Belhaven University is one of the eight Christian colleges in the state of Mississippi. Located in the heart of Mississippi’s capital, Belhaven offers a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate programs to ambitious students who seek to broaden their education as well as discover their God-given calling in this world.
The Beginning of an Educational Foundation
The university was founded in 1883, through the merger of Mississippi Synodical College and the McComb Female Institute. Belhaven, as we know it today, was established in 1894 with Dr. Lewis Fitzhugh as president.
Small but Mighty
While the school started off small, with only a few dozen women to be exact, its impact (even then) was growing. Originally, “Belhaven College for Young Ladies,” it was opened in the former mansion of state senator, Jones S. Hamilton, who was also a businessman. His mansion was located on Boyd Street. The college later took on the name “Belhaven,” which is in honor of Hamilton’s ancestral home in Scotland.
While Belhaven stands strong now, it has been through many obstacles to get here.
In February 1895, the original building was demolished by fire; however, the citizens of Jackson pitched in to help Belhaven rebuild and reopen in the fall of the following year (1896) on the exact same site.
Dr. Fitzhugh diligently served as the president until his passing in 1904. After this, his heirs sold Belhaven to Dr. J.R. Preston, who served as president. Unfortunately, the college was destroyed by another fire in 1910, and after this, Dr. Preston donated the title of the college to the Presbyterian Church. First Presbyterian Church in Jackson stood up as advocates for Belhaven with the Synod for establishing the college in an underdeveloped area of Jackson. This area, located on Peachtree Street, is now home to Belhaven’s campus.
Belhaven reopened its doors again. In September 1911, Belhaven University was reopened under the name “Belhaven Collegiate and Industrial Institute” by Central Mississippi Presbytery. This renaming occurred after the construction of a new, larger building that would soon become Preston and Fitzhugh Halls. Dr. R.V. Lancaster, from the McComb Female Institute, became the third president of the college when the two institutions merged.
As time progressed, expansion took place, and Belhaven was offering more academic opportunities. In 1912, Belhaven became the first women’s college to teach chemistry. This was monumental. The name of the college was changed to “Belhaven College” in 1915 by the Board of Trustees. From 1918-1921, Dr. W.H. Frazier was president after Dr. Lancaster. During Dr. Frazier’s tenure, enrollment rose to 230 students. This was a significant increase in a short period of time.
On August 9, 1927, Belhaven suffered from another unfortunate fire. This would be the third fire in the school’s history. Lightning struck the center of the only building of the school at that time. A telegram that was sent to the current president of the school, Dr. Gillespie, by his secretary, Jennie Armistead, read: “Belhaven on fire. Absolutely no chance of saving.” After finally extinguishing the flames, only the two stately columns were left standing. These two columns now serve as a reminder of the courageous people who persevered through the Great Depression.
Since then, there has been nonstop growth. In 1927, Belhaven introduced its Bachelor of Music program, which soon gave it a positive reputation as a prestigious school for those interested in the arts. Belhaven founded the Jackson Symphony Orchestra and the Mississippi Opera Guild in the 1940s.
The first indoor swimming pool in Mississippi was constructed in Fitzhugh Hall, on the ground level. New residence halls were built. Helen White Hall was built in 1930. Lancaster Hall Student Center was started in 1927 and finished in 1938. Raymond Hall was constructed in 1940.
Dr. Gillespie had an exceptional twenty-five-year presidential career with Belhaven and made incredible contributions. One of his greatest achievements was his efforts to gain accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. He worked tirelessly to strengthen academic programs and the credentials of faculty, as well as meeting a plethora of other elite criteria. After meeting these qualifications, unconditional accreditation was conceded to Belhaven College on March 28, 1946. In 2010, the name was officially changed to “Belhaven University” to better represent the school’s “expanded breadth of programs and reach.”
Belhaven University has overcome many obstacles in its years of standing. Thanks to the generous people of Jackson, the scholars who helped develop the curriculum for the university, the Christian leaders, and the devoted students who helped shape the culture of the school, Belhaven University stands out as an exceptional institution where students can not only learn about their place in society academically but also spiritually.