Julia Tarrant Barron (1805- 1890) played an important role in Alabama Baptist history. She was born in South Carolina but moved with her family to the Alabama Territory at a young age. In 1828 she married William Barron, a prosperous businessman in Perry County. About a year later, Julia gave birth to their only son, John Thomas Barron. William died in 1832, leaving Julia with a large estate.
Julia became one of the wealthiest women in Marion. She was well respected among the community and a prominent member of Siloam Baptist Church.Although little is actually known of Julia's specific church work, in 1840 Hosea Holcomb, a Baptist Historian, described the women of Siloam Baptist Church as, “precious ones of the earth—such as an Apostle would commend: they follow Jesus, ministering unto him—and ‘have been succourers of many, and of myself also.‘”
In 1838 Julia invited General E. D. King and other Baptist leaders to her home to discuss organizing a Baptist school for young ladies. That year,she rented a building for the school and invited the newly elected school president Dr. Milo P. Jewett and his wife to stay with her free of charge. The school opened as the Judson Female Institute in 1839 with Julia’s son, John Thomas, enrolled as one of the “young ladies.”
In 1841, James H. DeVotie, the pastor at Siloam Baptist Church, is believed to have discussed the idea of starting a college for men with Julia and other Baptist leaders. Although the specifics of her role in the founding of Howard College is not known, she is believed to have taken part in recruiting Samuel Sterling Sherman as the college’s first president and is credited with being at the head of the donors list. The Alabama Baptist, a newspaper she co-founded, credits her as being the first donor to the new school.
Julia’s son John Thomas became one of the original 9 students to attend Howard College and was the first to graduate from the school in 1848. After graduation, he became a physician in Marion and continued to support Howard as a patron and a trustee. When the campus was destroyed by fire in 1854, J. T. Barron was listed on the roster of contributors as donating $2,000. However, tradition says it was Julia Barron who gave the land for the school to be rebuilt.
During his presidency at Howard College, Dr. John C. Dawson asked Julia’s granddaughter, Olive Barron Becker, to paint Julia's portrait for the school. The portrait now resides in the Special Collection department at the Samford University Library. It was presented to Howard College, now Samford University, in December 1945. In February 1946 an unveiling ceremony was held in Reid Chapel to commemorate Julia Barron’s significant role in the history of Alabama Baptists and the University.
- Special Collection's Treasure Chest 2011