MUW name change: Research sheds new light on Reneau's history


Kristin Mamrack



New research shows the name Reneau -- one of two new names under consideration for Mississippi University for Women -- is not tied to slave-holding plantations as previously thought, say MUW officials. 


"As it turns out, she was not a part of a slave-holding family," Perry Sansing, assistant to the MUW president, said of Sallie Reneau, who was key in the creation of the country''s first public university for women. 


MUW President Dr. Claudia Limbert said she will select one of two possible names for the university: Reneau University or Waverley University, which MUW officials said references an 1815 novel, "Waverley," by Sir Walter Scott. 


The Lowndes NAACP wrote a letter to Limbert in April, urging the university not to consider either Reneau or Waverley, saying both conjured up images of the old South which are disrespectful to African Americans. 


In the 19th century, Reneau lobbied the state legislature to get what is now MUW built. 


Reneau previously was thought to be a slave owner in pre-Civil War Mississippi, but research conducted by Sansing''s father, Dr. David Sansing, a retired professor of history at The University of Mississippi, shows otherwise. 


"On three occasions, the Mississippi Legislature passed legislation, at her request, to create a women''s college," said Perry Sansing. "It was once before the Civil War and twice before the Reconstruction Legislature, which was composed of Republicans and African Americans. There were also some errors we have found in the genealogical report on the Internet about the Reneau family. What our research shows is (Sallie Reneau) was a remarkable, remarkable person.  


"And there''s been misinterpretation about a request she made to the governor of Mississippi, in 1861," he added. "She did not seek to create an outfit of women that would fight Union troops. That is not correct. What she was proposing to the governor was to create a relief association, as nurses, to attend to the (Civil War) wounded, so it was really, in some ways, very similar to what the Red Cross does." 


Also known as "''Tis Sixty Years Since,''" "Waverley" is generally regarded as the first historical novel and primarily is the story of a young Englishman who travels to Scotland and becomes involved in the Jacobite revolution of 1745. 


During MUW''s convocation ceremony August 10, Limbert will reveal which name she will recommend to the board of the state Institutions of Higher Learning. 


If approved by the IHL, the name will be submitted for approval to the state Legislature. 


The NAACP previously objected to the names Reneau University and Waverley University as choices for MUW. 


"The names Reneau and Waverley are both derived from slave-holding plantations in the Old South," wrote NAACP President Lavonne Harris. "Neither is appropriate as a replacement name for one of our state universities in the year 2009. 


"The NAACP rejects the argument that support for the name Waverley stems from a work of literary fiction by Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott and that support for the name is not connected to the nearby Waverley Plantation," she added. "The name Waverley, regardless of its spelling, conjures up thoughts of the Old South and the degradation of African Americans through the institution of slavery." 


Harris could not be reached to comment on the new research indicating Reneau was not a member of a slave-holding family.




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