CORINTH INFORMATION DATABASE Version 1.3 © 1995 Milton Sandy, Jr.

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                           CORONA COLLEGE
           AS AN EXAMPLE OF ANTEBELLUM SOUTHERN EDUCATION

                             SECTION II
                           CORONA COLLEGE

        Corona College, an institution dedicated to the education of
young women, was located in Corinth, Mississippi, from 1857 to 1864.
When the Confederate army occupied Corinth in 1862, the building
became a hospital for P.G.T. Beauregard's troops. The threat of Henry
Halleck's army forced the Confederates to evacuate Corinth on May 28,
1862, and Union forces took possession of the town. The Federal army
ordered the president's wife, Mrs. Susan P. Gaston, to leave the
premises and began to use the college as a hospital. The buildings
remained in use as a Federal hospital until Union forces left Corinth
on January 25, 1864. As part of their total war policy, Federal troops
burned Corona College to the ground. The school was never re-opened
after the war because the bricks were used by the residents of Corinth
to rebuild the town. [9]

        When Corona College was founded, Corinth was a young, but
thriving, town. The town which was first known as Cross City, was
located on an important railroad junction of the Memphis and
Charleston railroad and the Mobile and Ohio railroad. Upon completion
of the railroad, many people moved from the Tishomingo county seat of
Jacinto to the new town. Many of the early settlers in Corinth, such
as Houston Mitchell, C W. McCord, C.W. Bell, and Colonel Arthur Exum
Reynolds, would become important to Corona College. On March 12, 1856,
the town became incorporated under the name of Corinth. [10]

        In 1855, Reverend LeRoy B. Gaston and his wife, Susan, moved
to Cross City. Gaston, a native of Gastonia, North Carolina, had been
educated for both the legal profession and the ministry. He married
Susan Moore of Clarksburg, Virginia, in 1832 and moved to Mississippi
in 1846. On December 12 of that year, church officials installed him
as the pastor of College Hill Presbyterian Church near Oxford. After
ten years in Oxford, Gaston moved to Corinth with an idea: he would
start a school for young women. [11]

        In Corinth, Gaston's dream came true. The citizens were quite
willing to aid him. The details about who donated the land are
unclear. One source claimed that Colonel C.P. Polk  donated ten acres
of land for the school, [12] while another stated that in December of
1855, Houston and Martha V. Mitchell deeded five acres of land in
order to start a female seminary. [13]  The second source seems more
plausible simply because the description tends to indicate a small
campus. The founding principles of Corona College were clear. There
would be two departments: a preparatory and a collegiate. The
preparatory department would comprise three years and the collegiate
would comprise a fourth. The school year consisted of two sessions of
five months apiece: the first would begin on the third Wednesday in
July and end on the third Friday in December, and the second would
begin on the first Wednesday in February and end on the last Friday in
June. [14] The college was not under the guidance of any religious
denomination; Gaston had founded it on "Southern" principles. Although
Thomas Jefferson advocated a southern education as early as 1821,
these principles did not become all-important until the 1850s. [15]
This adherence to Southern customs became important because of the
debate about slavery: young people must be trained to think as their
parents did. Gaston followed the guidelines of this position by hiring
only Southerners to teach the young ladies at Corona College. Reverend
Gaston had his own policy about educating young women. He tried to
keep the lessons short and assigned very few studies at one time so
that the girls would remain both fresh and interested. [16]  According
to the testimony of one of his pupils, Eliza Lucy Irion, this policy
worked. Her journal entries ring with enthusiasm about both her
studies and her instructors.

        Very few sources exist which describe the appearance of Corona
College. Martin Siegrist, an architect from St. Louis, designed and
erected the three-story brick building for a cost of forty thousand
dollars. The main building was quite imposing and was even surmounted
by a dome. In the college catalog, Mrs. Gaston described the building:
"...the edifice is one hundred feet long, fifty feet wide and three
stories high containing twenty-three rooms." She then continued,

    the plan embraces the addition of two wings, falling back from
    each end of the main building twenty-eight by seventy feet; and
    when completed will add twenty-one more rooms to the
    establishment, and will present a full front of one hundred and
    fifty-six feet. The original building could accommodate eighty
    boarding and fifty day scholars. [17]

        These wings have been the subject of much consternation. A
Confederate soldier described the college as containing the two wings,
while a Union soldier did not mention them in his description.
Possibly, the Confederates removed the wings and used the bricks to
build fortifications around Corinth.

