ST. GENEVIEVE COLLEGE:
Offered Four-Year Degrees for Two Decades
by Patricia Anderson
In 1930, experiencing a decline in enrollment, St. Genevieve closed its four-year college, which had granted Bachelor of Arts degrees for fifteen years. The college, founded in 1910, had been officially recognized and empowered with the legal right to confer degrees in 1915, and since 1919, had been a member of the American Council of Education. The institution also earned accreditation from the State of North Carolina and the Southern Association of Women’s Colleges. The school maintained direct ties to Catholic University in Washington, DC, where professors graded the students’ philosophy exams and awarded them high commendations. Among the graduates of St. Genevieve’s College were Margaret Mary Potts, Class of 1928, and Jane McGarraghy, both of whom became Sisters of RCE and taught at St. Genevieve’s.
Mother Margaret Mary MacSwiney established the senior college and served as dean from 1910 until 1930. Responsible for the development of college courses at SGP and affiliating the college with Catholic University, Mother MacSwiney continued to teach in the junior college and the academy until 1960, serving SGP for fifty years.
The faculty comprised several Sisters who taught in the SGP schools for many years. Mother Naomi Mouquet taught at SGP for more than fifty years, including special classes in advanced French in both the college and academy. Mother Agnes Sharry taught in the high school and college of SGP for several years until 1936. Mother Mabel Monk directed the athletic program in both the academy and college for a number of years. Having taught at St. Genevieve since 1920, Mother Lucienne Jannin became dean of the junior college in 1930, when the senior college closed.
For several years, the college thrived, particularly serving young women of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. Beyond the “local” women, the school enrolled students from Maine to Florida and from Michigan to Texas. In addition, Canada, France, England, Guatemala, Mexico, Cuba, Santo Domingo and Hawaii were represented in the student population.
In 1922, the Order dedicated a new four-story brick building – later named Lorin Hall – to house and provide classroom space for the college students. With accommodations for 100 students, the structure, which stood close to the Victoria Road entrance, symbolized “the new day dawning for this most successful educational institution,” according to The Asheville Citizen-Times on November 30, 1921.
Eight years later, when the stock market crashed in October 1929, St. Genevieve was struck as dramatically as all other individuals, institutions, and businesses. As Mother Potts observes in St. Genevieve’s Remembered, Asheville-Biltmore College (now UNCA) competed with SGP for students; the city could not support two four-year colleges. So in June 1930, the SGP College granted its final four-year diplomas and opened the St. Genevieve’s Junior College in September 1930.
The SGP treasury had always been lean, and the Depression years exacerbated the financial stringency of the lives of the Sisters. Monetary matters undoubtedly played a key role in the decision to discontinue the four-year college. When the Citizens’ Bank and Trust Company of Asheville was the first bank in the country to fail in November 1929, bleak times fell upon the school. The Sisters, anticipating construction of another building, and the school lost their savings.
Seeking to survive as prudently and economically as possible, the Sisters turned down heat, accepted tuition based on a family’s ability to pay, and extended their shoe wear by lining the shoes with cardboard. Mother Potts writes, “As our habits began to wear out, we would rip them up, and turn top to the bottom and the front to the back; we would do the same thing with our sleeves – we would turn them upside down and inside out – do all kinds of things. We mended and mended and mended to keep our clothes going.” Like all who endured the rigors and deprivation of the period, the Sisters “made do or did without.”
Throughout these arduous years, abundant vegetables flourished in the gardens of Eudore Artus, who supplied the kitchen with healthy offerings for the Sisters and students.
The St. Genevieve College had offered a superior four-year college education for young women for two decades before financial reality forced a change. Reduced enrollment and the worldwide Depression created insurmountable economic obstacles. The Sisters responded creatively to the challenges, forming a junior college that served young women another quarter century. In 1955, as times had changed radically, the junior college evolved into the renowned School for Secretaries, which survived until 1980 under the direction of Sister Ann Zeleznik.