The thoughts count more at institutions of higher learning where goals are reached on the field, in every field.
In the Hills' pioneering days, an agricultural economy meant that life could be a hard row to hoe, with the school of hard knocks always in session. Still, even from those earliest times the people of the Mississippi Hills were a forward-thinking group who believed that while the region needed to bring in its cotton crops, it also needed to cultivate a love of learning and a life of the mind. The result has been an impressive yield, not just of firsts, but also of bests.
Today, the universities of the Mississippi Hills are going places-to the ends of the earth and beyond, for example, at the Geosystems Research Institute at Mississippi State, while at Ole Miss's Center for Southern Culture, the journey goes deep into the hearts and minds of the South. At Rust College, there's a treasure trove of African art to explore, and at the "W," a chance to dig into one of the nation's top culinary arts programs. The fields are many, and the opportunities unlimited in myriad undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Students here enjoy the best of both worlds, with powerhouse athletics to root for, and with instruction and research teams always on the ball, leading their fields
Ready to learn more? Now's the right time. Pack your thinking cap and begin your tour at the school that changed the way the whole nation thought about women's education:
DAY ONE — COLUMBUS:
Columbus has always been the home of high flyers: Two Pulitzer Prize winners, Tennessee Williams and Eudora Welty, both got their start here, Williams as a child, Welty as a young college student; Mississippi State University's first president, Stephen D. Lee, made his home here; the Air Force's top pilots are trained here, and today the world's aerospace leaders are choosing Columbus as their global manufacturing base. This kind of top-flight success is the result of one simple fact: Columbus has always aimed higher in education, with some impressive firsts to prove it: The first public primary school in the state, opened in 1821; and of course, the first public college for women, opened in 1884.
But as highly as Columbus thinks of education, this friendly city thinks equally well of its visitors. And now this thoughtful host is ready to welcome you warmly as you enjoy your tour of the school affectionately known as the "W."
Mississippi University for Women
1100 College St. * 877.462.8439
The ground-breaking idea-a public college for women in Mississippi-was first put forth all the way back in the 1856 by an 18-year-old school teacher, Sallie Reneau. Her idea was revolutionary in every sense: a school devoted to females but open to all economic classes, not merely the elite. It took three decades, a war, a Reconstruction congress, and undaunted dedication by Reneau and by other women, such as Annie Coleman Peyton and Olivia Valentine Hastings before the dream was realized. In 1884, Mississippi University for Women, then called the Industrial Institute and College, became America's first public college for women in America. The mothers of both William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams attended here, and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Eudora Welty began her college career here. Today, the university honors Welty with the annual Welty Weekend of lectures, seminars and programs attended by noted scholars and writers. The university has kept pace with the times in other ways as well, opening its doors as a co-ed institution in the 1980s, and becoming the home to the Mississippi Governor's School and the Mississippi School for Math and Science. The school is also preparing for the future by preserving vital elements of the past in its architecturally distinguished campus, with more than 24 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Here are a few highlights:
Named for the Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Eudora Welty who attended MUW in the 1920s, Welty Hall today houses administrative offices.
President William Howard Taft spoke on the steps of Poindexter Hall to extol the virtues of women's education; today Poindexter houses the music department and also hosts the annual Eudora Welty Writer's Symposium.
Named for Mississippi's pioneering female educator, Sallie Reneau, Reneau Hall was built in 1929 as a dormitory and today is home to MUW's business and paralegal studies department.
A favorite of architectural editors and writers because of its unique floating design, the Chapel is also the place many alumni and students choose for weddings and other social events.
Built in 1860 and incorporated into the original structure of the university, Callaway was used during the Civil War as a hospital for wounded soldiers.
Named for Pauline Orr, a school founder, Orr Chapel is one of the oldest buildings on campus and the only one with a legend built in: A decorative owl perches on top of the chapel, and students who can hit the owl with a penny are said to do well on their history exams.
