"Jennings Girls" Fondly Remember MC Landmark
October 17, 2008
"This is Heaven. Which angel do you want?," is the way some of the Jennings Girls answered the telephone when World War II vets and other MC men worked up the nerve to dial the dorm.
Clintonian Betty Renshaw Barber, a 1948 MC graduate, chuckles today when recalling what Jennings women would tell the men on the other end of the line.
Such stories about 100-year-old Jennings Hall - a mixture of fact and fiction - will come alive when MC alumni return for reunions in the building, a key part of MC's Homecoming Weekend Oct. 24-25.
Jennings Hall was considered one of the finest dorms in the South when it opened its doors in 1908, so Heaven really was an apt description. The marvelous building was heated with steam, and every room had its own electric light and bathrooms with hot and cold running water. Back in the day, the school catalog proclaimed that Jennings would provide "the nicest and most suitably furnished bed rooms in the town."
Every floor at Jennings was steeped in close-knit friendships. More than a half-century ago was a time when Bogie and Bacall were big stars at the box office, and many students at the Baptist college had to make do with less. During the post World War II era, "not a single girl (at MC) had a car. We rode the bus to Jackson," Barber said.
Built in part from a $20,000 gift donated by the widow and children of the late Capt. Z.D. Jennings of Water Valley, Miss., Jennings Hall was a far better option than students renting private rooms in Clinton - as was the case for decades. Adding to the gift was $25,000 from the General Education Board of New York that was donated as long as MC raised $75,000 from other sources.
The design of Jennings was attractive to most students with all its rooms opening onto porches and a courthouse in the center. Today, the landmark is home to faculty and department offices.
The architecture really wasn't what sold Barber, who taught on the Clinton campus from 1973 through 1986. It was just a very cozy place flooded with memories etched in stone. "Nine of us used one bathroom," she said. It got crowded with four girls in one room, and she remembers sleeping most nights on the bottom bunk. "We got to know each other. I loved everything at MC."
Betty Barber also got to know Jennings quite well long after her graduation. Her husband, Joe Barber, worked as vice president for business affairs at the school for 20 years.
An 81-year-old native of Shannon, Barber is among 24 MC grads - mostly Jennings Hall alums - who have gathered for lunch once a month in the Jackson area for two decades. Most members of the group will be returning to the Clinton campus when MC marks its Homecoming and recognizes the Jennings Hall Centennial. They will share memories of unforgettable housemothers like Miss Elsey, and much more.
"There wasn't anywhere for girls to live," said Jewel Pittman Merritt of Jackson, a 1949 MC graduate. The Tylertown native noted Jennings was the place where her dad, James Jewell Pittman, lived when he attended MC in the 1920s. "That made it a special place," she said. "I lived in a corner room and there were six of us in the room. We learned to share."
During her second year,1947, Hederman and Gunter halls were constructed to give the women students more living options. Merritt and Barber were suitemates for 18 months at Jennings Hall and remain good friends today.
Clintonians like Nancy Nielsen Davis, Sharon Deer Greer, Carolyn Van Devender Hand and Barber will reunite as Jennings Girls - from the 1940s through the 1970s - with much to celebrate at MC's Homecoming.
For more information on MC Homecoming, call 1-866-232-3945.
PHOTO: Together in front of Jennings Hall are Jennings girls, Mrs. Betty Renshaw Barber (B.A. '48) , Mrs. Sharon Deer Greer (B.S.B.A. '83), and Mrs. Nancy Nielsen Davis (B.S.Ed. '61, M.Ed. '92).
Contact Andy Kanengiser, University News Coordinator, at 601.925.7760 or at email@example.com.