America’s “most beautiful campus” wasn’t always located in Lakeland, Florida and it wasn’t always named Florida Southern College. This collection spans the first 57 years of Florida Southern College in three segments: Orlando and Leesburg (1883-1902), Sutherland and Clearwater (1902-1922) and its early presence in Lakeland as Southern College, in Early Lakeland (1922-1937).
Orlando and Leesburg (1883-1902)
This collection traces Florida Southern College’s early beginnings as South Florida Institute, in Orlando, Florida in the fall of 1883 through its final year in Leesburg, in 1902. In 1883, the South Florida Seminary was governed by the Methodist Church in Florida and offered high school-level courses for boarding and day students. From 1883 to 1886, its name changed several times, to Wesleyan Seminary in 1884 and then Wesleyan Institute in 1885, when college-level courses were added. The seminary outgrew its two-story, four-room building in Orlando and found suitable land and an unfinished city building 40 miles away in Leesburg, Florida in 1886.
When the college moved to Leesburg in 1886, it was initially renamed The High School and College of the Florida Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Leesburg. Soon after, it was abbreviated to Florida Conference College, which remained its name until 1902. The new Leesburg campus ultimately included an Administration Building and a Girls’ Dormitory.
In 1886, student enrollment was 58 with four teachers on staff. Eight years later, the 1893 Florida Conference College Catalog lists eight faculty members and two degrees for its college students, a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts. The Florida Conference College was quite progressive in its insistence upon female student enrollment, stating, “Ours is a mixed school. We think this better. We think it is better for the boys and better for the girls. There is no more effectual way of refuting the old and still prevalent idea of woman’s intellectual inferiority.” A comprehensive listing of the college’s presidents of this era may be found in the McKay Archives Center‘s Past Presidents of Florida Southern College online collection.
In 1893, the college’s library started with 42 volumes and ended the year with over 500 books. Faculty members were encouraged to spend their vacations researching and improving their teaching methods. The college’s education philosophy was that, “The teaching is thorough and practical; bold to adopt all modern books and methods that are approved (and) equally bold to hold fast to the old that have been found good.” In 1893, tuition for the Collegiate Department was $11.25 per quarter and board was $3 per week.
Still in the Victorian era, girls were required to wear uniforms consisting of black dress in the fall and winter and black skirts and white heavily pleated and gathered long sleeve blouses in the spring and summer. Girls were allowed to purchase an approved style of hat in Leesburg. For a time, boys were required to wear gray suit coats, gray pants with a black stripe and a matching cap. The college was widely touted for its healthful climate, claiming that, “Some of the most prevalent and fatal diseases in the States farther north are practically unknown in Florida.”
Not many photographs exist from these two decades, but the collection does include formal group portraits as well as paper memorabilia and documents.
Sutherland and Clearwater (1902-1922)
After its early presence in Orlando and then Leesburg, expansion dictated the college’s move to Sutherland, Florida (now named Palm Harbor) in 1901. Trustees purchased the San Marino Hotel and Gulf View Hotels for student dormitories and classrooms. With the move in 1902, the college’s named changed to the Florida Seminary and then once again in 1906, to Southern College.
For twenty years Southern College flourished as a coed campus until fire destroyed the Girls’ Dormitory and Administration Building early Saturday morning on January 29, 1921. By that afternoon, trustees had met and planned a temporary relocation to the Clearwater Beach Hotel. Classes reopened two weeks later, on February 14, 1921. Later in 1921 a tropical storm hit the campus and another fire on February 16, 1922 destroyed it once again, prompting trustees to find a more protected location in Lakeland, Florida.
In 1902, Sutherland, Florida (now known as Palm Harbor) was a small seaside resort town which overlooked Sutherland Bayou and three small islands, with a direct view to the Gulf of Mexico. In the early years of the college’s presence here, the student population ranged from 7th to 12th graders attending the Academy and college students. When the Sutherland campus opened in September, 1902, 107 students were enrolled. Four years later, enrollment exceeded 300 and there were 17 faculty members.