Recently remodeled, Puckett House is MUW's special hospitality resource, serving as host for small socials and mixers and as a bed and breakfast for distinguished guests of the university.
More sites of interest:
501 3rd Ave. North * 662.328.4143
Good Thinking: As the first public school in Mississippi, Franklin Academy opened its doors in 1821 and still serves students today.
1425 10th Ave. North * 800.327.2686
Opening Opportunities: Built in 1877, Union Academy was the first public school for African-Americans in Columbus.
DAY TWO — STARKVILLE:
Town-gown cooperation is one of the many reasons for Mississippi State's impressive evolution, from a small agricultural college in the 19th century to today's world-class public research university. Whether it's boosting the university's Bulldog athletic program or supporting the university's research teams, whatever the endeavor, there's no contest: some of Bully's biggest fans are right here in Starkville. For its part, the university has been quick to lend a hand to keep great events happening in the city. Today, Starkville offers residents and visitors alike a year-round schedule of exciting activities that go far beyond the field or the court to include concerts, theatre, lecture series-and then there are the festivals: celebrations of all kinds, from the Cotton District Arts Festival to the Johnny Cash Flower Picking Festival. In fact, there's always something fresh and fun happening all across the city's charming and historic neighborhoods, including a restored downtown area where students and residents love to mingle in inviting restaurants and shops. Starkville was called Boardtown in its earliest years; today no one is ever bored in this college community that's both small town friendly and big-time smart. Take a lesson at Mississippi's largest university:
Mississippi State University
200 East Main St. * 800.649.8687
It began with a former Confederate general, Stephen D. Lee, beating his sword into a plowshare as the first president of what was then known as Mississippi A & M, the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the State of Mississippi. However, since admitting its first students in 1880, this public, land-grant university has gown exponentially, both in size, with a main campus that spreads out over 4,200 acres, and in disciplines, as the institution has committed itself to the broad mission of a leading public research university. Today MSU is home to the state's only schools of architecture and veterinary medicine, and has branched out in other areas as well, including the formation of a world-class applied science research program and the nationally renowned Early Childhood Institute. In the most recent Forbes ranking of the nation's "Top 100 Best College Buys," Mississippi State was listed in the Top 20. The Starkville campus is historic, studded with Mississippi Landmark Buildings-a friendly place to learn and an inviting place to visit. Come impromptu, or if you want to get more in depth, contact the MSU Welcome Center either for general tours or to schedule multiple museum and gallery trips. The office is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The phone is 662.325.5203.
Here are just a few stops you might want to include:
HPC2 High Performance Computer Collaboratory
2 Research Blvd. * 662.325.8278
Talk about cool school. Ride an airplane, rocket, and submarine or explore the inner workings of an animal, hurricane, or building, and that's just the beginning of the tours available at this consortium of applied engineering research centers which includes CAVS, the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS), GRI, Geosystems Research Institute and VIRTEX, Virtual Environment for Real Time Exploration. Tours by appointment.
A.B. McKay Food Research and Enology Lab
130 Foil Rd. * 662.325.3011
See how Mississippi State makes its acclaimed wine, juices and jellies from locally grown Muscadine grapes.
Mississippi State Cheese Factory
Herzer Dairy Science Building
Everybody knows MSU's famous Edam cheese is "whey" better than anybody else's. See how and why at the Cheese Factory.
Colly Cobb Museum
Forest Products Laboratory. * 662.325.2116
A window on past practices, with more than 350 antique tools and primitive machines on display.
Mississippi Entomological Museum
Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. * 662.325.2989
See what's bugging you at the Southeast's third largest insect collection, with more than 1 million specimens and a photo collection that includes 40,00 0 slides and prints.
John Grisham Room
MSU Campus, Mitchell Memorial Library * 662.325.2559
Get an inside look at one of the world's best selling writers, in this rotating display of the original manuscripts, fan mail, movie memorabilia and legislative papers of John Grisham, who before he became a phenomenon was an MSU alum and Mississippi legislator.
