Inez Abernethy: Florida Female College Heroine

Born in Summerville, Arkansas in 1873, Inez Abernethy (or Abernathy) was the head of the Art Department at Florida Female College and Florida State College for Women from 1905 to 1914.  She received her training at the Art Academy in Cincinnati, Ohio and then studied in Europe from 1896 to 1898.  Between 1900 and 1903, she exhibited twice at the Salon Des Artiste Francais, and by invitation at the Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia, and at the National Academy of Design in New York City.  At various times she taught, and the year before taking her post at Florida Female College, she was an instructor in drawing and painting at the Summer School of the South in Knoxville, Tennessee.

When she accepted the position as instructor in painting and drawing at Florida Female College in August 1905, she was informed by President Albert A. Murphree that the art equipment at the College was meager and inadequate.  As a result, Abernethy brought her own collection of casts, models, drawings and oil paintings, which were used freely by her students.

On December 22, 1906, when West Hall caught fire, Abernethy was serving as the faculty resident or matron on the second floor.  When she learned of the fire, she sounded the alarm and worked tirelessly to wake the girls and get them to safety.  Unfortunately, West Hall burned to the ground, and with it, her collection of materials in the Art Studio was also lost.

In the years after the fire, Abernethy and Murphree petitioned the State Legislature to compensate her for her losses.  In 1909, the State reimbursed Abernethy for the amount of $2,500, half of the amount that she had requested for her lost art materials.  In the same act that granted her these funds, she was recognized for her heroism during the disaster: “there being no man on the campus at the time,” because of “her efforts to save the lives of the girls sleeping in that building, [she] deliberately sacrificed her collection, which she otherwise could have saved.”

Florida State College for Women Art Class, circa 1910-1911

During her tenure at FFC and FSCW, she also served on the the Pan-Hellenic Council and as faculty sponsor for Kappa Delta Sorority.  She left the school in 1914 and moved to New York City where she went on to a successful career as an internationally acclaimed painter.  From October 1935 to January 1939, she was employed in the Easel Division of the Federal Art Project, the visual arts department of the New Deal WPA.  According to an article in a 1941 Flambeau, Abernethy was responsible for the two companion paintings, “May” and “October”, which were then on display in Reynolds Hall.  She died in New York City on January 8, 1956 and is buried at Oakland Cemetery in Warren, Arkansas.

One thought on “Inez Abernethy: Florida Female College Heroine

  1. Thank you for posting such a wonderful biography on Nez! Please keep me posted on any new information!!!!

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