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Controversies & Enigmas

Emory Junior College at Valdosta

Postcard from the Past

The postcard, printed in the muted hues of vintage National Geographic magazines, is pristine, but the place it pictures passed into history nearly fifty years ago.

Founded in 1928, Emory Junior College at Valdosta foundered in the 1950s, due largely to declining postwar enrollment and competition from the state university system.

Plans for a Valdosta campus began in the mid-1920s, when the town's civic leaders offered Emory trustees forty-three acres of land; a distinctive, white-columned building that housed classrooms and administrative offices; and a $200,000 endowment. The campus was located 225 miles south of Atlanta, just twenty minutes from the Florida border.

On Sept. 26, 1928, the school welcomed its first class of fifty freshmen. Tuition was $50 per quarter. With no existing dorms, students sought housing at the privately owned College Inn and in family homes throughout the town and the nearby campus of Georgia State Women's College.

Sixteen students made up the first graduating class of the all-male school in 1930. The campus' first dormitory was completed the next year, and in 1936, Emory funded the construction of Centennial Swimming Pool to commemorate the University's one hundredth year.

The onset of World War II caused the already modest enrollment (an average of sixty-one students) to plummet, as scholars became soldiers. A delegation of Emory administrators traveled to Valdosta to suggest that the school close. When the town's leaders objected, a compromise was reached, and students, faculty, and staff moved to Atlanta for the duration of the war.

The school reopened in 1946 with a record enrollment of 247, buoyed by an infusion of students on the G.I. Bill and an aggressive recruiting drive. Additional classrooms and a dorm comprised of Army surplus buildings were brought from nearby Moody Air Force Base. In a nod to the nearby Okefenokee, the dorm quickly become known as Swamp Hall, due to its Spartan accommodations.

"They sold me," says Lawrence R. Morgan '56D, a Naples, Florida, dentist who transferred from the University of Florida and attended the Valdosta campus from 1950 to 1952. "I found out I could get into the junior college system and then go on to Emory. I thought the University of Florida was too big then, and knowing I could get into Emory's dental school, I decided to go."

Morgan became one of the last graduates of the school. After the G.I. Bill class that preceded him, enrollment again fell to less than one hundred. The Valdosta campus' fate was sealed when Georgia State Women's College, renamed Valdosta State College, admitted men in 1950. By 1953, just sixty-five students remained.

"The new Valdosta school was state supported and had a cheaper tuition," remembers Dean of Alumni Judson C. "Jake" Ward Jr. '33C-'36G, dean of Emory College from 1948 to 1957. The Valdosta site also did not enjoy the same historical roots, affiliation with the Methodist church, and local patrons that helped fuel the success of Emory's other sister campus, Oxford College.

Emory's South Georgia Division closed in 1953, and in a final ironic twist, its facilities were given to its chief competitor, the University System of Georgia, and became part of Valdosta State College, now Valdosta State University.

But for Morgan, attending the Valdosta campus remains a big part of his Emory experience. "We wore suits, and it was 'Yes sir' and 'No sir,' and everyone was treated like a gentleman. Valdosta had an academic environment I have not found duplicated anywhere."--G.F.


Source: Emory Magazine, Autumn 2000

 

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