MSU Department of Art Gallery
MSU Campus, McComas Hall * 662.325.2954
Feast your eyes on fine art of regional and national caliber in rotating exhibits.
Templeton Ragtime Music Museum
Mitchell Memorial Library, Mississippi State University * 662.325.2259
"The Business of Music" showcases over 22,000 pieces of sheet music, records, and musical instruments from the late 1890s and early 1900s.
MSU Veterans' Memorial Rose Garden
MSU Campus, R. Robert Foil Science Research Facility
Everything's coming up roses with these scientifically bred bloomers. Call for tours.
DAY THREE — OXFORD:
The name makes it clear: Oxford was a city born with higher education on its mind, a goal it reached when Mississippi's first public college was founded here in 1848. The state's only medical school was originally housed in Oxford, and although the burgeoning school was later moved to Jackson as part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Oxford has held its ground as the true home of Ole Miss, triumphing over a fiery Union assault that burned most of the city's courthouse square during the Civil War and a later assault by Governor Theodore Bilbo who tried to move the entire Ole Miss campus to Jackson in the 1920s. Bilbo would be mighty embarrassed if he saw the thriving Oxford/Ole Miss collaboration today, where a flourishing arts scene and an inviting town-gown vibe-plus a delicious range of restaurants, clubs and boutiques-has helped the city earn a spot as one of the top six college towns in the nation according to USA Today. (Oxford is also included in The Best 100 Small Towns in America.) Long known as the home of William Faulkner, today the home of one of the nation's most respected independent bookstores, Oxford has also become a magnet for preeminent writers and artists who are helping to create an exciting new chapter for this historic city. Write your own chapter when you book it to the university that's giving a fresh new take on Old South culture:
University of Mississippi
200 Lyceum * 662.232.7378
The nickname Ole Miss was the result of a contest held at the turn of the twentieth century; by then the University of Mississippi had survived a stint as a field hospital during the Civil War and as occupation headquarters for Gen. Grant and his troops. Not surprisingly for the university where Nobel Prize-winning novelist William Faulkner attended, Ole Miss has long attracted the best and the brightest in the liberal arts. However, in the last two decades, the school has experienced phenomenal growth in every area. For example, according to the American Academy of Forensic Scientists, an Ole Miss degree in forensic chemistry ranks in the top five in the nation, while Ole Miss physicists helped build the massive particle detector for Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. And Ole Miss isn't just smashing atoms, the school is smashing records as well, with an enrollment nearly doubled, research funding more than doubled, and an endowment more than tripled since 1995. When the school was chosen to host the 2008 Presidential debate, the verdict was official: Ole Miss is fast-tracked for the future. When you take your trek through the friendly Oxford campus, here are a few highlights you might want to include:
Center for the Study of Southern Culture
Barnard Observatory/ Grove Loop and Student Union Drive
University of Mississippi Campus * 662.915.5993
The planets didn't quite align for Barnard Observatory's original purpose-to house a new telescope designed especially to outsize (by four inches) the telescope owned by Harvard. Yet even though the Civil War caused the telescope to be rerouted to Northwestern University, at Ole Miss Barnard Observatory soldiered on, and now from star-gazing the building has moved to the best sort of navel-gazing, as the home for the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, a preeminent research center which takes a broad and deep approach to its study of Southern music, history, folklore, literature and culture.
200 Lyceum * 662.232.7378
From Ionic to iconic-the columns at the oldest building on campus have not only witnessed history but also become a significant part of it. While the building (now housing administrative offices) was transformed into a bi-partisan hospital during the Civil War treating the wounded of both sides, it was also the site of the 1962 rioting after the school's admission of James Meredith. Today, the bullet holes from that riot are preserved in the Lyceum columns which face a statue of Meredith, part of the school's Civil Rights Monument.
Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts
University Ave. and Old Taylor Rd. * 662.915.2787
Whether or not Barack Obama clinched his election with his performance against John McCain in the 2008 Presidential debate here is arguable, but what's not debatable is that history was made that night in this state-of-the-art facility that is both majestic and ultra modern, a spectacular setting for arts and cultural performances of all kinds.
University Ave. and Fifth St. * 662.915.7073
An archipelago of fine arts, stretching across campus and across disciplines to include Greek and Roman antiquities, 18th and 19th century scientific apparatus, Southern folk and decorative art and Theora Hamblett paintings. Walton Young Historic House is open for tours each Friday.
The architectural (and emotional) highlights of this historic building are the three Tiffany stained glass windows honoring the University Grays, the school's student regiment that suffered catastrophic casualties in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg.
More sites of interest:
Rowan Oak, Home of William Faulkner
Old Taylor Rd. * 662.234.3284
Mansion of many stories. A National Literary Landmark, Rowan Oak is both a home and a testament to Faulkner's talent for building more than fictional worlds. The 1844 clapboard house had no electricity, plumbing or even sound construction when Faulkner bought it in 1930, but the writer with such a command of words could also wield a pretty handy hammer and did much of the renovation himself, even designing the study where today you can still see the grease pencil outline for A Fable scrawled on the walls.
DAY FOUR — HOLLY SPRINGS:
Holly Springs defies the stereotype: It's beautiful and smart. Some of the region's most beautiful homes line the streets of this gracious city, but some of the nation's most prominent artists, writers and thinkers have also come from Holly Springs, adding lines to America's history books with their outstanding accomplishments. It's true that not all of these giants had extensive formal education-blues greats like Otha Turner and Junior Kimbrough, for example-but some, like Ida B. Wells, have shown how courage, intelligence and a Rust University education could change the world. It's a great combination: while many of the city's elegant homes open for tours, Rust University, with its own gracious and historic architecture, keeps on opening minds and doors to opportunity. Beautiful and smart, as you'll see when you step into this ground-breaking, trend-setting university:
150 Rust Ave. * 662.252.2491
It seems fitting that Rust College was founded on the former site of slave auctions. Established as 1870 as Shaw University, Rust College rose like a phoenix from those ashes of history to blaze a trail from its beginning as only the second college for African Americans in the nation. Over the years, Rust turned out national leaders like Ida B. Wells, while building on its successes to form the kind of solid foundation that's helped the school not just endure but thrive as one of only 10 historically-black colleges and universities founded before 1868 still in operation. The university is justifiably proud of its past, and equally enthusiastic about its future. As you walk the halls of the school's historic buildings and see its exciting scholarship in action, you'll see why. On your tour, be sure to include these highlights:
Rust College Center
150 Rust Ave. * 662.252.8000
Delve through the Center's stellar collection of more than 400 pieces of African art, sculptures and masks in the Ronald Trojcak African Art Collection of tribal arts and fabrics.
Roy Wilkins Collection
150 E. Rust Ave. * 662.252.2491
Mighty memories: Peruse the papers, awards, memorabilia, civil rights material and other items of belonging to the pioneering NAACP secretary born in Marshall County.
More sites of interest:
Ida B. Wells Barnett Museum
220 N. Randolph St. * 662.252.3232
Freedom writer: Before she went on to become a valiant civil rights crusader and journalist, Ida Wells was born a slave in the historic Spires Bolling home, and today the home houses Wells Barnett family heirlooms and artifacts as well as a premier collection of African and African-American art.
Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery
300 E. College Ave. * 662.252.4211
Hidden Treasures: To her neighbors in Holly Springs, Kate Freeman Clark was the ultimate Southern belle, a demure descendent of Confederate General Edward Carey Walthall. But Clark had another life, as one of the most promising students of one of America's most prominent painters, William Merrit Chase. Clark's hidden genius was revealed after her death, when she willed her art to Holly Springs, and today more than 1,000 of her works are on display here.