Freed-Hardeman University traces its history to 1869 when the Tennessee legislature incorporated Henderson Male and Female Institute, authorizing it to offer high school and college courses and to confer degrees. Eleven prominent Henderson citizens were named trustees, including Henderson’s founder, Dr. John P. Smith. The school operated for 15 years in a two-story frame building on the northwest corner of Main and White on land donated by John West. It was designed to accommodate 250-300 students.
Classes began in 1871 under the direction of George Martin Savage who ran the school for most of the next 13 years. The local Masonic Lodge supported the school financially. In 1877, the state approved changing the name to Henderson Masonic Male and Female Institute. The school attracted both local and out-of-state students who stayed in the town’s boarding houses.
In 1877, the nation’s growing temperance movement impacted the school when the state legislature prohibited the sale of alcohol within four miles of a chartered rural school. The institute then assured parents of potential students regarding the physical and moral health of Henderson, noting the town had “three elegant church-houses” but “not a drinking saloon in the place.”
While the institute educated both young men and young women, they did not receive the same education. Boys were to be to be offered a “practical education” including “penmanship for correspondence and mathematics for accounting—in other words, preparation for the world of commerce.” Girls, on the other hand, were to be educated “for that responsible position for which they were created—helps for men.”
Information and quoted material drawn from Dr. Greg Massey’s upcoming history of Freed-Hardeman University. The book is expected to be printed in Spring 2020.
When George M. Savage, leader of Henderson Masonic Male and Female Institute for approximately 13 years, left in 1885, the school’s governing board was unable to continue operation. However, I. J. Galbraith, an Institute trustee and a local leader of the Christian Church, as well as other church members, purchased the property and a new board of trustees asked the Tennessee General Assembly to change the school’s name to West Tennessee Christian College.
The name marked a significant change. For the first time, the school was specifically identified as religious. John Bunyan Inman, former Institute teacher, now led the school. He sought to recruit faculty, build enrollment and increase public support for a Christian school. In the Gospel Advocate, Inman urged parents to consider where they educated their sons and daughters. “Shall I give my money and influence to build up institutions whose course I do not fully endorse, and where the Bible is not the only standard of faith and practice?” he asked. While not compulsory, the Bible was taught daily at the school.
Inman also stressed the college’s commitment to academic excellence and an equal education for men and women. “There will be no sham work in this college,” he said. “Young ladies will be taught that their education should be as perfect, and their lives as independent as their young gentlemen friends.”
Inman and his faculty valued moral and intellectual excellence more than a large enrollment. “We do not want any immoral students, for we shall send them away,” he said. “We prefer a smaller school of good students to a large one made up of disagreeable ones, and whose influence would be detrimental to others.”
In 1890, a young man arrived in Henderson to attend West Tennessee Christian College. He would remain here for most of the next sixty years, impacting the history of higher education, the community and churches of Christ. Nicholas Brodie Hardeman came to Henderson from Milledgville. His father, John B. Hardeman, was well known as a doctor, farmer and businessman.
In Henderson, N.B. Hardeman boarded with an aunt and uncle while attending WTCC. That fall, he heard a sermon at the Henderson Christian Church and was baptized by R.P. Meeks who thought young men should leave the school “with a goodly list of well-prepared and carefully criticized sermons.” Hardeman, however, was not particularly interested in preaching. Instead, he took courses that prepared him to be a teacher.
West Tennessee Christian College, which in 1892-93 had announced its intention to build a new building, found itself financially insecure and the building was not begun. Two leaders of the school left, further complicating the situation, and a financial panic in 1893 led to an economic depression in the United States that continued for five years.
Meanwhile, roughly 30 miles from Henderson, a school was flourishing. In 1898, a 25-year-old Indiana educator responded to an ad in the Gospel Advocate seeking someone to establish a school in Essary Springs. Arvy Glenn Freed moved to Tennessee and became the president and principal teacher of Southern Tennessee Normal College. His optimistic nature, faith and hard work led to rapid growth of the school.
Freed taught and presided over his school during the week and preached on weekends, including at the Christian Church in Henderson. This gave the trustees of West Tennessee Christian College, now looking for a new administrator for WTCC, opportunity to hear him preach. In 1895, Freed accepted a 10-year contract as president of WTCC and he and his wife Belle moved to Henderson.
Although conflict will rear its ugly head, the principal characters have now arrived on the scene. Two men who will one day construct a new building and establish a college that today bears their names have come to Henderson.
