Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Marion Lucas, Charles Bussey, Richard Troutman

Degree Program

Department of History

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Nashville, Tennessee, is known as the Athens of the South because of its reputation as a center of learning. The city’s commitment to education goes back to the days of its founding as a village on the extreme Western frontier of the United States. In 1785, five years after Nashville was first settled, Davidson Academy, an advanced classical school, was established. At the same time, numerous private schools operated in the Nashville area, providing many of the region’s children with a basic education.

During the first quarter of the nineteenth century Nashville moved closer to becoming a major educational center. In 1806 Davidson Academy was rechartered as Cumberland College. Financial problems forced Cumberland College to suspend operation in 1816, but it reopened in 1825 and was rechartered as the University of Nashville the following year. In 1817 the Nashville Female Academy, which by 1860 was the largest and one of the most renowned schools for females in the nation, opened. Other private schools served Nashville as well; most were simple grammar schools that taught the basics, but some advanced schools operated as well. During the 1820s and 1830s, there were some efforts to establish state supported schools for the poor, but they failed because many poor parents refused to send their children to these “pauper’s schools,” as the state supported schools were commonly called.

By 1850 Nashville’s educational landscape was on the verge of change. Financial difficulties forced the University of Nashville to close in 1850, but in 1855 it resumed operation after merging with the Western Military Institute and flourished until the Civil War. During the 1850s, the Medical Department of the University of Nashville and Shelby Medical College opened. Both schools enjoyed great success, and by 1860 Nashville was second only to Philadelphia as a center of medical learning. Also, during the 1850s Nashville established a successful system of public schools for all the city’s children. However, the Civil War would interrupt the city’s progress in education.

Despite Nashville’s prominence in education, no comprehensive study of the city’s antebellum educational development exists. Based on several primary sources, most of which are available in the Tennessee State Library and Archives, and numerous secondary sources dealing with antebellum Nashville, this thesis represents an attempt to describe antebellum Nashville’s educational development.


Arts and Humanities | Education | Educational Administration and Supervision | Elementary and Middle and Secondary Education Administration | Higher Education Administration | History | Public History | Social History | United States History