Sketch On The Life Of Charlotte Fall Fanning
Greatness can be defined as using one's talents,
abilities, and opportunities to the fullest possible extent. By this
standard, as well as many others, Charlotte Fanning must be regarded as
one of the greatest women in the Restoration Movement in the 19th century.
Her grave marker in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, in Nashville,
Tennessee, is a silent, but powerful reminder of her life and work. Even
today, she lives on, influencing the lives of some young women pursuing a
BIRTH AND EARLY LIFE
Charlotte Fall was born near London, England, April 10,
1809, the youngest of ten children. Her father settled in Logan County,
Kentucky in an attempt to restore the family fortune. Tragically,
Charlotte's mother died shortly after they arrived and even more
tragically, her father did not live much longer.
On his deathbed, he gave the care of the family to his
oldest son, Philip. Philip Fall, who became one of the best known and best
loved preachers in the south, proved a great influence on Charlotte (15).
Trained as a teacher, he took upon himself to tutor his sister. As a
result, she gained a fine classical education and followed him in the
teaching profession. She learned five languages, Hebrew, Greek, Latin,
German, and French.
After Philip moved the family to Nashville, Tennessee,
Charlotte met a young widower named Tolbert Fanning (Scobey 115). Fanning's
first wife, Sarah Shreve of Nicholasville. Kentucky, had died a few months
earlier. They married the first of January, 1837. The union of Tolbert and
Charlotte Fanning not only joined them in marriage but also in a life-long
commitment to provide quality Christian education to young people.
Almost immediately after their marriage the couple moved
to Franklin, Tennessee, to open a girls' school. This school, which lasted
three years, was named The Eclectic Institute for Young Ladies (Young 39).
This school met with remarkable success, starting with 60 students and
soon growing to 100 (Wilburn 42). Tolbert Fanning used his spare time in
preaching and evangelism.
In 1840, the Fannings purchased a farm of over 300 acres,
about five miles southeast of Nashville. They soon established a school
for girls which again met with great success (Scobey 150-51 ).
Two years later, Tolbert Fanning began a school for boys.
Agriculture, which was always close to Fanning's heart, was the focus of
this school. Each boy was required to spend part of the day working on the
farm. The success, though mixed, of this school led Fanning to expand it
to college level. He received a charter from the state in 1843 and began
the school the next year, calling it Franklin College.
A new building for the school was finished in 1845. It
could house 200 students. It also provided recitation rooms, a chapel, and
two society rooms (16). Charlotte Fanning continued her school for girls
as part of Franklin College. She taught in a room attached to the Fannings'
Franklin College closed in 1861, with the beginning of the
War Between the States. The Union army. which occupied Nashville, brought
much suffering to Tolbert and Charlotte. Because Tolbert's conscience
would not allow him to take a oath of loyalty to the Union, the army
burned their home. At times, they were almost reduced to starvation,
surviving only because of the generosity of friends.
The main building of Franklin College survived the war and
school re-opened in the fall of 1865. However, a student accidentally set
the building afire just a few months later, burning it to the ground.
With an indomitable spirit. Tolbert and Charlotte Fanning
bought the building of Minerva College, next to the destroyed college
building. Here they opened a girls' school they called Hope Institute.
Charlotte Fanning flourished at Hope Institute: "In all the years of
her busy, useful life, Mrs. Fanning was never busier ... Mr. Fanning had
many 'irons in the fire,' and Mrs. Fanning assisted in the handling of the
irons" (Murphy np).
CHARLOTTE FANNING AS A TEACHER
Charlotte Fanning became known as a teacher who was deeply
devoted to the welfare of her students (Scobey 147). From the beginning of
the school at Elm Crag, her school room was more than a place of
instruction. It came to be known as "Aunt
Charlotte's Room." Each evening at twilight, the students gathered
for a time of devotion and fellowship. After the Bible study and prayer,
Charlotte would provide an apple or other fruit for the students.
Sometimes she would play the guitar and they would sing together. She also
took time to tutor the more advanced students (Scobey 155).
Though both boys and girls were at Franklin college, they
were strictly segregated, with the exception of morning chapel, and
evening singing time. They were also allowed to be together at the church
services. One former student remembered another small exception. At times,
Charlotte Fanning would arrange prudent and discreet little meetings
between boy and girl students she considered worthy (Scobey 172).
THE CHARACTER OF CHARLOTTE FANNING
Mrs. Fannings's life was characterized by kindness and
benevolence. Few of the sick and needy of the neighborhood missed her
attention. She regularly visited homes in the neighborhood, bringing
encouragement and cheer to the ill.
