Memory Of The Week: The Origins & History Of Stillman College
Memory Of The Week: The Origins & History Of Stillman College

Memory Of The Week: The Origins & History Of Stillman College

Editor’s Note: As part of an ongoing partnership with our friends at Historic Tuscaloosa, Patch will be bringing you a quick piece of local history per week provided by those working hard to preserve the memories of our community.

TUSCALOOSA, AL — As the country on Monday remembers the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this installment of Historic Tuscaloosa’s Memory of the Week focuses on the origins and history of Stillman College, which serves as west Alabama’s only Historically Black College or University (HBCU).

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Historic Tuscaloosa’s Event & Digital Media Coordinator Sarah-Katherine Helms told Patch that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church first authorized the creation of what would become Stillman College in 1875.

Helms said three buildings, in particular, serve as reminders of the college’s rich heritage: Winsborough Hall and Emily Estes Snedecor Hall, both on the Stillman campus, and Stillman House on 21st Avenue in Tuscaloosa.

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The institute was the brainchild of Dr. Charles Allen Stillman — the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Tuscaloosa who would ultimately lend his name to the college after serving as its first superintendent until his death.

Initially referred to as the Institute for Training Colored Ministers at Tuscaloosa, the school held its first classes of six students in the fall of 1876 and was chartered as a legal corporation by the state of Alabama in 1895.

The mantra for the new school was “Saving souls and mending bodies,” with the institution focusing on training Black men for the ministry.

In 1881, the Tuscaloosa Institute purchased and built a home at 1008 21st Avenue, which is now referred to as the Stillman Heritage House, before the Old Cochrane homestead and an additional 20 acres of land were purchased by the school.

The school became coeducation in 1922 with the construction of a women’s dormitory that was named after Hallie Paxon Winsborough — an important figure in the Presbyterian movement who advocated for providing training for young Black women.

At the end of the 1920s, the school saw its junior college added in 1927, followed by the construction of the Nurses Training School and its hospital in 1929.

The facility, which was named after former dean of women Emily Estes Snedecor, housed a hospital serving students and townspeople, with student nurses receiving two years of training in the hospital under the supervision of registered nurses.

The Tuscaloosa Area Virtual Museum says requirements for admission to the program were strict, only accepting single girls or widows.

What’s more, students were screened for personal health and hygiene, with each applicant required to “bring a signed statement from her dentist saying that her teeth are in good condition.”

Tuition at this time was priced at $40 for 12 months, which covered the cost of two nursing uniforms. At its height, 42 young women were registered at the nursing school.

In 1937, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accredited the Junior College division and on May 5, 1948, the name of the institution was changed to Stillman College.

A year later, the school began offering four-year courses of study, with the first four-year class graduating in 1951.

SACS in 1953 would then approve accreditation for Stillman College as a four-year school and would achieve admission in the United Negro College fund in 1961.

Local historians point out that none of the 19th-century structures remain, including the Cochrane house, which was demolished in 1954. However, it’s worth noting that the former house’s cast-iron Corinthian column capitals are now featured on the facade of the Sheppard Library building, which was completed in 1956.

Over the next several decades, the school grew its campus to over 1,000 acres to accommodate more than 1,000 students. Charles Allen Stillman was posthumously inducted into the Tuscaloosa County Civic Hall of Fame in 2001 — the first year the award was presented.

As Patch previously reported, Savannah State University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Yolanda Page was announced in June as the eighth president of Stillman College. Additionally, Stillman College in October 2023 announced that the school’s athletics had been selected as the 13th member of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC).

Click here to learn more about our friends at Historic Tuscaloosa and be on the lookout for the next installment of our Memory of the Week.

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