Information and quoted material drawn from Dr. Greg Massey’s forthcoming book, “By the Grace of God: The Story of Freed-Hardeman University,” which will be published and available for purchase from the university in Spring 2020.
Declining enrollment and disagreement over the use of instrumental music in worship eventually led to the dissolution of Georgie Robertson Christian College in 1907. As early as December 1906, talk of a new school in Henderson had begun among members of the Henderson church of Christ. Local businessmen who feared Henderson would soon be without a college were also interested. The two groups joined forces and met with N.B. Hardeman, who contacted A.G. Freed then living in Texas.
Five men, nominated by Hardeman, became trustees of the new school and Freed agreed to return to Henderson. Hardeman drafted a charter for National Teachers Normal and Business College. The board authorized him and Freed to buy land for a building. The simplest thing would have been to buy the GRCC building, but that was not to be. The Tennessee Christian Missionary Society, hoping to re-open the school, refused to sell it. The GRCC building remained vacant until 1913 when the town of Henderson purchased it for the county high school which occupied it for about 40 years.
Freed and Hardeman looked across the street to a lot on the corner of Main and Cason. Purchasing it for $3,775, they hired architect Hubert T. McGee to design a building. Despite a financial panic in the country, supporters continued trying to raise money. At a Nov. 7 ground-breaking ceremony, Hardeman broke ground and Spencer Rice, who would work as the school’s janitor for many years, shoveled the second spade of dirt.
Later in the month, the cornerstone reading, “Laid By Citizens Of Henderson Nov. 30, 1907. A. G. Freed And N. B. Hardeman Founders” was set in place.
Construction began with local labor using local materials. Brick, brought from Mill Street in wheelbarrows were used to construct “exceptionally thick walls.” When pledges failed and costs rose, Freed and Hardeman pledged their own money and credit to complete construction and guarantee the mortgage. “The enterprise is falling heavily on Brother Hardeman and me,” Freed announced. “Brother Hardeman and I are making this the work of our lives. Our great object is to plant a permanent institution where the youth of our country may secure a thorough education under the influence of primitive Christianity. The Lord has blessed our labors. With him we shall succeed.”
Information and quoted material are drawn from Dr. Greg Massey’s forthcoming book, “By the Grace of God: The Story of Freed-Hardeman University,” which will be published and available for purchase from the university in Spring 2020. A Grand Re-opening of Old Main is scheduled for 2:00pm Friday, Nov. 8. The public is invited to attend.
National Teachers Normal and Business College, under the direction of President A.G. Freed and Vice President N.B. Hardeman, opened in September 1908 for its first term. Other than the notable absence of furniture for the classrooms, the opening had few glitches.
With classes for kindergartners through college, all offered in the same building, enrollment for the first year peaked at 450 students. Encouraged by the good opening, Freed order 25,000 copies of the next year’s catalog and made plans to hire additional faculty.
By the second year, 1909-1910, 80 percent of the students came from out of town. Typically, they came on one of the four daily trains servicing Henderson. In September, some trains were full of students. New terms brought more new students.
Since NTNBC had no dormitories, students boarded with local families and, as advocates had said, bolstered the town’s economy. Families received daily grocery deliveries from local stores via horse-drawn hackneys navigating Henderson’s dirt, or mud, depending upon the season, streets. They delivered enough food to keep three local stores profitable. The boarding houses were not equipped with electric lights or central heat and air. However, many of them did have pianos and some of the female students took piano lessons at the college.
The experiences of Clifford Paul (C.P.) Roland, who enrolled at NTNBC in 1910, were likely that of many students. Roland came to Henderson from Essary Springs. He had boarded a morning train in Pocahontas, Tennessee, gone “to Corinth, Mississippi, switched to a northbound train on the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad and arrived in Henderson that afternoon at 4:30pm” For comparative purposes, Henderson is approximately 36 miles from Pocahontas. Today’s traveler could drive the distance in less than an hour.
When Roland arrived at the Henderson train station, he got off the train and walked to a boarding house on Main Street adjacent to the railroad overpass. At the boarding house, Roland began each day by “shaking the coal grate, putting in kindling and starting a fire to warm the room he shared with two other male students.”
Information and quoted material are drawn from Dr. Greg Massey’s forthcoming book, “By the Grace of God: The Story of Freed-Hardeman University,” which will be published and available for purchase from the university in Spring 2020.
158 East Main Street
Henderson, TN 38340
FHU / Dickson
FHU / Memphis
5565 Shelby Oaks Drive
Memphis, TN 38134
855 Highway 46 South
Dickson, TN 37055
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