The Greenville County Council for Community Development (GCCCD) originated in the mind of Bennette Eugene Geer (President of Furman University, 1933-38) as a grand experiment in adult education, curriculum development and community planning. His vision was to use the county, particularly the city of Greenville and the Parker School District, as a laboratory for the training of students who would become leaders in education, government, and social work. Out of that vision, the Council was established in 1936 to seek ways of coordinating the efforts of the many social welfare, educational, and recreational organizations and agencies then operating in the county. The General Education Board of New York City granted $80,000 toward this experiment in community development and planning. Furman University played a major role in the project, providing space on campus for headquarters and allowing several professors (including Gordon Blackwell and Laura Smith Ebaugh) to devote a major portion of their time to the project. In a slide show designed to elicit community support and participation, the GCCCD stated that their goal was to seek answers to two questions:
1. Will people give time to come together to plan how to meet the problems they face?
2. How can the resources of a college (faculty and students) contribute to the development of a community?
The Council was comprised of nearly 100 men and women representing several agencies, all geographic areas of the county, and various interests and age groups. The Council organized into committees to ask questions, study problems, and propose plans of action. Eight major committees formed: Economics and Government, Education, Interracial, Council of Social Agencies, Family Welfare, Child Welfare, Health, and Character Building. An Executive Committee represented the Council between meetings and provided ongoing supervision of finances, staff, committee personnel, and programs.
Over the period of the grant, GCCCD and Furman sociology students developed a number of major projects. One was to organize area citizen’s councils for five districts: Jordan, Mountain View, Greer, Welcome, and Simpsonville. Those councils developed programs addressing such issues as housing, sanitation, beautification, health, and recreation. The Jordan Council even developed a Farmers Cooperative A second major project involved studying housing conditions of African Americans. Students at the segregated black high school, Sterling, helped to conduct that study. A third area that received major attention was public health. With assistance from the state and the Works Progress Administration, three public health nurses were hired and assigned to districts with populations of approximately 2,000. The regular nursing load at that time was 10,000. The project nurses focused on eight areas:
1. Maternity and child health;
2. School health, including daily examinations;
3. Follow-up of hospital-clinical indigent cases with bedside care;
4. Communicable disease control (diphtheria, pneumonia, and malaria were major health threats);
5. Crippled children;
6. Extensive record-keeping;
7. Health education;
8. House to house health surveys.
The efforts of the GCCCD had some lasting impact in local communities. Overall, however, it was a progressive movement led by a progressive man at an essentially conservative institution with a highly conservative governing board. Alfred Sandlin Reid, in Furman University: Toward a New Identity, wrote:
Geer was ahead of his time by being a man of his times. He was clearly not a scholar, but he recognized an idea when he saw it, and he proceeded to implement the most ambitious, forward-looking program ever tried at Furman up to that time. ... If Geer was ahead of his time for Furman and Greenville, he was in tune with the most progressive thinking of the institute for Research in Social Science at Chapel Hill under Howard W. Odum, Rupert Vance, and later Gordon Blackwell, one of Geer's own staff members. He was also in tune with the most progressive pedagogical thinking at Teachers College, Columbia University, led by John Dewey and William Heard Kilpatrick, and with the most advanced thinking of the social gospel of the 1920s and 1930s. . . .Not for another thirty years would Furman rise to such educational prominence as it had under Geer." (pp. 98-99)