Thomas S. Gathright, first president of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University), was born on January 5, 1829, in Monroe County, Georgia. He first taught at Mount Hebron, Alabama, in 1850. He operated a private school for boys called Summerville Institute in Gholson County, Mississippi, from 1854 until 1876. Gathright avoided service in the Confederate Army by claiming poor health, family responsibilities, and professional duties, which included providing a free education for the children of indigent soldiers. He was appointed superintendent of public instruction in Mississippi on April 3, 1876.
On October 4, 1876, having been recommended by Jefferson Davis, he became the first president of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. In 1878 the board of directors increased Gathright's duties to include the steward's responsibilities and the presidency of an A&M sponsored college for Blacks (later Prairie View A&M); this first effort under Gathright failed. In 1879 the entire administration was dismissed. Subsequently, Gathright served as the president of Henderson Male and Female College until his death, on May 24, 1880. Gathright is buried in the city cemetery in Henderson.