Louisburg’s town common, located on the north end of the 100-acre plan established after the founding of the town in 1779, has been devoted to education since January 1, 1805, when Franklin Male Academy received its first students. Across Main Street from this prep school, a female academy evolved into Louisburg Female College and later a coeducational institution, Louisburg College. Although the intellectual and spiritual development of young people among groves of handsome oak trees has been a constant feature of Louisburg, expectations concerning student behavior have changed along with the evolution of our culture.
The male school, later known as Louisburg Male Academy, served young boys as well as those preparing to attend a college or university. Because fifty or more students often received instruction in the small, two-story building, strict discipline was crucial to the school’s success. Matthew Smart Davis (1830-1906), the principal from 1856 until 1880, recorded rules that are now preserved in his papers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Following the ringing of the bell, boys had to take their assigned seats and remain “perfectly still,” with their books closed, during the reading of scriptures and prayer. They could not whisper, tear paper, rattle marbles or toys, wear unsuitable or indecent clothing, or do anything else that might create a disturbance or attract attention. Smoking pipes or cigars in the academy was forbidden. Students could not go up or down the narrow stairs in such a way as to create a disturbance. The rules also prohibited boys from playing cards, gambling, and chicken fighting.
Students who boarded with Mr. Davis rose at or before sunrise and studied until breakfast. Evening study hours began at “early candle light” and continued until bedtime. Boys were required to attend church each Sunday. Students who violated these and other rules accrued from two to ten “faults,” and those who received twenty-five had to leave school. Boys who were caught with alcoholic beverages were either whipped or expelled.
Regulations published in 1867 by Louisburg Female College, which offered a Preparatory Department in addition to four years of more advanced instruction, shed interesting light on the school’s management. The administration made it clear that academic standards would be upheld: “Parents are sometimes disappointed in the classification of their daughters. This is not our fault.” Rules prescribed uniforms that had to be worn in public. They also strongly discouraged extravagance: “Pupils ought not to purchase fine jewelry, costly books, useless articles, or expensive presents. An important part of a young lady’s education, is to learn how to use money judiciously.”
Young women of the 1890s were subject to strict guidelines. Officials wished to avoid “rivalry in dress.” Uniforms for the winter were made of black cashmere. Those for the summer could be made of any “white goods” that could be washed. Boarding students had to furnish their own table napkins and rings, and were required to mark every article of clothing with their full name in Payson’s indelible ink. School days began and ended with religious services. Students could not visit gentlemen or receive visits from them. They could not leave campus unless they were accompanied by a teacher, and boarders could not receive visitors in their rooms.
The twentieth century brought significant change, but the college remained true to its core values. Financial stress caused by the Great Depression led college trustees in 1931 to admit men. A few years later, despite “changing standards and ideals” in society, the faculty of Louisburg College pledged their faith in “Christian culture” and vowed to “deepen the moral stability” of their students. This approach continued after World War II. The Bulletin for 1947-48 declared that faculty were required “to be of contagious Christian character” and to promote such standards on campus. Even so, students now attended chapel only on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Those who repeatedly failed to meet this requirement were not allowed to represent the college and were required to appear before the Student Counselling Committee.
As late as the 1968-69 academic year, students were required to attend a weekly chapel service. With guidance from the director of religious activities, they were urged to participate in some form of religious activity. Today, the Tuesday morning chapel service is optional, but as an institution affiliated with the United Methodist Church, the college maintains a robust religious program headed by a chaplain.
Published in The Franklin Times on January 12, 2017.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.