The vision and efforts of Sallie Eola Reneau, Olivia Valentine Hastings and Annie Coleman Peyton to create the first public college for women will be commemorated on the campus of Mississippi University for Women with a marker unveiling and public history exhibit during Women’s History Month.

The historical marker, which is being made possible through a partnership with The W and the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, will be unveiled Thursday, March 28 on Callaway Lawn at 1:30 p.m. The marker will be placed to the side of the gate leading from College Street to Callaway Hall. Special remarks will be made by Dr. Bridget Pieschel, emerita professor of English and Women Studies at The W.

Additionally, the exhibit, “Trailblazing Women: Our Legacy” in Summer Hall, opened March 18 and will run through April 12, including during The W’s Homecoming and Columbus Pilgrimage. The exhibit was curated by Dr. Beverly Joyce, W gallery director.

The inaugural phase of the exhibit features Sallie Eola Reneau, Olivia Valentine Hastings and Annie Coleman Peyton and tells the history not only of these women but also the steps they went through to found a state-endowed female college.  History major Aly Vernon is working on the next phase, which will feature Mary Callaway, Pauline Orr and Emma Ody Pohl. Vernon’s installment will be unveiled next spring.

Joyce said, “The timing of `Trailblazing Women’ is serendipitous. Dr.[Erin] Kempker and I collaborated on this historical display for the benefit of both our classes last semester.  Now to have MSMS unveil the historical marker at the same time as the we display the exhibition adds a great deal to the event. It underscores the relationship we have with MSMS.”

Dr. Erin Kempker, W professor of history, said, “This is one more example of how MSMS and MUW students are doing important public history work for the community, by taking the scholarship of Dr. Bridget Pieschel, and using that to create a historical marker and exhibit. This work ensures that the story of W pioneers is alive on our campus and there for all to see.”

The marker to honor the university’s founding mothers is part of MSMS history instructor Chuck Yarborough’s MoreStory Monuments project. Started in 2021, MoreStory explores a more complete history in classrooms and communities across the state, the South and the nation.

In October, The W and MSMS unveiled a historic marker honoring its first African American students. W history students, under Kempker’s direction, researched the six students who desegregated campus in 1966. MSMS students added to that research which led to the wording for the marker.

Joyce’s museum studies students also participated by further researching and designing the exhibition “In Their Footsteps” that was part of the commemoration in 2016.

Yarborough said, “My students utilized the work of W history students to propose the new marker and contribute to a more complete understanding of our community and state’s history. Like the earlier marker dedicated in October, the MoreStory project has benefitted from our continued partnership on the MUW campus.”

These upcoming projects are one of many that have enriched the campus community, the city of Columbus and surrounding area.

Other events scheduled for the spring include Tales from the Crypt and the Eight of May Emancipation Celebration, in which students research the lives of historical figures and present reenactments of episodes from early Columbus. During Tales from the Crypt this year, two student performances will feature historical information gleaned from the MUW archives, including history related to the “Oh Lady” humor magazine.

W President Nora Miller said, “This project is an example of how work that W students do can inform the work done by MSMS students, and result in a lasting memorial celebrating the founding of the first state-supported college for women.

About The W

Located in historic Columbus, Mississippi, The W was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the United States. Today, the university is home to 2,227 students in more than 70 majors and concentrations and has educated men for 40 years. The university is nationally recognized for low student debt, diversity and social mobility which empowers students to BE BOLD.

Be Bold. Tower with Blue.