Historic Markers Across Alabama

Southern Female University / Florence University for women

Marker ID:  
Location: on Seymore Avenue, Florence, Alabama
County: Lauderdale
Coordinates: N 34° 49.460    W 087° 41.456
  34.82433333    -87.69093333
Style: Free Standing **
Waymark: WMHGPG


Southern Female University

The Southern Female University located in this vicinity was created in 1889 by Florence businessmen led by Judge William B. Wood and Alabama Baptist led by Rev. Dr. J.B. Hawthorne. The church connection was discontinued by a vote of the Alabama Baptist Association prior to opening date. The SFU was housed in a five-story Renaissance style building 220 feet long and 121 feet wide. It contained a chapel that could seat 750 people, sixteen recitation rooms, fifty bedrooms, a gymnasium, and thirty-eight classrooms.

SFU opened on September 15, 1891, with 19 faculty members and about 125 students drawn from most Southern states. The students were offered five academic programs, three of which led to degrees, and two to certificates.

Despite a successful first year, the University began the second year with major problems. It was located about one mile from downtown. Streets and sidewalks from Seven Points were unpaved, no streetcar service existed and the water supply was inadequate. On October 14, 1892, the University left Florence and moved to Birmingham which had offered significant support to encourage the move.

Florence University for Women

The SFU building stood vacant from 1892 to 1908. In the spring of 1908 N. C. Elting, Florence banker, announced that the Florence University for Women with a music conservatory would be established. The building was refurbished. A faculty was employed and a catalog was issued announcing that classes would begin in September. Fifty students enrolled the first day. The curriculum was a blend of old and new courses. Young ladies who wanted to prepare for the traditional role in the home could study classical and modern language, literature, music, art, elocution, history and science along with dressmaking, sewing, cooking, and household economics. Students who wanted to train for employment outside the home could take courses in teacher training, shorthand, typewriting, and bookkeeping.

Eleven degrees and four certificates were granted at the end of the first year. A school annual The Varsity, was issued describing campus organizations including the YWCA, Tennis Club, Basketball Club, Kodak Club, Georgia Club and Fudge Club. The second year started with 112 students and additional faculty and courses. The third academic year began with great expectations but the University was permanently closed in early April 1911 when a fire burned the building and all equipment. Students were transferred to other institutions when no suitable replacement building could be found in Florence.

End of Southern Female University / Florence University for women