Christianity at Cottey

The Early Years (1884-1915)

Christianity was the foundation of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard’s life, and she incorporated it into the infrastructure of her school for girls. She believed that educating young ladies and instilling them with Christian values was the work of God and her purpose in life. Religious themes have been writ into the college’s activities, courses, and regulations for most of its history.

Cottey College was a Christian school from its opening in 1884. In the foreword to the seminary’s first announcement, Stockard wrote:

Fully realizing, we trust, the great fact that God has called woman to a high and holy destiny in that He has commissioned her to be a co-laborer with Himself in the great work of enlightening and saving the world, we desire to open a school that shall have for its prime object the adjustment of woman to this her natural and God-given relation. A school for the education and training of girls demands vastly more than that which is contained in the ordinary curriculum. The moral, religious and domestic elements are all necessary for a symmetrical development.1
V.A.C. Stockard with her students, 1885.<sup>12</sup>
V.A.C. Stockard with her students, 1885.12 Stockard is seated in the chair at center.
Centenary Methodist Church, c. 1908
Centenary M.E. Church (South) where Cottey students and faculty attended on Sundays, c. 1908. (8 blocks from the college on the corner of Austin and Main streets, where McDonald's stands now.)

The “moral” and “religious” training was of utmost importance to Stockard. One of the first catalogues described the paramount goal of the school:

Above everything else, we desire to lead our pupils to an experimental knowledge of Christ, and to a consecration of their lives in His service. No sectarian prejudices will be allowed to disturb the harmony of our home, but the glorious doctrine of salvation by faith in Christ will be presented in such a manner as, we trust, will lead all to accept it.2

Cottey College was a nondenominational school, but explicitly Christian. There are scant references to any other religion in Cottey-related documents and when they are mentioned, they are usually exoticized or denigrated. (One panel discussion at Cottey in 1943 was titled “Is Our Faith Great Enough to Overcome Our Enemies’ Faith?”3) To be sure, Cottey’s location in a conservative and relatively homogenous area had much to do with the persistence of its religious orientation (and bigotry), and Christian schools were highly sought after for the education of young ladies.

Stockard’s dedication to “christian [sic] living” was sincere.4 When she presented Cottey to the P.E.O. Sisterhood in 1927, she told them, “the foundation stones of Cottey were laid in prayer. The buildings were reared in faith. We have endeavored to carry on the work in accordance with His will.”5 In later years she confessed that in building her school, “the sailing was not always smooth. However, guided by an unseen hand and with an unfaltering faith in Divine Guidance I went forward, refusing to be discouraged and recognizing no such word as failure.”5

One day during Chapel in the 1880s, Stockard revealed to her students what she did when bogged down with worry: “Mrs. Stockard told us she had a private room here where she went alone to pray when school problems seemed to be more than she could bear. She said she locked the door and prayed quietly until the clouds lifted and she received strength to go on again.”11 Stockard’s prayer room was a small closet in her Main Hall suite, long since demolished through multiple renovations.

Chapel, Church, & Vespers

In the early years of Cottey College, religious activities were interwoven throughout the day. Daily Bible reading, twice-daily Chapel, and church and Vespers on Sunday were all required.6 A half-hour was set aside each morning for “Bible reading, prayer, and meditation” in the students’ rooms.2 During these sessions, “They all read their Bibles, talked about the passage briefly, then knelt and each was asked to offer a short prayer.”9 Morning Chapel followed, beginning at 7:30 a.m. or 8:45, depending on the year.7, 8 Cottey students and faculty met again in Chapel after the day’s classes:

These meetings always opened with a hymn, often “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” followed by the reciting of a psalm in unison. Miss Cottey’s favorite was her father’s choice, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills form whence cometh my help” It was repeated with feeling and conviction and was an inspiration to all who participated. Then they all bowed their heads while Miss Cottey led in prayer. It was a prayer such as one who ever heard it could not forget. […] Then she would suddenly return to them in her petition, never calling anyone by name, but pointing out some particular sin that had been committed that day, she would so pinpoint it that any school girl listening could identify the culprit. It was an uncomfortable experience when such a petition for the sinner took place.9

All students were required to attend church twice on Sundays.2 In the morning, "Most of them went to the Methodist church, where the Cottey sisters attended, but any girl might go to the church of her choice in the morning, accompanied by a teacher."10 In the evening, all students were expected at the Methodist church. Belle Douglas Logan, who attended Cottey from 1884 to 1890, recalls,

Every Sunday we marched in a body to the Methodist church. […] Three chaperones marched with us, one at the head of the group, one walking along about midway, and the third bringing up the rear. We marched into church in a body and sat in a body through the services. There was no doubt we were the girls from Cottey.11

In the late 1880s or early 1890s, vesper services in the college chapel replaced the evening trek to church.7, 11

Sunday Regulations

As tradition dictated, the Sabbath was a day of rest and quiet at the college in the 1880s and 1890s. “Sunday was to be free from noise and hilarity,” and students were not allowed to receive visitors.8, 13 As late as the 1900s girls were also barred from riding horses, driving cars, buying sweets, or using chafing dishes on Saturday night or Sunday.8 Sundays were not for entertainment in V.A.C. Stockard’s eyes, but young ladies sometimes had other ideas.