        Eliza Lucy Irion Neilson, a student at Corona College, did not
mention the wings in her description of the college. Her descriptions
seemed to be the best existing one because she described both the
exterior and the interior of the school. Her description of the
grounds related that the college was situated on a hill with manicured
grounds and a "beautifully arranged flower garden in front." [18]

        Her description of the interior began,

    The hall was very large and beautifully ornamented with arches and
    pillars. The rostrum was nicely carpeted. The wainscot doors and
    window sills were "oaken". The windows reached almost to the floor
    and extended nearly to the ceiling. The blinds were of a kinder
    maroon color which threw a lovely light over all. The desks, or
    rather study tables, were walnut color and chairs likewise. [19]

Lucy Irion gave the only description of a boarder's room. They were
nicely furnished "in walnut cottage furniture with whitest of
counterpanes on the bed." [20]  She also described the dining room.
Apparently, Corona College was quite an elegant place. The wealthy
young ladies who attended school there would be surrounded by the same
style that they found in their own homes.

        The faculty of Corona College consisted of seven teachers.
Reverend Gaston was the president of the college and taught higher level
classes such as Latin. Lucy Irion described him quite well in her
journal.  Physically, he was very tall and nicely-built with light brown
hair and hazel eyes. On first impression he seemed to have quite a
pleasant manner, but upon further acquaintance, Lucy described him as
mild, indolent, unambitious, too lenient (although he could be harsh
at times), and intelligent. She did not have much respect for him
because he seemed to have no notion of discipline. [21]

        His wife, Susan P. Gaston, was the vice-president of the
school and "the power behind the throne."  Physically, she was small
with dark hair and sparkling eyes.  Lucy's first impression of Mrs.
Gaston was not good. Her manner was formal and haughty, and the way
that she held her mouth convinced Lucy that Mrs. Gaston had a great
firmness of character. Later, Lucy felt a profound respect and
admiration for her because of her independence and determination.
She was also a splendid teacher because she combined strictness
with charm. [22]

        The rest of the female staff included Miss C.C Brousher, Miss
M.G. Parham, Miss S.J. Stockhard, and Miss S.E. Wilson. From Lucy's
journal entries, one could only learn that these ladies were young and
poor. They were responsible for teaching most lower level classes.
Professor W.H. Morrison was the only other male member of the staff.
He taught music until early 1858 when he left the school because of an
argument with Reverend Gaston. [23]

        The Board of Supervisors was made up of Reverend Gaston and
five of Corinth's most prominent citizens. These men were J.B.
Stafford, C.W. McCord, J.M. McCalla, R.A. Hill, and Arthur E.
Reynolds. Biographical information is only available for Reynolds. He
was a very active citizen. He was a state senator from 1849 to 1857, a
delegate to the state convention in August of 1865, and was elected to
the United States Congress, although the House of Representatives
refused to seat him along with the entire Mississippi delegation. [24]
Because of his accomplishments, one could surmise that the other
supervisors were also concerned, community-minded men.

        In 1858, Corona College had an enrollment of ninety girls
representing four states-- Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Tennessee.
Although most of the girls were from Corinth (fifty-six percent), one
girl travelled from Memphis, Texas, to attend Corona. [25]  Of these
pupils, forty were boarders and lived in a dormitory on campus. Most
female seminaries boarded scholars with families in town, but not
Corona. Reverend Gaston felt that students would learn more if they
remained on campus. [26]

        Corona College was different from other female academies in
Mississippi in another way -- there was an entrance requirement. A
prospective student had to pass exams on American history, elementary
arithmetic, geography, and grammar. No evidence suggests how rigorous
this test might have been, but the simple fact that one was required
set Corona apart from most schools. [27]

        The girls at Corona College were required to study quite hard.
The course requirements were as follows:

    TEMPLAR (first year): practical arithmetic, natural philosophy,
        geography, analysis of English classics, algebra, astronomy,
        composition and rhetoric, kurtz, sacred history, music,
        embroidery, painting, and practical sewing

    JUNIOR (second year): geometry, geology, meteorology, mental and
        moral philosophy, trigonometry, chemistry, evidence of
        Christianity, and music

    SENIOR (third year): botany, elements of criticism, English
        synonyms, Butler's analogy, and music

    SUPER-GRADUATES (collegiate level): French, Latin, and Greek
        languages, and other elective courses according to the girl's
        interest [28]

        The girls at Corona were also expected to participate in
debates. Lucy Irion mentioned one example of a typical topic in her
journal: "Is the mind of woman inferior to that of man?" Lucy was to
argue that a woman's mind was not inferior. Because she believed that
men were intellectually superior to women, she would be forced to
argue a position that she could not accept.

