Jennifer Chan Photography
Jennifer Chan Photography
Originally established as Scarritt Bible and Training School for Women Missionaries in 1892 in Kansas City, MO, Scarritt College for Christian Workers trained young women missionaries, equipping them for global leadership in the church during a time when women were prohibited from other forms of leadership across most denominations. In 1924, the school relocated to Nashville, and between 1924 and 1927, with funds raised by the Women’s Missionary Societies of the Methodist Episcopal Church South and local donors, Scarritt Hall, Bennett Hall, Wightman Chapel, the historic Bell Tower, and Susie Gray Dining Hall were constructed.
The inspiring setting of the original campus, which expanded and grew over the subsequent decades, served as the context for a young and culturally diverse student body, who were educated in the cultures, languages, and traditions of those whom they would later serve overseas. In 1952, Scarritt College became one of the first white, private colleges in the state of Tennessee to integrate, and in April of 1957, the College famously hosted Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached in Wightman Chapel.
The college eventually became co-ed, and in 1980 Scarritt College for Christian Workers became Scarritt Graduate College. The College closed in 1988, after which the campus became home to Scarritt Bennett Center. As a nonprofit, Scarritt Bennett Center is dedicated to continuing the legacy of the school through the work of women's empowerment, racial justice, spiritual enrichment, and transformative education.
In 2022, the Scarritt community is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the integration of Scarritt College for Christian Workers. In the early 1950s, the faculty submitted a letter to the Board of Trustees stating the case for integration of the college. The letter was drafted by the professor of social anthropology, Ina Corinne Brown, who had authored "The Story of the American Negro" (1936) and "Race Relations in a Democracy" (1949).
A portion of the letter reads, "In light of these considerations the faculty and staff of Scarritt College believes that the time has come when it is not only appropriate but obligatory that we actively seek a solution to the problem posed by the State laws which now make mandatory on our campus a practice which is out of harmony with the mission entrusted to us by the church. The mandates of Christian conscience no longer permit us to say that we can do nothing about racial exclusion on our campus until the State amends the Constitution. It is our conviction that we should either seek a new interpretation of the law as it affects church-related institutions or act through education and legal channels to change the law."
In September 1952, two African-American women, DeLaris Johnson and Lelia Robinson, were admitted to Scarritt as full-time students.
Throughout their time at Scarritt, Johnson and Robinson were leaders in Scarritt life. Robinson served as editor of the school yearbook, the “Scarritt Archway,” and sang in the “Scarritt Singers.” Johnson was Treasurer of the student council and leader in the Devotional Life committee. In 1954, they each graduated with their Master's degree.
In 1954 they each graduated with their Master's degree. At their graduation, the invocation and benediction were delivered by Rev. Ernest T. Dixon, who went on to be elected bishop (1972) by the eight-state South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church, the first African American elected by that Jurisdictional Conference.