Dallas Baptist University, in the southwest Oak Cliff section of Dallas, is the modern successor to Decatur Baptist College, originally named Northwest Texas Baptist College, which was founded in 1891 by the Northwest Texas Baptist Association. Decatur was chosen as the site for the school because of its central location, because of its "healthful and invigorating" climate, and because local Wise County citizens donated the land and pledged a $15,000 endowment. The classes of 1892–93 met in rented rooms in the old Opera House on East Main Street in Decatur. After the dedication on September 6, 1893, the college officially moved to the newly constructed administration building, three-fourths of a mile south of the Decatur courthouse. Three years later several of the churches that had pledged financial support failed to meet their obligations, and the college was sold at auction for $13,000 to pay off the creditors. In 1897 the Baptist General Convention of Texas purchased the property for $7,000 and changed the name of the institution to Decatur Baptist College. From 1898 to 1965 Decatur Baptist College operated as a church-affiliated coeducational junior college to prepare students for Baylor University. It was controlled by a board of trustees elected by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Financial support was based on a $20,000 endowment and a $10,000 annual contribution from the Baptist Executive Board, supplemented by private donations and by the fees collected for tuition and board. Decatur Baptist College was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and by the Texas Education Agency and was a member of such organizations as the Texas Junior College Association and the American Association of Junior Colleges. The policy of Decatur Baptist College was "distinctly Christian and unswervingly Baptistic," and students were expected to attend church services and chapel regularly. Two Bible courses were required for graduation. By 1959 the college offered courses in fine arts, business, languages, and vocational training as well as religion. Decatur Baptist College typically employed twelve faculty members and enrolled an average of 150 students, most of whom came from within a fifty-mile radius of Decatur. Of Decatur Baptist College's six presidents J. L. Ward, who held the office from 1900 to 1907 and 1914 to 1950, was most influential in the development and expansion of the institution. During his forty-three years as president, Reverend Ward worked to increase enrollment and to establish a firm financial foundation for the school. By 1958 Decatur Baptist College claimed the distinction of being the oldest junior college in the world and possessed property valued at $250,000. In 1965 the college was moved to its present location in Dallas, its name was changed to Dallas Baptist College, and in 1968 it became a four-year institution. It gave its first baccalaureate degrees in 1970. The college was renamed Dallas Baptist University on January 1, 1985, and began offering graduate degrees in education, religion, and business administration. The Decatur property was purchased at auction by a local resident, Coke L. Gage, who donated the administration building and one acre of land to the Wise County Historical Association. The building houses the Wise County Heritage Museum and provides auditorium facilities for the local Little Theater group. In the fall of 2000, enrollment at Dallas Baptist University was 4,032. In the spring of the following year, construction of the Tom and Alicia Landry Welcome Center, commemorating the longtime coach of the Dallas Cowboys and his widow, was underway.
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Decatur Baptist College Catalogue, 60th Anniversary ed., 1948–59. Rosalie Gregg, ed., Wise County History (Vol. 1, n.p: Nortex, 1975; Vol. 2, Austin: Eakin, 1982). Mary Cates Moore, Centennial History of Wise County (Dallas: Story Book, 1953).
Private Four-Year Colleges and Universities
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
B. Jane England,
“Dallas Baptist University,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 11, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
April 8, 2002
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