Anne Scales Benedict: She Overcame
by Grace Benedict Paine
Reprinted with permission from Vanderbilt Alumnus Magazine
Vol. 68 No. 2 (Winter 1983), p. 14
During a discussion about the United Nations, someone remarked, "You are never going to stop war." "But I am going to keep trying," Anne Scales Benedict replied. This indomitable woman of strong convictions had spent a lifetime in pursuit of a better world.
Born in 1883, she grew up in a spacious antebellum home in East Nashville.
Her "cross the street" playmate, "B" Benedict, became her husband. Since her strict Methodist father flatly refused to allow his children to play cards or dance, or even to go to the circus, Anne said that she took to her "books" in a serious way. She and her brothers, Ellsworth and Hillman, and "B" Benedict, attended Caldwell grammar school on Foster Street in their neighborhood and then daily crossed the Cumberland River on the streetcar to Fogg High School on Broad Street, the only public high school in Nashville. She was co-editor of The Echo, the school paper. Anne, compelled "to be at the top" made a 95.27 average at Fogg for the three year high school course. She gave the valedictory address the evening of June 5, 1901.
Her education continued with five months of travel to Europe and the Middle East, including Italy, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and a camping trip on horseback through Syria and Palestine.
Upon her return, she was anxious to enter Vanderbilt University but the only women students there were the few who begged the privilege of matriculating. When the University was chartered in 1872 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, no idea of coeducation entered the heads of those founding ministers nor of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who furnished the funds to make the University a reality. Anne applied to Mrs. Haggard, the Registrar, to no avail. She even dared to appeal to Chancellor James H. Kirkland for entrance, but he refused. Finally, after trudging from one place to another, Dr. "Freddy" Moore of the history department, deigned to accept her in the second term, beginning February 1902.
She proved that Professor Moore had made no mistake. This high achiever obtained a Bachelor of Science in three-and-a-half years instead of the usual four years, graduating in June 1905, with an average of 95.47 and membership in Phi Beta Kappa. Besides, she was captain of the women's basketball team, who played by the same rough rules that men did, and losing a tooth was of no consequence.
At Vanderbilt she belonged to a local sorority, Theta Delta Theta, a closely knit group who clung to each other to withstand the domination of the men. According to Anne, "The boys wouldn't do anything but marry the girls. They would concede them no place in the life of the University." After Anne's graduation, Theta Delta Theta became the Vanderbilt Chapter of the national sorority, Delta Delta Delta, in 1911. She was one of the founders of this chapter, and served as their financial advisor for many years. She devised ways to make money to help them buy an old two-story white frame residence on the west edge of the campus, more commodious than the little house they previous owned, called "The Triangle," on the east side of campus. She would buy gift items at the Chicago Merchandise Mart, and parcel them out to the Tri-Delts to sell to their friends. After her death in 1958, the sorority built a large brick sorority house, and dedicated the chapter room "in memory of Anne Scales Benedict" with a plaque mounted in the wall.
As an alumna of Vanderbilt, she directed her whole heart and abundant energy toward better housing and educational opportunities for the women students. She urged the appointment of women to the faculty and administration. About 1922, with trembling knees she went to ask Chancellor Kirkland ("the one man she was afraid of," according to her husband) for decent accommodations for women students. She found him digging in his iris garden on the campus. His reply was that two new buildings would be necessary for dormitories, a dining room, a gymnasium, and other requirements. He estimated that the cost would be a million dollars, which the University did not have, and if the girls could not be properly cared for, they must be excluded altogether!
Anne's response was to form a group of Vanderbilt alumnae into the Vanderbilt Alumnae Council, a task force to raise the necessary funds. The council appointed alumnae chairmen in each state to solicit funds. They in turn, were to appoint chairmen in the different towns and cities of their state.
The opening gun was a pageant based on Tennessee history in the Vanderbilt Stadium during Commencement in June 1923. Since it was a great success, in spite of inclement weather, another pageant was planned for Founder's Day in May 1924.
They were selling "labor saving" electrical appliances, the Apex Suction Cleaner, Rotarex Electric Washer, and Rotarex Ironer. These college graduates, on hands and knees in shop windows on lower Broad Street, demonstrated the marvels of "Earthquake" a carpet cleaner so strong it took the skin off the hands as well as dirt out of the carpet. They served benefit suppers to the faculty, with food donated by the merchants in town, enlivened with programs given gratis.
The Council brought famous concert artists to Nashville, including the Metropolitan Opera stars, Mme. Margarete Matzenauer, the Hungarian mezzo-soprano, in 1925 and Beniamino Gigli, Italian tenor, in 1927.
By April of 1925, the Board of Trust, sufficiently impressed by the $7,000 the alumnae had raised, offered to guarantee a salary of $3,000 a year for a Dean of Women. Ada Bell Stapleton, Ph.D., King's College of the University of London, was secured and entered upon her duties in September of that year. Now, the women students had a champion to improve their conditions and create roles of leadership for them on a male-oriented campus. She also became the first woman member of the faculty as Professor of Literature in the Department of English.
Anne had to wait many years to witness in 1940 a fine women's dormitory, McTyeire Hall, built by the University of bricks salvaged from old Wesley Hall, the Divinity School, which had burned in 1932. In 1964, six years after she died, the Margaret and Harvie Branscomb Women's Quadrangle was built, and Anne was recognized by the naming of one of its four dormitories "Anne Scales House." She would be surprised today that many women prefer quarters off campus to the well-appointed dormitories, that men as well as women live in the Anne Scales House, and that a "Dean of Women" is a thing of the past.
She also served as president of the Vanderbilt Aid, an organization to promote contributions for a continuing student loan fund. She was president of the Southern Association of College Women, the forerunner of the American Association of University Women.
Vanderbilt was not the only institution to benefit from the hard work and organizational ability of Anne Benedict. She was a trustee of Scarritt College, devoted years to organizing fund-raising projects to pay for the construction of the sanctuary of West End Methodist Church, supervised the Red Cross sewing room. In the 1950s she became a champion of racial integration; when Education Television was proposed she allied herself with its supporters.
Her beloved husband, Andrew B. Benedict, Jr., who had been a banker, president of Ward-Belmont, and finally treasurer of Vanderbilt University, died in 1953. She survived him five years. Her son, Andrew B. Benedict III, became chairman of the board of the First American Bank of Nashville and a trustee of Vanderbilt. Her daughter, Grace, is the wife of Dr. Thomas Fite Paine Jr., professor of medicine, emeritus at Vanderbilt.
After her husband died, her big project was founding a local chapter of the United Nations, her hope for world peace.
The late Nora Chaffin, who was a dean of Women at Vanderbilt, said of her, "For the breadth and depth of her service to the great causes of her time, Anne Scales Benedict had few equals."
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