old and imperfect.
	(f)  The Museum has never been open to us for class purposes.

2nd.   An excessive amount is charged for the use of text books and for incidental fee.  In regard to text books, there is not a sufficient number of the kinds in use, while many of those furnished are not suited to Normal class purposes.

3rd.  Because of the anonalous [sic] attitude assumed by the Chancellor toward the Literary Societies. These are regarded as in no wide factors in college work, have never been taken under its auspices, and hence have never received any sort of official recognition or support. — The use of the College audience room for public literary exercises is denied us; also the privilege of securing a suitable hall elsewhere. Thus, the Literary Societies are without the College and yet within the reach of its authority.

We would respectfully submit these as a few of the grounds for dissatisfaction and discontent, and while we are not disposed to quibble at small matters, yet these and other things have served to break down class enthusiasm and college spirit, thereby rendering successful work well nigh impossible.

We, as members of the outgoing Senior Class, and as parties to a contract, feel that the conditions, on part of the college are carried out, not as we could wish nor as we feel we have a right to expect. — Hence we memorealize your honorable body to the end, that the evils herein set forth may be righted as seems best to your wisdom. —  Your most earnest consideration of the matter we pray &c.

(Signed by 21, of the 22 male members of Senior Class.)

Photo by Ken Smith

After Mr. Branson finished reading the above, and Dr. Stearns having no questions to ask or anything to say, each member of the Board questioned Mr. Branson closely, and elicited suggestions from him.

No action was taken in reference to the papers; but the chairman of the Board suggested that Dr. Stearns should carefully examine the papers and see what remedies could be had and report to him in writing.

The Board suggested that it would be well for Dr. Stearns and the chairman to consider the suggestions embraced in the petitions, before appropriating the money in the Treasury, as hertofore [sic], and make their first expenditures accordingly.

Having been in session nearly three hours, the Board adjourned to meet at the call of the President.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: