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First Certificate Given at Mississippi Normal College

When The University of Southern Mississippi first opened its doors to students as Mississippi Normal College on September 18, 1912, its only purpose was to train and certify teachers. The first graduation was held on July 19, 1913, and the first person to receive her teaching certificate that day was Sarah E. Allen, age 21. At that time, the only academic requirement for attending the college was the completion of the eighth grade. Sarah, however, was not only a graduate of Hazlehurst High School in Copiah County, Mississippi; her 99.425 grade point average had earned her the position as valedictorian of her senior class.

Initially, Mississippi Normal College had two tracks of instruction. A student could follow either a two-year course of study that would lead to a certificate and a five-year teaching license or a four-year course of study that would lead to a diploma and a lifetime teaching license. Students who had gone beyond the eighth grade could receive credit for their high school classes towards a diploma or certificate. By completing high school, Sarah substantially reduced the number of courses she was retired to take in college.

When Sarah attended Mississippi Normal College, the grounds were full of stumps and mud. The college consisted of five red-brick buildings and a few wooden buildings. The library had only 500 books, housed in two rooms in College Hall. Hogs and cows roamed the grounds. Piles of debris and the continuing presence of construction workers testified to the raw newness of the campus.

There were 227 students that first term, all taking advantage of a college education that could be obtained without the expense and social demands of private universities. Student labor helped improve the appearance of the campus by the end of the first year, and there were sacrifices to be made. For example, during the first term, the college water pump shut down and dorm residents were compelled to haul water in buckets until local citizens made a link to the city water supply possible.

There were strict social rules at the college then. Students were awakened by a bell at 6:30 a.m., took meals as a group, attended chapel daily, and were expected to remain in their rooms to study from 6:30 p.m. until the lights-out bell sent them to bed at 10:30 p.m. There were only 30 minutes a day designated as social time during the week, with three and a half hours allowed on Sundays. Smoking and dancing were not allowed, and girls under 21 (like Sarah for most of her time on campus) could not ride in cars with men. Off-campus excursions were closely regulated. Still, romance managed to blossom. Sarah met fellow student Arthur A. Burns in 1912 and married him in Georgetown, Mississippi, on May 19, 1915. The couple had three children.

After Sarah received her certificate from Mississippi Normal College in 1913, she went on to her first teaching job in Rockport, Mississippi, focusing on music and liberal arts. Retiring from the public school system in 1958, she continued to teach Sunday school and private piano lessons until she died in 1966.

For more information about the history of The University of Southern Mississippi:

Hickman, Alma. Southern As I Saw It: Personal Remembrances of an Era, 1912-1954. Miss Hickman served as a faculty member at the University from its opening in 1912 until her retirement in 1954. [Miss LD3425 .H5]

Historical Manuscript Collections at McCain Library & Archives (Information about more collections related to the history of Southern Miss): http://www.lib.usm.edu/spcol/collections/manuscripts/lists-of-collections/subjects/subj-usm.

Morgan, Chester M. Dearly Bought, Deeply Treasured: The University of Southern Mississippi, 1912-1987,1987. [Miss LD3425 .M67 1987]

Oral History Interviews (Interviews relating to various facets of the University conducted by the Mississippi Oral History Program from 1971 to the present. This are available in the Brooks Reading Room in McCain Library): http://www.usm.edu/oralhistory/alphandx.html#USM

Sources for the Study of The University of Southern Mississippi (a list of resources): http://www.lib.usm.edu/spcol/collections/msana/ms_indicies/msanapath_main/msanapath_miss_usm

NOTE: The photographs above are from the Sarah E. Allen Burns Collection (AM10-59) held at McCain Library & Archives, University of Southern Mississippi.

Text for this "Item of the Month" prepared by Diane DeCesare Ross.