In 125 years, Belmont’s story has seen challenges, changes on an institution-wide level, near failures and more recently huge successes.
Later this month, a new book capturing this story hits shelves as part of the university’s celebrations for its 125th birthday.
“From Here To Anywhere: A History Of Belmont University, 1890-2015” guides readers through the past of Belmont’s early days as a women’s college to the present. In researching Belmont’s history, a narrative of beating the odds emerged, Dr. Joy Jordan-Lake, the book’s author, said.
“You wouldn’t necessarily realize to see Belmont now and how successful it is, how many times the school really faced going under completely,” Jordon-Lake said.
“From Here To Anywhere” follows the transition from the original Belmont College founded in 1890 to Ward-Belmont College. Under severe financial difficulties, Ward-Belmont sold its campus to the Tennessee Baptist Convention in 1951.
While covering the money constraints that threatened Belmont in the past, the book also examines a number of figures crucial in saving the university, laying the groundwork for the institution Belmont is today.
Notably, the book highlights the role of Dr. Herbert Gabhart and how his actions as president of the new Belmont College helped campus grow out of hard financial times in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Lots of people point to him as one of the key people who really saved Belmont,” said Jordan-Lake.
Gabhart grew up poor on a tobacco farm in Kentucky, and helping others rise above similar circumstances played into his desire to see Belmont grow, Jordan-Lake said.
“As president, part of his passion in going around and asking for money for Belmont was he believed in doing that for other young people, making education the way out,” she said.
While Jordan-Lake was charged with writing the book, she was by no means the only person involved in its creation.
Belmont formed a special committee to conduct the bulk of historical research. In gathering information, committee member Dr. Marcia McDonald said the committee’s biggest challenge was determining how best to tell the history of an institution.
“You can write biographies and you’ve got one person and you keep your eye on that one person,” McDonald said. “When you’re looking at an institution you’re looking at so many layers. You’re looking at a physical space; you’re looking at issues of leadership; you’re looking at issues of the whole idea of education at that institution.”
To capture different snapshots of campus through the decades, the committee tracked down people both on and off campus for interviews. These include current and former faculty, former students and a number of donors, Jordan-Lake said.
“We added lots and lots; women from the Ward-Belmont days. We added lots of major donors. We added lots of folks who remember Belmont from the ‘60s and ‘70s when it was really in financial straits,” Jordon-Lake said.
McDonald, who has taught at Belmont since 1980, served as a consultant for Belmont’s history during the 1980s and 1990s. She also provided Lake with the names of campus leaders from that period.
Some important events covered in the book from that time include internal changes to campus along with the introduction of several initiatives that are now a familiar part of student life, said McDonald.
“We moved from departments to schools to colleges internally. Study abroad became an active part of the university,” McDonald said. “The teaching center and undergraduate research began at that time. Arts and sciences and the honors program began at that time.”
Jordan-Lake emphasized how critical the committee’s role was in the book’s development, and said she wants people to know the project was a collaborative work.
“It’s really not my book. This one is very much a team effort that so many people answered emails or did interviews or tracked down information for,” she said.