Some schools have bats in the belfry and ivy on the walls. For a time in the 1930s, West Georgia College had kittens in the card catalog system.
The story of Annie Belle Weaver, the campus librarian, captures the “can do” spirit of the newly created college campus. The one room library on the ground floor of the administration building was also being used as a storage area. When Weaver arrived on campus, she found stacks of records and correspondence scattered about the room. That afternoon, as she tried to restore order, the campus cat gave birth to six kittens o the main desk where books were checked out. With the help of Otis, the janitor, she finally successfully organized the library, “relocated” the mother cat and kittens, and was ready for opening day.
Thomas Luck was the mayor of Carrollton in 1933 and he presented the case for a college in Carrollton before the Board of Regents. After much hard work and some political wrangling, the Board of Regents chose Carrollton to be the home for West Georgia College. Since the college was outside the city limits of Carrollton, it had its own postal address, known a GENOLA. The name came from two women –Minna Ola Adamson, wife of Congressman W.C. Adamson of Carrollton, and Eugenia Mandeville daughter of Leroy Clifton Mandeville. The institution began enrolling its first college students in August 1933.
In the spring of 1934 the teacher shortage in western Georgia schools was severe and the State Department of Education assigned West Georgia College the task of training all teachers to fill vacancies.
To met these needs, President Irvine Ingram developed an innovative proposal on rural education and sent it to the Julius Rosenwald Fund in Chicago, Ill. The directors of the fund were impressed by the proposal and they developed an enduring relationship with the college. Generous support from this fund, more than $250,000 over a 10-year period, helped establish a number of outstanding programs.
The Rosenwald funds had a lasting impact on rural education. The college took over a rural school in Tallapoosa to supplement its teacher training program and generally assist the community. Outstanding cooperative programs were developed with the Carroll County Board of Education to study black education in elementary schools, provide teaching aids for schools and assist with teaching English in rural counties. Third-year education students performed many different tasks when they visited the public schools – including painting rooms.
Before teachers were sent to those communities, they were first taught to respect the rural way of life and find ways to adapt “book learning” to their students. One of the teachers, Porter Claxton, taught arithmetic by using a saw and a hammer, a garden plot, and measuring the length and width of crop rows. Other teachers were equally creative in getting their science and spelling lessons across. These teachers took their “classrooms” directly to all kinds of people in local rural communities.
For example, Claxton realized it was essential for each farmer to raise some fruits and vegetables and to own a milk cow so the farm families would have a balanced diet. He taught students what fruits and plants to select, and how to cultivate and preserve the products of these plants, so they could pass this knowledge on to others in their communities.
The teacher began by teaching himself first. Claxton started with his own home garden, an abandoned red-clay cotton field, and he transformed the worn out soil into a prodigious plot. He eventually took over the entire 275 acre college farm. Claxton was always trying new methods, experimenting with 150 different varieties of berries.
Over time, these creative educational efforts received national and international attention. Government leaders and educators, particularly from developing third-world nations, wanted to know more about the work of West Georgia College, especially in regard to the adult education and the education of rural school children.
West Georgia students weren’t staying ‘depressed’ during The Depression. They were quite active during the ‘30s. Enrollment grew from 273 in 1933 to 516 in 1938. Sports teams expanded. The first alumni association was formed. A debate team was organized. A contest was held to choose a new and distinctive alma mater. Aaron Bucalew won the contest and his composition was sung fervently during special events. The student newspaper, the West Georgian, and the yearbook, the Chieftain, appeared during this time. The West Georgian won numerous journalistic awards throughout the decade. The newspaper was a good example of student involvement. In 1935, 44 students worked on the newspaper staff. Considering that there were only 270 students enrolled on campus at the time, that equates to one out of six students working on the paper.
During this decade some of the typical academic and service clubs were established. A few of the organizations were not so typical – such as the Cue Ball Club and Delta Packa Cards. Students organized the “WGC Hitchhikers Club” in January 1934. They placed a bench at the edge of the road on the front campus to accommodate their members in their primary purpose of existence – getting a ride into town. Once the students arrived in town, a popular place for a date was the Carroll Theatre. On “Dime Day” you could use your extra nickel and get something to eat at the café across the street.
Back on the campus, vigorous debates and discussions were held about the selection of a school emblem. One of the first suggestions was the “Hill-billies.” The name initially met with the approval of the majority of students. But cooler heads prevailed and other names were proposed. Finally, Ralph Williamson, a student who was also an A &M graduate, suggested the name Braves.
Is there ever enough housing on a campus? It seems not. In the ‘30s, West Georgia’s housing needs were critical. Mandeville Hall was built in 1936 to accommodate an additional 40 women, and Aycock Hall, which had been a dining hall, was changed to a women’s dormitory. The college also converted a large log cabin, which had once housed the Home Economics Department, into a men’s dorm. The last academic year at the A& M school, the boarding cost was only $120. (Books were the only other significant expense.)
In 1938-1939, an auditorium-gymnasium-dining hall was built to replace the “ole red barn” that had served as the college gymnasium.
Mrs. Martha Ingram, the wife of West Georgia’s president, noticed when she came to Carrollton in 1919, “there was only one flower on campus.” By 1939, with the help of her faithful assistants, 27 varieties of shrubs had been planted on campus along with numerous flowers.
The Ingrams commitment to innovative education along with the persevering spirit of the staff, faculty and students kept the college moving forward despite limited resources, and by the close of the ‘30s, the college began to thrive and not just survive.