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Southwestern's 700-acre campus is located in historic Georgetown, Texas, on the edge of the Texas Hill Country and just north of Austin - the state capital.

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    spacer spacer  SOUTHWESTERN HISTORY spacer
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    Click the image below to engage our interactive timeline. Requires Flash.

    Southwestern University has a colorful past fraught with tales of intrigue, war and a nationally-ranked football team. SU first opened its doors in Georgetown in 1873, but its founding lies in the histories of four "root" institutions established earlier. Here's a brief look...

    The Letter
    It all began simply in 1835. The publisher of the New York Christian Advocate received a letter from the faraway Mexican colony of Texas. Written by 26-year-old Col. William B. Travis of the volunteer Texas army, the letter called for the establishment of a Methodist presence in the region where settlers were beginning to revolt against the government of Mexico.

    Fearing the political consequences of founding a foreign mission before tensions in Texas were resolved, Methodist Church leaders refrained from sending missionary preachers until 1837 when Texas became a sovereign republic. At that time, three missionaries were dispatched to Texas including Martin Ruter of Pennsylvania. Though Ruter would die just six months after arriving, his ideals, work and lobbying of the young republic's leaders certainly affected the beginnings of higher education in Texas.

    Rutersville College, 1840:
    Superstition & Other Vices
    Martin Ruter found Texas to be an unsettled region recovering from the ravages of war and surviving under the danger caused by enmity between settlers and Comanches. In a letter describing the area and its inhabitants, he wrote, "Texas is a country where darkness, ignorance and superstition have long held their dominie (sic). Profaneness, gaming and intemperance are prevailing vices against which we have to contend."

    Despite the challenges, Ruter's vision of a college came to fruition in 1840 with the founding of Rutersville College, six miles north of La Grange. Rutersville College struggled in its infancy, yet by 1844 the first six college graduates in the Republic of Texas completed their work there.

    But the situation would soon change. A scandal involving a Methodist local preacher, increasing financial troubles and resurgence of a public versus denominational debate combined to force interest in and support for Rutersville to wane. The college would close its doors by 1856.

    Wesleyan College, 1844:
    Murder & Escape to Mexico
    Due to bitter theological differences between local Presbyterians and Methodists, the East Texas town of San Augustine was the site of two institutions of higher learning in the mid-1840s. In 1844, area Methodists founded Wesleyan College in response to attacks from the town's Presbyterian preacher who also happened to be president of that denomination's San Augustine University. The rivalry spilled over to the two competing local papers, each firmly entrenched in opposing camps. The dispute eventually led to one editor killing the other and then fleeing to Mexico.

    Faced with financial difficulties, the Methodist Church's East Texas Conference, which sponsored Wesleyan College, soon discovered that the charter did not provide them with control of the institution's property. By 1847, Wesleyan College and San Augustine University were combined as the private University of Eastern Texas under state control and a non-denominational governing board. Though its three-year existence was brief and without much success, Wesleyan College assumed a place in the lore of Texas and in the heritage of Southwestern University.

    McKenzie College, 1848:
    Civil War Closes Peculiar Institution
    J.W.P. McKenzie, a former preacher, founded McKenzie Institute in the Red River County town of Clarksville in 1839. A shrewd businessman and strong Methodist, McKenzie ran the endeavor as a mutually dependent school and plantation, with the latter supporting the former.

    A symbol of the times in the South, the plantation was worked by slaves, and some patrons of the school even exchanged slave labor for their children's tuition.

    More than 3,300 students ranging from young pupils to college students attended McKenzie during its 26-year existence and at least 59 men received college degrees between the years 1845 through 1861.

    McKenzie made several attempts to bring the college, officially chartered by the state in 1848, under East Texas Conference sponsorship once the school became well established and fiscally sound. Although McKenzie retained financial control for another seven years, the Civil War effectively led the school to close.

    Soule University, 1856:
    Yellow Fever & Mood's Arrival
    In 1854, the state changed the charter of the non- denominational Chappell Hill Male and Female College near Brenham, allowing its trustees to transfer control "to any denomination of Christians they may think proper."

    Having lost interest in Rutersville College, the Texas Conference of the Methodist Church was seeking such an enterprise when it met and decided to found a new Methodist institution. The school would be named "Soule University" after Bishop Joshua Soule of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Chappell Hill was selected as the site.

    From its opening, Soule experienced deep financial problems which dogged it until its closing in 1887. Despite insolvency, Soule's Board of Trustees carried out plans to open a medical department -- the first in Texas -- as soon as the war ended in 1865.

    Adding to Soule's misfortune, another epidemic of yellow fever spread across Texas. As with Southwestern's three other root institutions, events of social and natural cataclysm stood in the way of survival.

    In 1868, Francis Asbury Mood, a teacher at the South Carolina State Normal School, agreed to a second request from Soule's board to become the university's president. The path of higher education in Texas would forever be changed by the ideals and actions of Mood soon after he arrived.

