This article offers a case study of how regional, gender, and religious ideals collided at one Tennessee women’s college during the antebellum and Civil War eras. Mary Sharp College, founded by Baptists in 185, strongly advocated for women’s education that equaled the contemporary men’s institutions. Local factors relating to religion and education contributed to the creation of Mary Sharp College. Tennessee Baptists founded the college as a replacement for more informal education of women and made the school the first women’s college in the U.S. to require Latin and Greek. Two key early figures tied to college, the Vermont-born Graves brothers. James Robinson Graves, a Baptist pastor and editor of The Tennessee Baptist, provided advertising for the college; Zuinglius Calvin Graves, a Baptist educator, gave it direction. J. R. and Z. C. Graves combined southern identity, gender ideology, and Baptist piety to produce a unique form of higher education for women. Although the Graves brothers saw the home and family as the proper place for southern white women, they still believed in the necessity of a rigorous education. Mary Sharp built up faith and southern character in women and prepared them for their chief service to society: motherhood. When the Civil War came, despite their own northern connections and divided loyalties in Tennessee, the Graves brothers and their college fully supported the Confederacy. Despite the college’s supposedly secure location, an occupation by the Union army led the school to close in 1863 and remain closed until 1866, when it reopened as a much weaker school but as one firmly committed both to educated female piety and to the “Lost Cause.”
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