Allie Johnston, a student at Cottey in the late 1880s, wrote to a Cottey pal about one Sunday’s diversion:

I think for your amusement I must chronicle a little incident that occurred last Sunday afternoon. You know that the room next [to] ours is occupied by Rose, Maud, Mag McGonigle, and Belle Thomas. It was a cold snowy day and Miss Cottey said none of the girls need go to Sunday School and church unless they wanted to do so. I suppose the above mentioned girls got a little tired of being good and quiet and some of them concluded to get up a little masquerade. The occupants of our room were surprised when about three o’clock a knock at our door announced visitors. Enter Miss Thomas followed by Mr. and Mrs. Laudefui (Maud Smith, Mrs.; Rose, Mr.). Mrs. attired in a white dress, white hat, ribbons, and flowers. Mr. in a red blouse, white pantaloons, red stockings, and slippers. We were so surprised at their appearance we could not help laughing. While in the midst of it, oh horrors, Miss Cottey stepped in. You ought to have seen the culprits. She stood and looked at the for what seemed a long time, a small eternity in fact, and then said, “What day is this?” Nobody vouchsafed an answer, an after gazing sadly at them she left the room. The girls then went to their rooms sadder and wiser than a few minutes before. Miss Mary and I felt almost as guilty because [we were] found laughing so heartily instead of lecturing them on their misdemeanor.14
Cottey report card, 1905-1906
Cottey report card with Bible and Evidences of Christianity courses, 1905-1906.27
Cottey YWCA, 1914-1915
Cottey's YWCA cabinet with advisor Mary Boddie, 1914-1915.23

Religious Coursework

Christianity was an integral part of Cottey College’s coursework. Bible class was required of all full-time students in the first 25 years, and “Evidences of Christianity” and “Moral Philosophy” were required as part of a 3-year degree in the 1880s.25 Christian ideals of womanhood and gender roles were also exhibited by the courses offered and their descriptions. The description of the Handiwork course from one of the first catalogues noted,

“…we are assured that God has intended each one of His creatures to fill some niche of usefulness in this world; that He has designed woman to be queen of the home we do not call in question, hence our desire to fit her to rule well in that realm with which the kingdom of earth may not be compared.”26

The idea that religion and education went hand in hand would live on at Cottey well into the twentieth century.

Missionary Work

V. A.C. Stockard viewed women as arbiters of their own religion, capable -- and obligated -- to better their communities and the world through charity and spreading the word of God. Missionary work was especially important to her, as Cottey professor and Stockard biographer Helen DeRusha Troesch elaborates:

Next to her college the cause of foreign religious work lay close to her heart. Every year that she taught she hoped that somehow she could lead some student to prepare for work in foreign fields. […] To send young women of fine Christian character into the world was her mission. If there were enough of them, the rest of the world would be enlightened.15

The Cottey Missionary Society was established in 1885 as one of the college’s first two clubs, along with the YWCA.16, 17 Interest and membership in the organization grew through the 1880s and ‘90s.16 Stockard was always especially proud when a Cottey graduate became a missionary: Clara Steger was the first, graduating in 1893 before serving “as a Methodist missionary in China from 1894 to 1934.”18 Irma Highbaugh graduated in 1912 and served 40 years in China, the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Burma, Malaya, Thailand, Indonesia, and Ceylon.

It was through Clara Steger that Cottey received its first foreign student, and likely its first woman of Color. Dr. C.K. Marshall, A Chinese minister, had met Steger in China and from her learned of Cottey College. He wrote to V.A.C. Stockard in 1898 of his desire to send his daughter, Zan Voin Yum, to Cottey. Stockard “was delighted. She wrote at once to say that Lavinia [Yum’s English name] would be most welcome and that she would have no tuition to pay.”20 It was a rule of Stockard’s that daughters of ministers always received free tuition, and it was because Zan Voin Yum was Christian that she attended (and was allowed to attend) Cottey.21

In 1908, Stockard proposed to establish scholarships for students planning to be missionaries.19 The Cottey Board of Trustees accepted the proposal and “extended it to foreign missionaries who wished to study in this country.”

