I was able to obtain Bowdon College: A Glorious History from the Bowdon Area Historical Society. This book by Mignon Wessinger and Judy Copeland Rowell is a documented history of the school with numerous photographs—many from The Oaks, a school publication. I also had access to the school’s 1858, 1873-74 and 1887-88 catalogues. The image of the cover of the 1858 catalogue is courtesy of American Antiquarian Society.
Bowdon Collegiate Institution was founded in 1856 by Charles A. McDaniel and John M. Richardson to provide a college opportunity for “worthy and struggling young men of limited means.” By the 1857 charter—the fifth awarded by Georgia—BCI could award the A.B. degree. With McDaniel as president, Bowden offered departments of English, Latin, French, mathematics, engineering and natural science.
The 1858 catalogue shows a Military Department, instructed by Richardson. There were two literary societies—the Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. The school demanded gentlemanly behavior from students with a system of demerits to enforce that behavior. All students were required to attend weekly religious services.
The school closed briefly during the Civil War when 144 Bowden students served in the Confederate army. A Glorious History notes that about half of these—in addition to President McDaniel-- were killed and many more were wounded. Beginning in 1866 Bowdon received state support for the education of “maimed and indigent” Confederate soldiers. After state aid ended in 1869, Bowdon became co-educational to make up the loss, thus becoming the first co-educational college in Georgia. The 1873-74 Bowden College catalogue College shows five coeds—including the valedictorian—and eight more coeds among the “irregular’ college students.
Financial issues caused Bowdon College to close again in 1916. It was reopened as a state normal and industrial college in 1919. Class Photos from The Oaks show a student body of fewer than 100. The students now had an Adamson Literary Society (for women) and a Halcyon Literary Society (for men) and well as men's and women's athletic associations and a small orchestra..
As the Great Depression came, Bowdon was one of the state schools targeted for closure. This came in 1934. However the local Forward Movement campaign kept Bowden College open for two more years, before it closed its doors for good in 1936.
Bowden College. Image from Bowden College: A Glorious History, credited to Jan Rowland Johnson.
Bricks and Mortar
Classes began in a log cabin divided into two rooms—one a classroom and the other a laboratory. The 1858 catalogue notes that “a large and commodious house is in the course of construction.” Built of “heart pine,” it was a two-story structure measuring 72 by 60 feet. The lower floor contained six classrooms, each 24 feet square.”
The turn of the century brought a new building. Dedicated in 1901, this two-story brick structure was made of locally fired bricks. In addition to classrooms, the ground floor featured a laboratory, a large hall, and the president’s office. The upper floor contained a large auditorium, the library, a museum, a music room and the two literary society rooms.
Badly damaged by the 1934 tornado, the building still survived the college, becoming home to Bowden High School. It was razed in 1961.
President McDaniel’s home, now called the McDaniel-Whatney House, is the only extant building assiciated with Bowden College.
A Glorious History notes that it was not until 1911 that the catalogue mentions sports to say they “are encouraged,” and it was not until 1925 that a football team took the field against Carrolton A&M. College Football Data Warehouse shows early games against Bryson College, Jacksonville Normal, and Piedmont College. In 1931 Bowden became part of the Palmetto Conference of Florida and Georgia colleges—including Miami University. In both 1929 and 1932, Bowden posted 6-3 records against competition including Tampa, Rollins, Georgia Southern, and Florida Southern.
In 1923 a Women’s Athletic Association was formed, and a basketball team played three games. Coeds also participated in an Annual Field Day each first day of April.
Bowden College men's and women's athletic associations. Image from Bowdon College: A Glorious History, credited to the 1923-24 Oaks.