Quitman College: “Looking Back”

This past weekend, our road trip included a stop at Quitman Fest. It was while we were driving through this small town on Highway 25, which straddles both Faulkner and Cleburne counties, that we turned onto College Street, a street that runs north and south from the downtown area.

Yes, there was once a college in Quitman. The Quitman Male and Female College, usually called Quitman College, was chartered in 1871, the first Methodist educational institution established in Arkansas. It was founded 20 years before Hendrix College under the auspices of the Arkansas Conference, Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

At first the college was a two-story building containing all departments, but then a half-acre was donated by Jesse Witt, one of Quitman’s first settlers and the first postmaster. In 1881, a two-story annex with a chapel and a tall steeple was erected and furnished. There was also a president’s home.

Quitman College became one of the leading colleges in the state during the two decades that it was in operation. Rev. P.A. Moses was the first president, serving from 1871 to 1875. Other presidents were Rev. James A. Peebles, Rev. Jerome Haralson, Rev. W.A. Rogers, Rev. S.H. Babcock, Prof. Robert W. Douthtat, Rev. O.H. Tucker, and Rev. Frank Barrett.

In 1887, the Arkansas Conference tried to close the Quitman College, but the Quitman community rallied around it. Soon after, the college enlarged its faculty and built a three-story brick building on a new 15-acre campus while the trustees created a $50,000 endowment.

Work began on the three-story brick building, constructed on donated property, in 1890. It was completed in fall of 1892. The first three grades were retained in the old building. Enrollment that year was 144 students—80 males and 64 females—in this new building located one-fourth mile south of town.

The school, with the motto “Truth and Virture,” offered courses of study leading to A.B., A.M., Ph.B. and M.E.L. degrees. A.B. students could obtain an A.M. degree after three years of professional or literary life. A Ph.B. degree required completion of Moral Philosophy, English Language and Literature, Mathematics, Natural Science and Latin. An M.E.L. degree also included these fields of study. Sons and daughters of Methodist ministers could attend free of charge.

Classes were co-educational; there was no separate course of study for the young ladies. Young ladies were to be educated equally alongside the young men. It was part of the philosophy of the school that the new age demanded that young women be educated beyond “a few elementary principles” and that they must possess more than just a few arbitrary accomplishments.

Each student was required to attend daily prayers in the college chapel, Sunday school and church meeting every Sunday morning and evening. They were to conduct themselves properly with no loitering, disorderly conduct or consumption of alcohol or tobacco products. No communication between young ladies and young gentlemen was allowed without the president’s consent or written permission from a parent or guardian.

The building of the Little Rock to Fort Smith Railroad thirty miles away is said to be one of the main reasons that this college declined. The other major factor which finally forced Quitman College to close its doors was funding. The financial recessions in the 1890s along with loss of funding from the Arkansas Conference caused the college to go deeply in debt.

Quitman College closed in 1898; its students were absorbed by Hendrix, then located at Altus, and Galloway Women’s College in Searcy. Galloway and Hendrix merged in 1933. The elegant three-story Quitman College building was used as a high school until 1938 when it was torn away to make room for a gymnasium.

Photo Caption: The Quitman Male and Female College, established in 1871, was housed in this three-story building from 1892 until it closed in 1898. Its students were absorbed into Hendrix at Altus and Galloway Women’s College at Searcy. Those two colleges merged in Conway in 1933.

Photo Credit: Encyclopedia of Arkansas, courtesy of United Methodist Archives

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

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