The Civil War was the bloodiest battle to occur on U.S. soil to date and its consequences lasted long after the final bullet flew. Many argue that the South after the Civil War was in a state of despair. Many establishments, homes, schools, businesses, and many lives were lost to the violence that spread through the nation. This leads many to conclude that the South, including its universities was unable to bounce back after the loss of business, infrastructure, and many young lives. However, following the Civil War, southern higher education experienced a boom that would catapult its universities to become competing forces with its northern competitors. Due to the rise of the middle class, a call for southern universities to compete with northern universities, the backing of the government, and the attitudes of both students and faculties of these southern universities southern institutions were able to rise after the conclusion of the Civil War.
Historically, before the Civil War and shortly after, the reputation that proceeded many southern universities was not one of prestige. Many southern students opted to attend northern universities, especially in the medical professions, as the consensus was that southern university poorly trained their doctors. This was due to the south having few regulations in place for training procedures and establishments that were to check physicians and doctors in regards to their training and practice. Throughout the south, there was a lack of structure and procedures for universities to follow in regards to curriculum. The common trend of southerners before the war was to attend northern universities. Once the Civil War had ended, there was a large push for southern states to create mandates, requirements, and outlines that many professionals had to follow in order to practice in their respective fields. This was one of the key factors that allowed southern universities to become credible institutions that we’re handing out diplomas of value.
During the war, many institutions including Mount St. Mary’s experienced a loss of both students and professors alike. Enrollment in both the North and South was dramatically lower than it had been in previous years due to young men joining either the Union or Confederate army. Some southern institutions even had to close for a short period of time. In a letter written by the president of North Carolina University, Solomon Pool addresses his faculty and parents. President Pool expresses his profound sadness in having to temporarily shut down the university due to low enrollment, the school had to close during the war as so many students and professors had gone to fight for the confederates. Mount Saint Mary’s would be faced with a similar issue due to the decline of their enrollment. According to Analecta V, “In 1858 the combined enrollment of the prep school and college was 186. In 1860 it dropped to 173; in 1861 it fell to 127.” As dramatic as this is, southern universities would still prevail in the face of obstacles faced before them.
After the Civil War, the middle class in the South was growing exponentially due to the industrialization of the south and the availability of jobs. Some saw the South as unable to move past the idea that the money was all to be found in old plantations. However, manufacturing was now sweeping across the South creating more jobs. This led to a number of new reforms in the South including public schools and banks. A growing middle class was now emerging in the South when previously the wealth had not been evenly distributed. The impact that this boom in the middle class had on higher education can often be overlooked. However, the growth of the middle-class opened doors for many children of this emerging middle class that before they would not have had access to. Higher education was no longer just a privilege extended to wealthy southerners and colleges were now admitting new types of students into their campuses. This growth of the middle class caused a
The end of the Civil War also marked a new movement in the realm of southern education. As Michael Cohen details in, Reconstructing the Campus Higher Education and the Civil War, that social and political reforms caused major changes to higher education in the South. It was after the end of the war that the emergence of federal funding began to be used in education. Congress began to provide funding to schools so that they would be able to provide courses in the military and another practical curriculum as well. Congress also created a Department of Education at this time which monitored institutions and curriculum. This increased the credibility of public institutions and instilled more confidence in these institutions than before the Civil War. New funding and regulations in the world of higher education made the credibility of these institutions increase. There now were regulations put into place that required universities to meet certain standards that historically had not been there before the war. This drew in more students from the south to stay and attend college and subsequently rebuild the New South. Mount St. Mary’s was not affected by this decision as a whole. Before the Civil War, they had already established themselves as a credible, private institution. Therefore, their enrollment increased after the war as well due to a new influx of students but also the return of their students and faculty who had been absent during the war.
Attitudes of professors and students in the south after the Civil War were also a major reason why southern universities became a competing force to their northern counterparts. Although which attitudes are correct, which is often debated amongst historians; the argument can be made that southern attitudes, in general, had a significant impact on the increased enrollment in southern universities. Some historians, such as Flynt Wayne, argue that regional patriotism along with college recruitment of veterans spiked a rise in enrollment in southern universities. Much like Mount St. Mary’s, southerners wanted their children to be enrolled in schools that supported their views on slavery. Flynt argues that textbooks were censored and faculty was higher that supported the views of the universities. This could have been a contributing factor to veterans of the war choosing to remain in the South to receive higher education. However, a conflicting view from Civil War historian Frost argues that the South, in regards to higher education, was not focused on bandaging its wounded ego but rather was striving to better its academic status. He argued that professors at southern universities were returning to and focusing on classical studies rather than the political attitudes at the time. He claims the viewpoint that higher educators wanted to cling to the notion of the economic and intellectual world of the plantation south was untrue. Either argument would explain why enrollment at southern universities increased after the end of the Civil War.
Looking at the damage done in the South to infrastructures such as schools, banks, businesses, and homes; the logical conclusion would not be that higher education spiked in the south shortly after. However, it is true that throughout the south enrollment increased due to the middle class, a call for southern universities to compete with northern universities, backing of the government, and the attitudes of both students and faculties of these southern universities. Nationally, they became competing forces against their northern neighbors and remodeled their universities into some of the most prestigious institutions globally. Mount St. Mary’s had a reputation nationally as one of the best institutions to attend both before and after the Civil War. This trend that southern universities increased enrollment exponentially cannot be said to have reached the Mount in the same way. The enrollment at Mount St. Mary’s increased but at a steadier pace than most of the South experienced.