The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: George (J. B.) Papers
Collection Number: M310
Dates: ca. 1918-1943
Volume: .25 cubic feet
Jennings Burton (J.B.) George was the third president of the University of Southern Mississippi (formerly known as Mississippi Normal College, State Teachers College, and Mississippi Southern College), serving from July 1, 1933 to June 30, 1945. George was the first chief executive of that institution to hold a doctorate.
Dr. George was born on August 20, 1893, in Red Bay, Alabama. He was one of nine sons born to Abe and Camille Crowell George. His brothers were James, Lee, Enlow, Henry, Vester, Wesley, Dallas, and Charles. Abe George, who earned the family's living as a farmer, died in 1900, and Camille George died in 1906, leaving young J. B. orphaned at the age of thirteen.
After his mother's death, George went to live with a brother in Saltillo (Lee County), Mississippi. He attended grammar and high school in Belmont (Tishomingo County), Mississippi and in Saltillo, where he completed requirements for a high school diploma. He then decided to take the county teachers examination in Tupelo, Mississippi, and received a teaching certificate. His first teaching position was in the one-room Francis School in Lee County from 1914-1915.
In September 1915, he enrolled as a student at Mississippi Normal College, where he dug ditches and stumps at six cents per hour during his freshman year, to help pay for books and board. During his sophomore year, he worked as a janitor on campus for $1.00 per week, and in his junior and senior years, he earned $8.00 per term at the campus post office.
After his freshman year, George dropped out of school to earn money for tuition. This became a pattern during his college career - go to school a year, and work a year. His interim jobs were usually teaching positions. For example, he taught science and mathematics at Forrest County Agricultural High School in Brooklyn, Mississippi and served as a specialist in the Lawrence County, Mississippi schools.
In May 1918, George enlisted in the U.S. Army, and was sent to Fort Pike, Arkansas for basic training. A month later, he was sent to England and then to France, where he was serving on the front line, when the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I was signed on June 28, 1919.
After the war, he was discharged at Camp Gordon, Georgia, and remained there in a civilian position until September 1, 1919. He then returned to his home in Saltillo, and subsequently resumed his studies at Mississippi Normal College, receiving his bachelor's degree in 1923. During his college years, he served as vice president and president of the YMCA; president of the Prestonian Literary Society, World Affairs Club, and Masonic Club; was a member of the 1920 Debate Team; and was on the editorial staff of the 1920 yearbook, Neka Camon.
After receiving his bachelor's degree, George served as principal of Artesia High School in Artesia, Mississippi for one year. He then entered George Peabody College in Memphis, Tennessee, to pursue a masters degree, which he was awarded in June 1925. Immediately thereafter, he was hired by State Teachers College, where he served as an instructor of mathematics and education for three years, and as Registrar for one year.
On June 5, 1925, George married Wilma Jane Boswell of Marshall County, Mississippi. Three daughters were born of the union -- Frances Camille (b. July 15, 1930), Wilma "Billie" (b. December 12, 1937), and an un-named infant born July 13, 1926, who died shortly after birth. She is interred at Roseland Park Cemetery in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
In 1930, George was granted a General Education scholarship to attend the University of Chicago for one year, at the conclusion of which he was named head of the Education Department and Director of Teacher Training at Blue Mountain College in Blue Mountain (Benton County), Mississippi. In June 1932, George received his Ph.D from Peabody College, whereupon he returned to State Teachers College as Vice President and Registrar.
When the Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning declined to re-hire Claude Bennett as president of State Teachers College, J. B. George was elected to the post, even though he had not been a candidate. He assumed the presidency on July 1, 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, when the school was faced with a large deficit. In order to balance the budget, George set strict financial guidelines and adhered to them religiously, cutting employees' salaries by as much as one-third, and freezing departmental budgets. In so doing, he not only balanced the budget, but also closed each year of his administration with a small surplus.
During his administration, George fought for honesty and morality among faculty, officers, and students. His contention was that the tax payers who own the school "...want their sons and daughters to have a clean, wholesome place to go to school..."
George named Dr. Rosewell G. Lowrey as Dean of the College, and under Lowrey's guidance a number of changes were instituted to improve the academic program. Among them were a student guidance system, a quality point system for grading, and the reorganization of the school's eighteen instructional units into seven groups: Health and Physical Education, Languages and Literature, Music, Natural Science and Mathematics, Practical and Fine Arts, Professional Studies, and Social Studies. With the addition of pre-medical, pre-dental, pre-pharmaceutical, and pre-engineering courses, State Teachers College was rapidly becoming a multi-purpose institution, and in 1939, the Board of Trustees authorized the college to confer the Bachelor of Arts degree. By 1940, the faculty at STC had five Ph.D's, three Ed.D's, and no faculty member had less than a master's degree. Not surprisingly, a movement was initiated to change the name of the school to reflect its new identity, and on February 13, 1940, the name was officially changed to Mississippi Southern College. Dr. George responded by proclaiming a holiday to celebrate the occasion.