    A Union
    Mood found an institution in disarray and the hope for a central Methodist university in the state dying fast. He quickly formulated a plan requesting all five Texas Methodist conferences to sponsor and support one central institution. Securing approval from all the conferences, Mood was elected president of the new institution which would become Southwestern. Georgetown was selected as the site in 1872. Two years after opening its doors as Texas University in 1873, the institution's Union Charter was granted by the State of Texas in 1875 under the name Southwestern University. The original name, Texas University, was relinquished to the state.

    SU's claim as "Texas' First University" is based on its February 7, 1875, Union Charter. The charter says, "That the right to confer degrees, regular and honorary, in the arts and sciences, heretofore conveyed through the Legislature of the State of Texas in the charters of Rutersville College (1840), Rutersville; Wesleyan College (1844), San Augustine; Soule University (1856), Chappell Hill; and to McKenzie College (1848), Clarksville, Red River County; are hereby transferred and perpetuated and retained to said Curators: and the graduates of said colleges and University shall be entitled to all the literary privileges and honors inuring to other graduates of Southwestern University."

    1873-1937:
    Helen Keller, Yeats & Financial Decline
    SU emerged over the next several decades as the central Methodist college in Texas. Along the way, the University saw several firsts: it beat UT-Austin in the first college baseball game played in the state; three of the first five Rhodes Scholars in Texas were SU graduates; and the Southwestern Magazine, the first student literary journal in the state, was founded. Southwestern's Medical Department in Dallas was established in 1903. Ghost stories about the Cullen Building (1900) and Mood-Bridwell Hall (1908) began to spread soon after their construction. Legendary folklorist and author J. Frank Dobie graduated in 1910 and went on to national acclaim.

    By 1909, cities in the state such as Dallas and Fort Worth had grown to the point where they tried to lure SU from Georgetown. Instead, political infighting among Methodists and civic leaders led to the establishment of what would become Southern Methodist University in Dallas. SU's president, Dr. Robert Stewart Hyer, resigned to head the new university.

    In 1915, Laura Kuykendall, Dean of Women, began the annual May Fete, a springtime celebration that would attract trainloads of visitors through the 1930s. While renowned figures such as Helen Keller, Jacob Riis, William Jennings Bryan and William Butler Yeats visited campus during this era, the establishment of SMU and competition from other colleges around the state marked the beginning of a difficult era for Southwestern. World War I soon left very few men on campus, lowering enrollment. The original women's residence hall burned down in 1925, forcing women to live in Mood Hall for two years. Men found lodging in private homes around Georgetown.

    Though SU struggled with enrollment and finances through the 1920s and 1930s, there were bright spots. During the Depression, the campus community came together as never before: without money, families and students wrote promissory notes for tuition and faculty were paid with scrip. Faculty families ate their meals with students in campus dining halls. In 1937, with its doors about to close, SU was saved from financial ruin by Elizabeth Carothers Wiess, a Houston benefactor.

    1937-1950:
    Survival & Gridiron Glory
    The first approved, all-school dance was held on campus in 1941. World War II brought prosperity to SU when the War Department selected it as a site for a Navy officers training program (V-12). Assigned among the SU midshipmen were some of the best football players from Baylor, UT-Austin, TCU, SMU, Rice and Oklahoma. By the fall of 1943, the "Immortal 36" -- as they became known -- terrorized other teams with achievements such as beating UT in Austin. The Pirates went on to win the Sun Bowl in 1944 and 1945.

    In this period, the faculty included several scholars who had fled their homes in war-torn Europe. A number remained at SU for many years.

    1950-Present:
    Liberal Arts Focus, Growth & Revival
    The 1950s marked the beginning of what would become the modern SU campus, located around a central academic mall. It was also a time when Southwestern began to become the liberal arts and sciences college that it is today. The few graduate degrees it offered at the time were dropped. Actor Jerry Wayne Hardin, Class of 1951, became the first student to receive a Fulbright-Hays scholarship. Mandatory chapel and assembly attendance for students became a thing of the past in the fall of 1966.

    As SU's reputation grew, so did its enrollment through the 1960s and 1970s, up to 1,000 students by 1978. The annual Brown Symposium was established in 1977. By the early 1980s, the name "Southwestern University" began to appear in national college guidebooks. In 1988, US News & World Report named SU as the top regional liberal arts college in the nation. US News & World Report has since included Southwestern among its more competitive "National Liberal Arts College" category. Southwestern is currently ranked as the top national liberal arts college in Texas and the Southwest.

    SU's annual London Semester Abroad started in 1985, sparking growth in the University's study abroad offerings. In 1990, the Board of Trustees voted to discontinue offering athletic scholarships, moving SU to Division III of the NCAA where it competes in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference.

    The past decade has seen enrollment increase to 1,200, with a student body from approximately 30 states and 20 nations. While SU maintains its historic affiliation with The United Methodist Church, many religious denominations are represented. In April of 1994, SU left behind its ranking among 470 regional liberal arts colleges when the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching promoted Southwestern to classification among 164 national liberal arts colleges. A chapter of Phi Beta Kappa was installed in March, 1995.

    To learn more about SU's past, visit the A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center. Another resource is the book, Southwestern University 1840-1961, by Ralph Wood Jones.


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     Southwestern University  1001 E University  Georgetown, TX 78626  512-863-6511  Fax 512-863-5788
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