Hose and heels, one pair of white gloves and no hats were evident at the annual Ward-Belmont Alumnae Reunion as alumnae gathered on Nov. 2 in the Belmont Mansion to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the school.
In 1913, Ward Seminary (a school for girls then located in downtown Nashville) and Belmont College (a school for girls that started in 1890 on the site of Belmont’s campus after the death of Adelicia Acklen) merged to form a new school called Ward-Belmont. It was primarily a boarding school for young women seeking a two-year college degree, but over the years also included a boarding and day school for high school girls, a grammar school and a music conservatory.
Often, the college girls went on to Vanderbilt or other major universities for their last two years of higher education. Ward-Belmont was the first junior college in the South to receive accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. In the spring of 1951, after several years of financial problems, the board of trustees decided to sell Ward-Belmont to the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and in the fall of 1951, the new Belmont College had its first co-educational freshman class.
Vicky Tarleton, Belmont’s director of major gifts & planned giving, plays a huge role each year in organizing the Ward-Belmont reunion and welcoming alums back to campus for visits. She said, “Ward-Belmont had a national reputation for strong academics. Even in the early years athletics and the arts – particularly music – were important components of the curriculum. I am told that in the last graduating class of 1951, there were five students who were daughters of sitting governors. Some of America’s most prominent women attended Ward-Belmont, including Sarah ‘Ophie’ Cannon (better known as Minnie Pearl), actress and singer Mary Martin, Clare Booth Luce (founder of Vogue magazine) and Lila Acheson Wallace who, with her husband, founded Reader’s Digest.”
A record number of Ward-Belmont alumnae came to campus Nov. 2 and enjoyed a beautiful fall day celebrating their former school’s 100th anniversary. Belmont Vice President for University Advancement Bo Thomas welcomed everyone, followed by a University update from President Bob Fisher. At the end of the luncheon, Nashville historian Ridley Wills II gave a presentation on the history of Ward-Belmont and Nashville during those years when the school flourished on this campus.
Local alumnae along with Ward-Belmont graduates from Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Indiana, Florida and South Dakota also enjoyed the music of Belmont Chamber Singers under the direction of Dr. Deen Entsminger. The luncheon ended with the singing of the Ward-Belmont alma mater followed by a bus tour of the campus, including a stop at the newly restored Alumni House, which is the last remaining Ward-Belmont club house. Many of the alumnae had contributed to the restoration and were anxious to see the results.
Tarleton noted, “There comes a point in our lives when we pause to take note of what has gone before and recount those special memories which are so important to who we are today. The 2013 Ward-Belmont Alumnae Reunion and Centennial Celebration was truly one of those moments.”