Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The History of Ward-Belmont College for Women, Nashville, Tennessee

By Michelle Shocklee

I love looking at old photographs. You? They inspire so many, many stories in my imagination.

                                            Ward Seminary for Young Ladies, between 1865 and 1884
                                                                                Nashville Public Library

The other day I was studying a black-and-white photograph taken in the late 1800s of a class of young women at Ward Seminary for Young Ladies in Nashville, Tennessee. Dressed in their finery, staring out at the camera with solemn expressions, I realized these young ladies were not so different from the young ladies of today. They had hopes and dreams and gifts and talents, yet they also lived in a time when women had to fight for rights we often take for granted. 

A gymnastics class at Ward Seminary
Nashville Public Library
Thankfully, people like Dr. William E. Ward and his wife Eliza Hudson Ward believed the world would be a better place if women were educated like their male counterparts. In 1865, Dr. Ward, a Presbyterian minister, desired to provide a school for the young women of Tennessee. After four long years of war, with thousands of husbands and father's dead, young women needed education. Their futures depended on it.  

Located on the grounds of Belmont (or Belle Mont, as it was known at one time), the estate owned by Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham, it wasn't long before Ward Seminary for Young Ladies was regarded as one of the leading schools for young women in the South. It offered training in fine arts and the "refinement of young ladies" in addition to its preparatory and collegiate curriculum. In 1870, the Educational Bureau in Washington, DC, ranked Ward Seminary among the top three educational institutions for women in the nation. The school also placed emphasis on athletics, organizing the first girls' varsity basketball team in the South and one of the first in the nation.

Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham
Portrait by William Brown Cooper
Reverend Ward directed the school until his death in 1887, after which it continued to operate for several years. Adelicia Cheatham died the same year, but her beloved estate would continue to serve as a place of higher education. 

On September 4, 1890, Belmont College for Young Women, founded by Susan L. Heron and Ida E. Hood, opened with 90 students enrolled, each paying a $60 tuition. Belmont provided cultural, intellectual and social learning, and the empowerment of “lives of purpose.” The school would continue on this course until Heron and Hood retired. 

In 1913, the prestigious Ward Seminary merged with Belmont College for Young women, forming Ward-Belmont College. For the next 38 years, Ward-Belmont would remain an all-girls school. In 1951, the school became co-educational and was renamed Belmont College. 

Today, Belmont University is a thriving place of higher education for young men and women. But we mustn't forget its humble beginnings and the people who worked so diligently to ensure that the young women of Tennessee--those who could afford it, of course--were given the chance to dream and be and do. 

Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels and is a Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at


Sixteen-year-old Lorena Leland’s dreams of a rich and fulfilling life as a writer are dashed when the stock market crashes in 1929. Seven years into the Great Depression, Rena accepts a position interviewing former slaves for the Federal Writers’ Project. There, she meets Frankie Washington, a 101-year-old woman whose honest yet tragic past captivates Rena. Frankie’s story challenges Rena’s preconceptions about slavery, but it also connects the two women whose lives are otherwise separated by age, race, and circumstances. Will this bond of respect, admiration, and friendship be broken by a revelation neither woman sees coming?


  1. Thanks for posting. I appreciate the reminder of how far we have come in our nation's history. Though there are people who say we haven't progressed enough in our striving for equal opportunity for all, look how far we've come in 200 years! Thank God for the people who become dedicated to goals like higher education for all and work through their lives to achieve their vision! And your book sounds wonderful!

  2. thanks for posting today. this is interesting. i agree, over the years many women have wanted to better themselves in different ways.