Wlliam Gilmore Simms
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Inauguration of the Spartanburg Female College

Speech | Spartanburg Female College Board of Trustees | 1855

            William Gilmore Simms spoke at the opening of the Spartanburg Female College at approximately 1pm[1] on August 22, 1855 to an audience comprised largely of the Board of Trustees and other persons involved in the founding of that institution[2].  His remarks were published several weeks later in a pamphlet entitled Inauguration of the Spartanburg Female College.  His talk focused on the two related topics of the value of education in general and the importance of female education specifically.  On the former, Simms compared the mind of man to a wilderness terrain awaiting the ethical hand of the tiller and landscaper to coax it into productive order; and “thus, in the same sterile, irregular, tangled condition-a wild sovereignty of gloom and thicket the great soul of Humanity cries aloud to Education for her rescue” (28).  On the latter topic of female schooling, Simms was a bit more nuanced and complex in his discussion.  He proclaimed proudly, of woman and her place in American society, that “it is no small boast which our country can utter, with honesty and in triumph, that in no part of the world has she yet risen to the status which she this day enjoys in ours!” (37, emphasis original).  But, he qualified this praise for female education by locating its virtue in cultural reproduction.[3]  In their role as mothers and keepers of the home, women, for Simms, were the vessels of cultural continuance. With that ideological justification, Simms closed with a prayer of endorsement for the newly opened institution that would be “so useful to woman—so necessary to mankindso honorable to its liberal founders” (61).

            Simms’s extant letters say precious little about his oration, and neither of his major biographies mentions it at all.  When exactly Simms was commissioned to deliver the speech and when he accepted is unrecorded; likewise, he did not discuss its composition or completion with any of his correspondents in his known letters.  The author first made mention of his intention to be in Spartanburg on the day of the opening of the college (but without mentioning his intention to deliver the opening remarks) in a 7 August 1855 letter to Waddy Thompson.[4]  We know that Simms spent the late summer and early fall of 1855 travelling in the mountain counties of South Carolina, primarily in the company of James Lawrence Orr.  During this time, Simms lectured sporadically and attended various social gatherings, doing both at the opening of Spartanburg Female College.  Though little is known about the textual history of the speech, both the oration itself and the published address garnered positive reviews from the press.  The former was lauded by both The Carolina Spartan and the Charleston Weekly News, and the latter was reviewed both in South Carolina and, to a limited extent, on the national stage.  DeBow’s, in November 1856, for example, followed a partial reprint of the lecture with the declaration that the “elevation of Mr. Simms by his native State to any high post of honor and responsibility would be hailed by scholars everywhere as a well-earned tribute to talent and worth.”[5]

            The address was published sometime shortly after 4 September 1855, when Simms responded to the request by Charles Walker and Warren DuPre, acting as a committee of the Board of Trustees of Spartanburg Female College, for a copy of the oration for publication.  Inauguration of the Spartanburg Female College was published by the Trustees in Spartanburg, SC and printed by James & Williams Printers of Charleston, SC.  It appeared in a paperback, pamphlet-type booklet with a cover/title page reading:  THE SPARTANBURG FEMALE COLLEGE. | [long rule] | INAUGURATION | OF THE | SPARTANBURG FEMALE COLLEGE, | ON THE 22D AUGUST, 1855, | WITH THE | ADDRESS, | ON THAT OCCASION, | BY W. GILMORE SIMMS, ESQ. | TO WHICH ARE PREFIXED | AN ACCOUNT OF THE INSTITUTION, ITS FACULTY, COURSE | OF STUDY, AND TERMS OF INSTRUCTION. | BY S. BOBO, ESQ. | President of the Board of Trustees. | SPARTANBURG: | PUBLISHED BY THE TRUSTEES. | 1855.  Various information about the college itself is included as front matter to the oration, including a short, 3-page discussion of its founding and principles penned by the President of the Board of the Trustees, S. Bobo.

Elizabeth Oswald

[1] The time was noticed in the August 23, 1855 The Carolina Spartan (Letters, 3:392n).

[2] A collaborative project of a number of the leading citizens of Spartanburg and the South Carolina Methodist Conference, Spartanburg Female College was in operation from 1855-1873 (Letters, 3: 392n).

[3] This is a line of argument Simms advanced five years earlier in his review “Ellet’s Women of the Revolution,” Southern Quarterly Review 1.2 (1850): 314-54.

[4] It should be noted that this first mention occurred a mere two weeks prior to his speaking engagement (Letters, 3:392).

[5] For the preceding reference and for more on the reviews of Simms oration, published and delivered, see Letters, 3:392n.