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Column: First seminary students had rigorous rules
Johnny Vardeman

When the Georgia Baptist Seminary for Young Women, the predecessor of now Brenau University, opened in 1878, students were pretty much confined to their quarters.

Girls could enroll at age 14, but rules were strict.

They were required to study at night, but not past 10 p.m. While many students today spend much of their time away from campus on weekends, the seminary girls could not spend Saturday or Sunday away from their boarding houses unless by permission of the president, W.C. Wilkes. 

Students could not spend the night with each other, even in their own houses. They didn’t have dormitories at first.

There could be no parties, and students could not entertain “gentlemen” at their boarding houses. 

They were not even supposed to meet them returning from class or church. They were required to attend church. Students were not allowed to buy anything in town without being accompanied by an adult, and items of jewelry and fine watches were banned.

Wilkes died in 1886, then A.W. Van Hoose became president and bought the college. It became independent of the Baptist denomination and renamed Georgia Female Seminary and Conservatory of Music. 

H.J. Pearce later joined Van Hoose in operation and ownership of the school. Buildings on the present campus bear the names of Wilkes and Van Hoose, and the old auditorium is named for Pearce.

Women in the Senate

Georgia has had two women to serve in the U.S. Senate, but neither was elected. 

Kelly Loeffler, now running for a full term, was appointed a year ago by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp after Sen. Johnny Isakson retired. Her opponent is Raphael Warnock.

The first female senator from Georgia was Rebecca Felton, famous not only for that distinction, but she served only one day.

Gov. Thomas Hardwick appointed her after Sen. Tom Watson died. Hardwick’s idea was he would run for Watson’s unexpired term, and Felton’s appointment might help him with the women, who were disappointed by his opposition to women’s suffrage.

The ploy didn’t work. Walter F. George ran for the Senate too and beat Hardwick. George said he received no contributions for his campaign and had no expenses.

They called Felton “the Grand Old Lady” as she entered the Senate chamber Nov. 21, 1922, escorted by Georgia’s other senator, William F. Harris. She was 87 years old at the time.

Loud applause accompanied her entrance, even senators clapped, a rare occurrence. She then had lunch with some Georgians, but when she returned to the Senate, it had adjourned in memory of the late Tom Watson. Felton said she had wanted to make a speech.

When Felton received the oath of office, she forgot to raise her right hand until a whispered reminder from a fellow senator. The only senator who spoke at her swearing-in was Thomas Walsh of Montana, who moved that she be seated, and she took Watson’s former seat.

Felton’s husband, W.H. Felton, had served in both the Georgia House and the U.S. House.

Rebecca Felton was active in the women’s suffrage movement but also was known as a White supremacist and had been a slave owner. Felton was hard on Black people and had no problem with the numerous lynchings of them by White people.

Four sisters, no problem

J.B. Byrd, N.J. Laws, J.J. Martin and H.C. Burress married four sisters, who inherited their mother’s 150 acres north of Corinth Church in northwest Hall County. Without disagreement, the families divided the property into four tracts, conducted a lottery among themselves, and each family received one of the tracts. The transactions were said to have been conducted smoothly.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, or His column publishes weekly.

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