Kidd-Key, Lucy Ann Thornton (1839–1916)

By: Judith N. McArthur

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: September 1, 1995

Lucy Ann Kidd–Key, music college administrator, was born in Kentucky in 1839. She was the daughter of Willis Strother and Esther (Stevens) Thornton. As a descendent of two old Southern families, she received a genteel education in the classics and fine arts at Georgetown, Kentucky, and married Dr. Henry Byrd Kidd of Yazoo, Mississippi. Financial reverses caused by the Civil War and the prolonged invalidism and death of her husband in 1876 or 1877 left her in debt and responsible for the support of three children. She took a job as assistant principal at a Kentucky girls' school and was presiding teacher of Whitworth College in Brookhaven, Mississippi, for ten years.

Her experience led Bishop G. D. Galloway to nominate her before the Southern Methodist Conference for the presidency of North Texas Female College in Sherman. The college was in debt and had been closed for two years when Mrs. Kidd arrived in Sherman in July 1888. She spent the remainder of the summer traveling in Texas and Indian Territory, canvassing at Methodist conferences for money and students. The college had no endowment, and its later record of financial stability reflected her astute management. She reopened the college in the fall with 100 students and watched the enrollment grow to a peak of 521 in 1908. By the beginning of her second year in office the college was able to purchase property adjoining the campus, thus beginning an extensive building and expansion program that continued throughout her tenure. Meanwhile, she married Methodist bishop Joseph S. Key in 1892 and was known thereafter as Mrs. Kidd–Key.

She devoted equal effort to enhancing the college's academic reputation. Under her direction North Texas Female College became the most renowned women's college in the Southwest, noted especially for its curriculum in the fine arts. She so expanded the music department that by 1893 the school had become North Texas Female College and Kidd–Key Conservatory of Music, and she traveled extensively in Europe and the United States to recruit distinguished musicians for the faculty.

Since she was a Southern lady of the old school, Mrs. Kidd–Key insisted on strict standards of propriety for her young women: they were chaperoned on visits to town, outgoing mail was subject to presidential inspection, and church attendance was mandatory. She admonished the students to be devout and ladylike and to cherish their future duties as wives and mothers above all other pursuits. She continued to direct the college until her death on September 13, 1916. The institution was renamed Kidd–Key College in her honor three years later.

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Ruth O. Domatti, "A History of Kidd-Key College," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 63 (October 1959). Sherman Democrat, September 13, 1916.
  • Education
  • University Presidents and School Administrators
  • Women

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Judith N. McArthur, “Kidd-Key, Lucy Ann Thornton,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995

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