In 1912, there were two four-year degree programs, in Classical and Scientific studies. Six separate schools focused on Music, Normal (general academic), Business, Expression, Art and Domestic Science. Classes ranged from biology, mathematics, chemistry, Spanish, French to sewing and domestic science. Extracurricular activities kept students busy with a glee club, ministerial club and highly regarded literary societies. Student sports included girls’ and boys’ basketball, boys’ football and a state championship boys’ baseball team. Girls and boys were not allowed to swim in the Gulf together and required chaperones in order to sit in the Girls’ Dormitory parlor on Saturday nights. “Trunk socials” were held periodically, when girls would drag their empty trunks to the main balcony of the Girls’ Dormitory and boys were permitted to escort them up and down the balcony for an hour. Students held chaperoned picnics, boat rides and excursions into town. Southern College was a close-knit, lively environment in which students were challenged academically and enjoyed a structured social life.
Dress was strictly monitored, with suits and ties required at all times for boys and long dresses required for girls in the early years, even when playing tennis. Girls weren’t allowed to wear make-up, long earrings and no dancing was allowed. However, the images of female students and teachers in this collection capture the fairly quick fashion evolution from corsets and full-length skirts to ankle and shin-length loose-fitting shifts made with lightweight and diaphanous materials. Many of these photographs were retrieved from former students’ scrapbooks, and portray a more intimate view of maturing into adulthood as a Southern College student, during the 19 years in Sutherland and final year in Clearwater.
Early Lakeland (1922-1937)
The choice to relocate to Lakeland, Florida was made in December 1921, with trustees selecting the city’s offer of 78 acres of citrus groves adjacent to Lake Hollingsworth. Southern College President R.H. Alderman oversaw the move to Lakeland and its early construction. Ocala architect F.H. Trimble’s traditional design for the campus was accepted and construction was soon completed on the first two buildings: Social Hall (renamed Edge Hall in 1935) and the Hall for Women (renamed Joseph-Reynolds Hall in 1937). When R.H. Alderman retired in 1925, trustees hired Ludd M. Spivey, who served as president for the next thirty-two years, through 1957.
President Spivey came to Lakeland as the Florida land boom faded and with it, the financial stability of the college. Through tireless fundraising, imaginative tuition (some families paid their children's tuition with chickens, rabbits and hampers of beans) and offering work-study plans of three days of study and three days of construction work per week, President Spivey led Southern College out of dire financial straits while still growing the young campus.
Greek life at Southern College began in 1925, with campus enrollment at 304 resident and 92 commuter students taught by 20 faculty members. In 1926, tuition was $25 a quarter and ten years later, in 1936, one credit hour cost $4. By 1937, 1,210 students (972 women and 238 men) attended classes in 21 departments, including art, journalism, mechanical drawing and religion. During these 15 years, student activities ranged from Southern Vagabonds theatrical productions and elaborately costumed May Day pageants to 12-person "war canoe" races between classes on Lake Hollingsworth. A full co-ed sports program developed, as did academics. By the 1936-1937 academic year, degrees conferred included a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Licentiate of Instruction, Secretarial Certificate and an Art Certificate. Classes were often held outdoors, chimes signaled the beginning and end of class periods and desk fans and open windows helped cool the warm days and nights.
Campus life was lively, warm and stimulating. Guest speakers included artists, poets and musicians. It wasn’t unusual to find President Spivey leading a student “sing” around the piano in the Joseph-Reynolds Hall drawing room (renamed the Eleanor Searle Drawing Room in 1945). Square dancing was held at the barn and freshmen spent their first two weeks on campus as “Rats”, wearing special hats and memorizing all faculty and senior students’ names. Although young women lived by many restrictions, they fully participated in academic, athletic and social life. Other traditions born in this era include the Honor Walk, Founder’s Day and the coronation of Miss Southern.
In 1926, the school’s athletic teams became known as the Moccasins, or Mocs, after the powerful water moccasin viper found in Florida’s freshwater lakes. In 1935 the college received accreditation and admission to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and changed its name to Florida Southern College. Nomenclature for students was also changing; the earlier language of “girls and boys” starts to be replaced with “women and men. In a final change for these early years, the school’s colors were switched from cerulean blue and white to scarlet and white in 1936.
Florida Southern College’s Early Lakeland years were a time of financial struggle, rebirth, academic and artistic achievement and flourishing student life. President Spivey’s telegram on April 11, 1938 to Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, inviting him to design a “great education temple”, signaled a new era for Florida Southern College. These Early Lakeland years also preface World War II and the completion of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Annie Pfeiffer Chapel in 1941.