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History Monday: Male and Female High

There may still be some readers who are unaware that Columbia was considered a center of educational advancement from its earliest years. Following such institutions as Robertson's Academy, the Male & Female, or M&F, High School was instituted in the ante-bellum days of the town and flourished, bringing many students from nearby as well as from considerable distances. The following is Judge H.C. Baker's thoughts on the old school, from 1902. --Mike Watson, November 2020

Reminiscences of Male & Female College, Columbia, Kentucky

By Judge Herschel Clay Baker
Adair County News, 16 April 1902

Interesting Reminiscences--Male and Female College in Columbia Many Years Ago--An Old Catalogue Furnishes Information for the Readers of The News--Issued in 1836 in Poster Form--The reputation of Columbia as an educational point is not of recent growth. It may be a matter of surprise to some persons to be told that as far back as the year 1836 there was a school here with one hundred and twenty-two pupils in attendance.

Its catalogue, worn and yellow with age, now lies before me. It is in the form of a poster, eight by twelve inches, and contains the names of those who were in attendance, also the names of the trustees and faculty.

Of the large list of names, only five to my knowledge are living.

Mrs. Mary M. Cravens, to whom I am indebted for the catalogue, Mrs. Mary L. Rochester, Mrs. Esther Dohoney, John Eubank, and John D. Murrell--others may be living, but if they are, they are not known to the writer of this article. The great majority has long since passed over the river and into the shade of the other shore.

The school was known as Robertson's Academy; its trustees were Hon. Benj. Monroe, Wm. Owens, Esq., Wm. Caldwell, Esq., Asa Pitman, Esq., and Col. James Ewing; its President was Rev. David Page, a Presbyterian minister, assisted by Mrs. Hannah B. Page and Miss Mary L. Boardman.

These trustees were familiar names here in the early history of the town and county. The Monroes moved to Frankfort; and two of the family, Thos. B. and Benj. Monroe, were reporters of the decisions of the Court of Appeals for many years.

Wm. Owens was a leading lawyer at this bar, the father of the oldest resident of our town, Mrs. Mary J. Burton. Wm. Caldwell was Clerk of the Circuit and County Courts, for a half century after the organization of the county, the father of Isaac and Junius, and Wm. Caldwell, lately deceased of Louisville; Asa Pitman was one of the early citizens of the town and the surviving members of his family were living in Louisville a few years ago. Col. James Ewing was a man of wealth and influence, and died in the county leaving several children, all of whom I believe are dead but one--George W., who lives in Jeffersonville, Ind.

The catalogue, after giving the name of the institution, the trustees, faculty and pupils, concludes as follows:

"The present session of five months commenced June 13. As the pupils advance, all the branches usually taught in colleges will be taught in this institution. Another gentleman is expected as assistant teacher at the opening of the next session, which will be in the forepart of December, Columbia, Ky., August 1, 1836."

I am informed by Mrs. Cravens that the Male Department was conducted at the old Academy, on the hill near where Mr. W.H. Walker now lives; the Female Department at the house known as the Reed property.

Reading between the lines of this old catalogue, one has before him the history of the town in the past, containing as it does the names of many of the leading families of the county, men and women who have left the impress of their characters not only here but elsewhere in this and other Commonwealths.

In the list of names I see those of the Caldwells, Frazers, Monroes, Cravens[es], Hatchers, Pages, Pitmans, Trabues, Bakers, Cheathams, Creels, Gilmers, Hodgens, Ingrams, Irvines, Jones[es], Millers, Owens[es], Pattesons, Stewarts, Suddarths, Speakes[es], Waggeners, Wheats, Yeisers, Murrells, Smiths, Hardins, Russells, Squires[es], Conovers, Easts, Eubanks, Ewings, Winstons, Wagleys and others not so familiar to us of today.

Isaac Caldwell, for many years the leading lawyer of Louisville, was a member of the school; also Wm. B. Caldwell, his brother, who was a prominent physician of the same city. I see also in the list the name of Timoleon Cravens, a gifted lawyer, Democratic Elector for the State at large on the Breckinridge ticket in the Presidential canvas of 1860. Just below his name is that of Parker French, whose life would furnish material for a romance of thrilling interest. He was a leading spirit in the celebrated Nicaraguan filibustering expedition, and was sent back as Minister plenipotentiary to the United States Government, but the authorities at Washington failed to see it in the same light, and refused to receive him, and to recognize his government; further down the list is the name of John Squires, afterward known as Capt. Jack Squires, who led a company to the Mexican war, and below his name, Gibson Suddarth, Adjutant General of Kentucky during the Bramlette administration, for many years a leading lawyer at this bar.

Still further down the list in the Freshman class, are the names of the three Murrell brothers, Wm. O., John D., and Willis E. and in the same class Wm. E. Russell, afterward a lawyer here, and later Circuit Judge in the Lebanon district.

We presume the boys and girls studies then as they study now--some more and some less, and that heart troubles came about just as naturally. There were, doubtless, rules prohibiting anything of the kind, yet these affairs are not governed by rules of the school room. They have their own rules, and they defy all others, whether made by pedagogue or parent. Looking across from the junior class of boys to the junior class of girls in this catalogue, we find that Timoleon Cravens and Mary M. Waggener, afterward became husband and wife, and in the same class Gibson Suddarth found a wife in Amanda F. Baker. Another lawyer at his bar, afterward Chief Justice Wheat, found a wife in the same class, Margaret Ann Frazer.

In this list of school girls are the names of many noble mothers who graced happy homes in after years, and whose children and grandchildren under the gentle and refining influence of their lives grew up to useful and honorable positions in society, some of whom are among our most enterprising people here and in other places.

The pupils of this school were distributed as follows: one from Todd County, one from Cumberland, seven from Green, thirty-three from Adair County outside of Columbia, the others, eighty, from the town of Columbia. We might suggest the inquiry right here, are the parents of today as much interested in the cause of education as were the parents of sixty-six years ago? If they were, would not our school, instead of keeping inside of the one hundred notch, have two hundred or more scholars?

In an issue of your paper some months ago, you called attention to the fact that this is the centennial year of the organization of Adair County, and it was proposed that the occasion be celebrated in some suitable manner. The suggestion was a good one, and reading over the list of names on this old catalogue reminds me of it--and leads me to refer to it here.

The sons and daughters of Adair have made a good record. There is much in it to excite our pride, and arouse the spirit of emulation in the rising generation.

Would it not be a happy occasion, were her children and children's children--the representatives and descendants of those who have gone out from us to build new homes and fortunes in other places, to meet in the old town to talk over the past, and the work of the fathers and mothers who have gone before, and thus to gain a new emulation for the work which we of today have to do. --H.C. Baker

This story was posted on 2020-11-23 10:55:20
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Male and Female School building

2020-11-23 - Columbia, KY - Photo courtesy Mike Watson.
The Male & Female School building from a turn of the 20th century postcard.

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