HARDIN-SIMMONS UNIVERSITY. Hardin-Simmons University, in Abilene, was established in 1891 by the Sweetwater Baptist Association. The original name, Abilene Baptist College, was changed in 1892 to Simmons College, in honor of James B. Simmons, the first large donor, whose contribution provided for the construction of the first campus building. The name was changed again in 1925 to Simmons University and finally in 1934 to Hardin-Simmons University, in honor of Mary and John G. Hardin, also important donors.
For the first decade the coeducational institution operated as an academy, teaching high school subjects to the majority of its students. Between 1902 and 1909, under the presidency of Oscar Henry Cooper, three additional years of study were added to the curriculum, allowing the school to offer the bachelor's degree in several areas. As enrollment grew in the first half of the twentieth century, so did the physical plant and course offerings. The first graduate program was introduced in 1926, and in the mid-1980s Hardin-Simmons had a master's degree program in six fields. Hardin-Simmons has been accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools since 1927. Jefferson Davis Sandefer was president from 1909 to 1940 and was succeeded by Rupert N. Richardson. Since 1940 the university has been under the control of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
From the end of World War II to the 1980s, annual enrollment stayed at around 2,000 students. In the 1960s President Elwin L. Skiles launched a multimillion-dollar building campaign that produced a new library, a science center, and a physical education and health complex. The new library facilities serve both undergraduate and graduate students with approximately 300,000 items and several special collections. Jesse C. Fletcher succeeded Skiles as president and continued the expansion. Fletcher also restructured the university into schools, including, in addition to the Graduate School, schools of art and science, business and finance, education, music, nursing, and theology. In 2001 the university offered more than fifty majors and was divided into the College of Liberal Arts, the School of Sciences and Mathematics, the School of Business, the School of Education, the School of Music (the first such school in Texas to gain national accreditation), the School of Theology, and the Graduate School.
From the beginning Hardin-Simmons has maintained a western tradition. The Cowboy Band was formed shortly after World War I and has performed around the world. The athletic teams are called the Cowboys and Cowgirls. The names of the student newspaper and other publications carry on this western motif. Before football was discontinued in the 1960s, the university had compiled a national record of victories surpassed by only one other college. In the 1980s, Hardin-Simmons athletic teams participated in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The men competed in six sports and the women in five. Hardin-Simmons had 101 faculty and 2,304 students in the fall of 2000, when Lanny Hall was president of the university.
R. C. Crane, "The Beginning of Hardin-Simmons University," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 16 (1940). Rupert N. Richardson, Famous Are Thy Halls: Hardin-Simmons University As I Have Known It (Abilene, Texas, 1964; 2d ed. 1976).