She was generous to a fault, giving away anything and
everything to the needy. After her first stroke, she was found to have
practically no clothing at all. She had recently given all her necessary
garments to a poor black woman.
Emma Page described her life, as "full, to
overflowing, of energy, patience, firmness, gentleness, temperance,
meekness and other traits and graces that adorn a woman's character"
(27). At Charlotte's death, her neighbors helped create a permanent
monument to her kindness.
Tolbert Fanning died tragically, (sic) April 15, 1874. [Editor's Note: He died May 3, 1874. He was injured on April 15] With the help of friends, Charlotte Fanning finished the term of Hope Institute but then closed the school. There were no commencement exercises.
She was largely idle for the next ten years. Her intention, after Tolbert's death, was for Elm Crag to be used in educating orphan girls after she died. However, she decided instead to deed it to a board of trustees to begin a school as soon as possible. She gave approximately 160 acres, with the buildings, to a group of 13 men, among whom was David Lipscomb.
Her gift was conditioned upon the trustees raising an amount of money equal to the property. This they did and used the funds to repair the school building, buy livestock, and build new farm buildings.
When this was done, Charlotte Fanning then deeded the rest of Elm Crag, 160 acres, to the trustees. She asked only to be allowed to use two rooms for the rest of her life.
The school prospered and a new building was finished in 1904. In 1905, 80 girls were enrolled. This was primarily a school for orphan girls, those with at least one parent deceased. These were provided education at no cost. Churches often would send qualified girls to the school.
Keeping with the Fannings' philosophy, each girl did some work around the house each day. Each had an assignment which rotated regularly (Scobey 389).
Charlotte Fanning was active in the school in various ways. She worked closely with the superintendent in the early years and was always available for counsel. She taught Bible in the school as long as her health permitted.
Charlotte Fanning suffered a stroke December 18, 1895, which ended her active life. Though bedfast for almost a year, she never lacked attention. Friends and students cared for her, taking the place of the children she never had.
During this period, she often requested the Bible be read to her. One of her favorite passages was Psalms 86:1-6. When the reader came to the words, "I am holy," she would point to herself and shake her head.
Charlotte Fanning died August 15, 1896. She requested to be buried in front of the school building and that her grave be made so the girls could play on it. Tolbert Fanning's body was moved to lie beside her, and her wishes were carried out. When the property of Fanning Orphan School was sold to the Nashville Airport Authority in 1943, their bodies were moved to Mt. Olivet Cemetery, to rest with other worthy leaders of the Restoration Movement.
Perhaps the inscription on her gravestone well sums up her life:
The first labor of her life with this noble woman was to engage in doing good for the young by teaching and training them for the proper discharge of the duties of life; the last thing was to leave all she and her husband had saved for the perpetuation of that good. The influence of a life so consecrated to the good of mankind does not lose it's power because one may die. It flows on and on, with it may be, not so intensive a force, but with ever-broadening waves, toward the shores of eternity.
work of Tolbert and Charlotte Fanning lives on today. The proceeds of the
sale of the property of Fanning Orphan School were put in trust. Today,
the Fanning Foundation still provides scholarships to Christian schools
for young women who have lost one or both parents. Today, in addition to
past contributions, Charlotte Fanning "...being dead, yet
speaks" (Heb. 11:4).
Murphy, Josephine. The Professor and His Lady. Nashville: Nashville, Tennessean Magazine, April 12, 1949.
Emma, ed. The Life Work of Mrs. Charlotte Fanning. Nashville: Gospel
Scobey, James, ed. Franklin
College and Its Influences. Rpt. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1954.
Wilburn, James R. The Hazard of
the Die, Tolbert Fanning and the Restoration Movement. Austin: Sweet,
M. Norvel. A History of Colleges Established and Controlled by Members of
the Churches of Christ. Kansas City: The Old Paths Book Club, 1949.
by Ancil Jenkins, Freed-Hardeman University, 2003 Lectures, c.2003. pages
Thanks - This article appeared in the 2003 Freed-Hardeman Lectureship in
Henderson, Tennessee. Ancil Jenkins researched, authored this text, and
presented an overview of Charlotte Fall Fanning's life in a lecture
during the February forum at F-HU. Jenkins is a church historian, and has
recently submitted articles to the Gospel Advocate on touring the sites of
the Restoration Movement. He has also authored a book on the life and work
of A.G. Freed. We use the above article with his permission, and extend to
him our gratitude for helping to bring the remembrance of this great
Christian woman to light.