Over a century ago, on May 7, 1889, the Cherokee National Female Seminary opened its doors on what would eventually become the campus of Northeastern State University.
Members of the Descendants of Cherokee Seminaries Students Organization host a homecoming reunion each year on May 7 to commemorate the tribe’s dedication to education, and to honor those who continue the tradition of attending the local university.
On Tuesday, NSU President Dr. Steve Turner welcomed this year’s attendees.
“I thought about what to say that would be fitting for the occasion,” said Turner. “And I’d like to emphasize a couple of items that relate to Wilson Hall.”
Turner spoke about Cherokee Female Seminary Principal Florence Wilson, for whom the dormitory is named. He pointed out that while she was non-Indian, she employed her European education to broaden the minds of young Cherokee women, and encouraged them to pursue careers.
“Next year will be a very special year for the Seminarians,” said Turner. “We will be marking the 125th anniversary of Seminary Hall.”
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s family has a long history with the university.
“It is an honor to be in front of this group today,” said Baker. “Cherokee Nation has a long and storied past with NSU, and it also has a long and storied future. I attended Northeastern State College, my kids attended NSU, my mother and dad attended Northeastern State Teachers College, and my grandmother and grandfather attended Northeastern Normal School.”
Baker pointed out the Cherokee Female Seminary was the first institution of higher learning for women of any race west of the Mississippi.
“Through this past, we’re all connected,” said Baker. “I’m proud the Cherokees believes in education and women. We had schools and mandatory public education before we were removed. To see the spirit of our ancestors to rebuild after removal and come back out of nothing.”
Barbara McAlister, Cherokee citizen and renowned opera singer, is also a descendant. She provided musical entertainment for the event, as did her pianist and fellow descendant, Samantha Benn-Duke, who was the first recipient of the Seminary Scholarship.
“At the turn of the century, the seminaries were the center for entertainment,” said McAlister. “The students studied German, French, Latin and Italian, as well as Moliere, Goethe, and others. They had a rigorous study program.”
Benn-Duke said she’s been attending the homecoming reunions for about 40 years.
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