Bridgewater College began in 1880 as Spring Creek Normal School. As of 1881 the school offered a two-year “normal” course that was intended for those planning to become teachers. This would eventually lead towards a B.E. degree, which in turn inspired a two-year Teacher’s Course that took place during the years 1893 to 1896. During Walter Bowman Yount’s presidency (1892-1910), “teachers’ normals” were held every year beginning in the last 10 weeks of the spring term. This course trained teachers for public schools and pioneered teacher training in Virginia at a time when such training was lacking.
By 1902, well over half of the women who graduated Bridgewater College with a bachelor’s degree would go into teaching, and about a third of men graduating with a bachelor’s degree would pursue teaching. From 1913 to 1916, the College had a School of Education. Graduates of the School of Education earned a Bachelor of English. By 1922, over half of graduates went on to pursue careers in teaching. During Paul Haynes Bowman’s presidency (1919-1946), the amount of education courses offered at the College (per credit hour) was quadrupled. President Jacob Ira Baugher (1946-48) and President Warren Daniel Bowman (1949-1964) also brought experience in the field of teacher education and took interest in the education department. By 1946, roughly a third of Bridgewater College graduates pursued teaching as a career.
A practice teaching program began in 1929 for students who wanted to teach at the secondary level, the first of its kind at the College. In 1936, a practice teaching program began for those looking to teach at the primary level. In 1972 the Virginia Department of Education accredited Bridgewater College’s teacher preparation program. Students completing the program would be able to teach in 22 cooperating states.
Bridgewater College Summer sessions offered many education courses. The numbers of offered Education majors also expanded over the course of the College’s history. Elementary education, physical education and music education were prominent majors. By 1980, Bridgewater College offered 21 education courses. Some of the mid-century professors in the Education Department were John W. Boitnott (1947-57), Nell Kersh Boitnott (1947-67), Fred F. Wampler (1957-88), Kathryn Reid Bowman (1974-1990), M. Ellen Bailey (1967-87), and Alaric Bowman Jr. (1966-75, 1978-84).
Student demand for the Education major began to decline by 1970. Still, from the College’s opening in 1880 to 1980, one third of Bridgewater graduates pursued teaching as a career. Education has always been important to Bridgewater College’s mission. Not only did the demand for Education instruction lead to the opening of the College as a normal school in 1880, the Education Department has continuously provided valuable teacher training over the course of the College’s existence.
By Meghann Burgess, Special Collections Intern, 2021
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