        Corona College was different from other academies in the South.
Most expected the sexes to learn different curricula and behavior.
Although history, arithmetic, and grammar were offered, most educators
considered chemistry, philosophy, astronomy, Greek, and Latin
unnecessary for girls and, therefore, a waste of time. One purpose of
female education was to develop more spiritual and sensitive natures
along with the intellect. Reverend Gaston concentrated mostly on
intellect. [29]

        During the mid-nineteenth century, educators considered writing
and speech, because of their social character, to be the unifying
factors of all knowledge. In order to promote both forms of
communication, Reverend Gaston initiated the Lyceum Society, a
literary society in which the scholars were encouraged to read their
compositions and poetry before their peers. It met every Friday after
supper and prayers and was very exclusive -- one had to be invited to
join.  [30]  Corona College also had its own literary publication
called the WREATH. This paper was published monthly and dedicated to
the causes of education and the improvement of society through
education. Scholars sold subscriptions to those friends and family
members who might be interested. [31]

        In June, at the end of the second term, Corona College
conducted examinations. Reviews began early -- usually around the end
of May. These reviews were open to the public, and young men often
came and stayed for the party afterward. Reverend Gaston gave written
tests on all subjects that the girls took during the year. Corona also
required each scholar to write a composition and read it at the public
exercises. Many girls copied others' compositions into books in order
to save them and remember one another after their school days were
completed. As entertainment for the guests, the Gastons required each
student to play either a solo or a duet on the piano. [32]

        The graduation examination was by far the most demanding.
Prospective graduates were privately tested orally before a committee
composed of the Board of Supervisors. The committee questioned the
scholar on every course that she had taken while at Corona. After her
examination by the committee, the graduate completed oral tests in
front of her classmates, friends, and family. [33]  When she had
finished, the Board of Supervisors awarded her the degree of A.M.
Reverend Gaston then handed her a diploma printed in Latin and signed
by her committee. [34] Lucy Irion included in her diary an excerpt
from Corinth's newspaper, The Cross City, describing the commencement
ceremonies at Corona. It ends, "Long may Corona Female College prosper
and be hailed as the institution of the South for the education of her
jewel daughters." [35]

        The first graduate of Corona College also happened to be the
first female graduate of any school in Tishomingo County. This
assertion is only important because two other female academies, the
Eastport Female Institute and the Iuka Female College, existed
in the county. Kittie Mitchell, from Danville, gained all honors. in
1859. [36] Her descendants still display the diploma in their home.

        In 1860, the graduating class was larger. It included Fannie
Reynolds, Fannie Dean, Anna Campbell, Nellie Orne, Annie Neilson,
Birdie Davenport, and Lucy Irion, the class valedictorian. [37]  At
Corona, the graduating class chose its valedictorian by voting.
However, Lucy Irion was probably the best scholar among the group. The
girls at Corona were quite competitive and would probably not have
honored someone solely for her personality.

        Order and routine were the great plan at Corona. Each school
day progressed in much the same manner, and bells signalled the
beginning of each activity. In the mornings, the girls ate breakfast,
attended prayers, studied for an hour, and had lessons. After lunch,
the girls had more lessons, studied for a few hours, and had free
time. Then after supper, the girls again attended prayers. Lights were
always out by nine o'clock. [38]

        Each girl had duties that she was responsible for performing.
Every morning before breakfast, rooms had to be cleaned. Each girl
took her turn in making beds and sweeping the floor. Mrs. Gaston
insisted upon neatness, both in personal grooming and in their living
space. Girls also served as study hall monitors. Mrs. Gaston appointed
each girl for one week during which she was expected to do her duty
and give marks to those who displayed disruptive behavior. The girls,
according to Lucy Irion's journal, found this duty extremely
distasteful. If a girl followed the rules and got relatively few
marks, the Gastons allowed her certain privileges, such as going into
town or spending the weekend with nearby relatives. [39]



SECTION III.  ELIZA LUCY IRION'S JOURNAL  


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