Student interest in missionary work declined in the early 1900s; Stockard’s hopes fell to other organizations like the YWCA and activities like the yearly revivals to spur Christian “conversion” among her students.18

Revivals

Christian revivals in Nevada were common in the late nineteenth century, and usually occurred for about a month each year. V.A.C. Stockard brought them into the college as well.22 The 1914-15 Cottey yearbook noted that November held “The four weeks’ revival. Religious and clandestine meetings.”23 In 1894 the student newspaper recorded the religious spirit brought about by the revival, as well as Stockard’s continual efforts to convert her students:

Mrs. Stockard, our dear president, labored incessantly. Her heart is fixed upon the conversion of the girls committed to her care and it seems to be the one thought with her all the time.

Young ladies and teachers have determined to hold a daily meeting for prayer and religious conversation for the remainder of the scholastic year.24

To be continued...

Works Cited:

  1. Rhodes, Dr. Mary. “Dried Flowers: The History of Women’s Culture at Cottey College, 1884-1965.” Diss. Ohio State U, 1981: 63. Print.
  2. Stockard, Dr. Orpha. Cottey College: The First 75 Years. Joplin, MO: Joplin Printing Co., 1961: 10-11. Print.
  3. Petty Key, Lutie. “A Cottey Community: Forum Series.” The P.E.O. Record Mar. 1943: 10. Print.
  4. Cottey, Virginia Alice. “Cottey College.” Nevada Daily Mail [Nevada, MO] 6 July 1887. Google News. Web.
  5. Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard qtd. in: Watson, Virginia. “That Rare Cottey Heritage.” The P.E.O. Record June 1955: 16-7. Print.
  6. Rhodes, Dr. Mary. “Dried Flowers: The History of Women’s Culture at Cottey College, 1884-1965.” Diss. Ohio State U, 1981: 74. Print.
  7. Rhodes, Dr. Mary. “Dried Flowers: The History of Women’s Culture at Cottey College, 1884-1965.” Diss. Ohio State U, 1981: 22. Print.
  8. Watson, Virginia. “That Rare Cottey Heritage.” The P.E.O. Record June 1955: 16-7. Print.
  9. Campbell, Elizabeth McClure. The Cottey Sisters of Missouri. Parkville, MO: Park College Press, 1970. 97-98. Print.
  10. Campbell, Elizabeth McClure. The Cottey Sisters of Missouri. Parkville, MO: Park College Press, 1970. 90-91. Print.
  11. Belle Douglas Logan, qtd. in: Watson, Virginia. “That Rare Cottey Heritage.” The P.E.O. Record June 1955: 16-7. Print.
  12. Troesch, Helen DeRusha. Life of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Wayside Press, Inc., 1955. Print.
  13. Troesch, Helen DeRusha. Life of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Wayside Press, Inc., 1955: 53. Print.
  14. Campbell, Elizabeth McClure. The Cottey Sisters of Missouri. Parkville, MO: Park College Press, 1970. 99-100. Print.
  15. Troesch, Helen DeRusha. Life of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Wayside Press, Inc., 1955: 68-9. Print.
  16. Troesch, Helen DeRusha. Life of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Wayside Press, Inc., 1955: 87. Print.
  17. Stockard, Dr. Orpha. Cottey College: The First 75 Years. Joplin, MO: Joplin Printing Co., 1961: 22. Print.
  18. Rhodes, Dr. Mary. “Dried Flowers: The History of Women’s Culture at Cottey College, 1884-1965.” Diss. Ohio State U, 1981: 82-83. Print.
  19. Troesch, Helen DeRusha. Life of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Wayside Press, Inc., 1955: 168-69. Print.
  20. Troesch, Helen DeRusha. Life of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Wayside Press, Inc., 1955: 132. Print.
  21. Stockard, Dr. Orpha. Cottey College: The First 75 Years. Joplin, MO: Joplin Printing Co., 1961: 29. Print.
  22. Campbell, Elizabeth McClure. The Cottey Sisters of Missouri. Parkville, MO: Park College Press, 1970. 126-27. Print.
  23. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1915. Print.
  24. The Chronicle, qtd. in Troesch, Helen DeRusha. Life of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Wayside Press, Inc., 1955: 111. Print.
  25. Troesch, Helen DeRusha. Life of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Wayside Press, Inc., 1955: 86. Print.
  26. Stockard, Dr. Orpha. Cottey College: The First 75 Years. Joplin, MO: Joplin Printing Co., 1961: 11. Print.
  27. Schenck, Beulah. Personal scrapbook. 1908.
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