Walden University (1865-1925)

Women at Walden University
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Walden University was a historically black co-educational college in Nashville, Tennessee. It was founded in 1865 as a school for freedmen under the sponsorship of northern Methodist Episcopal Church missionaries. In late 1865, the Reverend A.A. Gee and others began classes for freedmen in Andrew Chapel M.E Church (now Clark Memorial M.E. Church). In 1866 the classes were moved to the old Confederate gun factory on College Street (now Third Avenue South). After the first Nashville public schools opened in September of 1867, the school was charted as Central Tennessee College, under the leadership of Reverend W.B. Crichlow. The school’s board of trustees attempted to purchase land on Rutledge Hill, but the white residents around the area obtained a court order to block the sale. In 1868 Central Tennessee College purchased property on Maple Street (now First Avenue South) where the Bureau of Freedom, Refugees and Abandoned Lands (Freedman’s Bureau) helped finance the construction of two brick buildings.

Central Tennessee College operated from 1870 to 1900 under John Braden, a union army chaplain. By 1874, the school’s two hundred and forty pupils studied grammar, secondary, and normal (classical and teacher training) subjects. The school began to issue college degrees during Braden’s presidency at the school. In 1876 Central Tennessee College added the Meharry Medical Department. The head of the department was Dr. George Whipple Hubbard, a teacher for the Pittsburgh Freedman’s Aid Commission and former principal of Nashville’s first African American public school, Bellview.

During the 1880s, Central Tennessee College grew rapidly and added several new departments: law (1877–1882), industrial art (1885), dentistry (1886), and pharmacy (1889). The institution expanded its female and industrial education opportunities, adding a nursing department in 1892. Young female students could learn domestic science in sewing, cooking, and home economics courses. In 1895 the students mounted a minor rebellion when they demanded more black faculty members, but they ended their protest out of respect to President Braden’s lifelong devotion to freedmen’s education.

In 1900 the name of the school was changed to Walden University, in honor of Bishop John Morgen Walden, formerly a freedmen’s missionary. The school by this point had thirteen departments, a faculty of sixty-eight, and one thousand three hundred and sixty graduates. Few years later, the university began to decline as reflected by the single law school student who graduated in 1911. Walden University also found it difficult to attract students after the Tennessee Agricultural, Industrial, and Normal State School (now Tennessee State University) opened in Nashville in 1912. Alumnus Edward A. White became the first black president of Walden University in 1915 at a time of severe financial hardship for the institution. Partly because of the financial difficulties, the Meharry faculty later that year decided to form a separate college.

In 1922 Walden University changed its name to Walden College and moved to a twelve-acre campus on the eastern hills overlooking the black neighborhood of Trimble Bottom. The Meharry Medical School retained the old campus. Walden University operated in its new location until 1925 as a junior college for teacher education, business, the arts, and pre-dental and premedical education. Financial difficulties forced the school to close in 1925. The Walden College campus remained vacant until 1937 when Trevecca Nazarene University purchased it.