James McCoy Carlisle, teacher, administrator, and state public education official, was born on May 11, 1851, at Beech Grove, Coffee County, Tennessee, to James M. and Mary (Bird) Carlisle, Sr. Since his father was a farmer, Carlisle attended public schools only when possible. He entered Beech Grove College in Tennessee at the age of sixteen, attended sporadically until 1876, and graduated with an A.B. degree. During this time he also taught school, farmed, and spent a year studying at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee. Following his graduation from Beech Grove, Carlisle taught school in Tennessee. He received an honorary A.M. degree from Emory College in Oxford, Georgia, in 1879 and later an honorary doctorate from the University of Nashville.
In 1880 he moved to Grayson County, Texas, and established a private school that was soon consolidated with the public schools in the area to form the Whitesboro Normal School. Carlisle served as superintendent of the institution until 1887, when he was named superintendent of the Corsicana public school system. He held this post for two years, during which time he also served for a year as bookkeeper of the City National Bank in Corsicana. In 1890 he was hired as superintendent of the Fort Worth public schools. On August 29, 1891, Governor James S. Hogg appointed him state superintendent of public instruction. Carlisle was elected three times thereafter and remained in office from September 15, 1891, to January 10, 1899. He did not seek reelection, evidently because of a scandal. It was charged that his teaching certificate was based on an honorary degree; therefore, some claimed that he was unqualified for the job.
After retiring from the position of state superintendent, he resumed teaching and opened a private school in Hillsboro. In 1901 he established the Carlisle Military Academy in Arlington. He remained at the school until 1913, when the judgment in a lawsuit, J. M. Thompson v. Carlisle Military Academy, forced him to abandon the school because he was unable to meet his financial obligations. He left Arlington and reestablished Carlisle Military Academy in an old college building at Whitewright, Grayson County. After several years Carlisle moved on and taught in Terrell for a short time before becoming the superintendent at Rock Springs. After a year in that job he retired and returned to Arlington. He suffered a paralytic stroke in 1921 and died on July 14, 1922. State officials ordered the flag to be flown at half-mast over the capitol. In addition to his administrative duties within the schools, Carlisle also helped organize and later served as the president of the Texas State Teachers Association. He was a Mason and a Presbyterian. He was married in January 1878 to Mary E. Anderson, and they had two children. Although some claimed that he was lacking in ability as a financier, many others stated that he was decades ahead of his time in his progressive thinking.
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Lewis E. Daniell, Personnel of the Texas State Government, with Sketches of Representative Men of Texas (Austin: City Printing, 1887; 3d ed., San Antonio: Maverick, 1892). Junia Evans Hudspeth, A History of North Texas Agricultural College (M.A. thesis, Southern Methodist University, 1935).
Founders and Pioneers
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Carlisle, James McCoy,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 20, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
December 1, 1994