Building projects completed during the George administration include the Eastside Football Stadium (1939), the Joe Cook Memorial Library (1940, now Kennard-Washington Hall), the Faculty Home, the Power House, and the Demonstration School Gymnasium. Among his other accomplishments were a swimming pool, three hard surface tennis courts, the paving of two and one-half miles of campus roads, and lights for the football field.
During World War II, MSC became the first institution in the country to conduct a Civilian Defense Training School for leaders in forty-five Mississippi counties, one parish in Louisiana, and two counties in Alabama. MSC was also the first institution to require all students, faculty, and officers to participate in civilian defense courses.
Looking ahead to the end of the War, George proposed graduate work in Education, Home Economics, and Music. In addition, he planned to build a chapel as a memorial to the men and women who served in World War II, a health building, a dormitory-apartment building for married students, and a fine arts building. Finally, he established a $35,000 trust fund to provide scholarships for returning World War II veterans.
Unfortunately, the Board of Trustees of Institutions of Higher Learning declined to re-elect President George in January 1945, giving no definitive reason for its action. At a press conference in Jackson, on January 26, 1945, Chairman of the Board, Martin Miller, said "Dr. George is a Christian gentleman and has rendered long and faithful service, however the Board feels that it is to the best interest of the institution that he not be retained."
It has been said that George's so-called puritanical approach to education and an inability to gain the support of students, faculty, and alumni led to his dismissal. Nevertheless, the school owes a debt of gratitude to J.B. George for steering it safely through the Great Depression and World War II, arguably the most difficult periods in the institution's history.
Looking back on his tenure as president, Dr. George recalled that in his inaugural address in 1933, he promised to balance the budget, spend the school's money judiciously, make needed repairs and improvements to the entire physical plant, and increase faculty salaries as funds became available. In his farewell address in 1945, he said "I stand before you today and with pardonable pride say that every promise I made on September 21, 1933, has been kept."
While living in Hattiesburg, Dr. George and his family were active members of the First Baptist Church. In addition, George served as vice president and president of the Hattiesburg Kiwanis Club; Director of the Hattiesburg Chamber of Commerce; and Coordinator of Civil Defense Work for Hattiesburg, Forrest County, and Camp Shelby.
In June 1945, Dr. George became Director of the Goodwyn Institute in Memphis, Tennessee, an organization that sponsored annual lecture series in Memphis. He remained in that position until his death on March 12, 1971, at Baptist Hospital in Memphis. He is interred at Memphis Memorial Park.
During his lifetime, Dr. George was honored with biographical sketches in Who's Who in America (beginning in 1940), Who's Who in the South and Southwest (1959), and Biographical Encyclopedia of the World (1939). In addition, his dissertation, The Influence of Court Decisions in Shaping School Policies in Mississippi, was published in 1932. Last, but not least, on November 10, 1972, his contributions to the University of Southern Mississippi were formally acknowledged when the J.B. George Commons was named in his honor.
This collection consists of .25 cubic feet of materials pertaining to the personal and professional activities of Dr. Jennings Burton George between approximately 1918 and 1943. Items in the collection include biographical documents, correspondence, U.S. Army records, Masters and Ph.D degrees, speeches, certificates, and miscellaneous materials. It is worth noting that several important documents in the collection contain variations in the spelling of Dr. George's name. His U.S. Army records designate him as "Jimmie B. George" and his Masters degree lists him as "Jennings Birdie George." Fortunately, his Ph.D degree contains his correct name.
Correspondence in the collection includes letters between Dr. George and former University of Southern Mississippi presidents, Joe Cook and Claude Bennett; former Mississippi governor, Mike Conner; and Chairman of the History Department, Kate Brown, as well as a number of other correspondents. Among the topics of discussion are Joe Cook's candidacy for the Mississippi Senate, problems between Dr. George and Claude Bennett, Governor Theodore G. Bilbo's views on higher education, George's 1940 re-appointment as president of State Teachers College (now USM) and his inclusion in the 1939 Biographical Encyclopedia of the World. Much of the correspondence between Dr. George and Joe Cook concerns a forthcoming portrait of Cook which will be presented to the College (the portrait now hangs in the Joseph Anderson Cook Library at USM).
Other items in the collection are a photograph of STC's resident nurse, Beedie Smith, an STC homecoming pin (1939), a speech entitled "Citizenship for the New Age" by J.B. George (1933), and an address eulogizing Joe Cook following his death in February 1940 (it should be noted that Dr. George considered Cook not only a friend, but his mentor as well). One somewhat unique item is an undated pencil sketch of Dr. George, which was probably produced by an imaginative student.
This collection, though small, sheds light on the character and personality of Jennings Burton George, and should be of interest to researchers of USM history, or the history of education in Mississippi.
RG 2 University Photographs
RG 6 Office of the President
RG 15 Director of Admissions and Records
RG 32 University Union and Student Activities: Student Publications
A copy of Dr. J.B. George's book The Influence of Court Decisions in Shaping School Policies in Mississippi (Nashville, Tenn.: George Peabody College for Teachers, 1932) is available in the McCain Library, call number LB5 .G340 no. 113.