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Central Tennessee College operated from 1870 to 1900 under John Braden, a union army chaplain. By 1874, the school’s two hundred and forty pupils studied grammar, secondary, and normal (classical and teacher training) subjects. The school began to issue college degrees during Braden’s presidency at the school. In 1876 Central Tennessee College added the Meharry Medical Department. The head of the department was Dr. George Whipple Hubbard, a teacher for the Pittsburgh Freedman’s Aid Commission and former principal of Nashville’s first African American public school, Bellview.
During the 1880s, Central Tennessee College grew rapidly and added several new departments: law (1877–1882), industrial art (1885), dentistry (1886), and pharmacy (1889). The institution expanded its female and industrial education opportunities, adding a nursing department in 1892. Young female students could learn domestic science in sewing, cooking, and home economics courses. In 1895 the students mounted a minor rebellion when they demanded more black faculty members, but they ended their protest out of respect to President Braden’s lifelong devotion to freedmen’s education.