Lamar University originated as South Park Junior College. On March 23, 1923, the South Park Independent School District in Beaumont instructed Superintendent L. R. Pietzch to develop plans for "a Junior college of the first class." South Park Junior College opened on September 17, 1923, with an enrollment of 125 students and a faculty of fourteen. Classes were held on the third floor of the new South Park High School. Pietzch served as president of the college, and Carl W. Bingman was named dean of the college and principal of the high school.
In 1932 the name of the institution was changed to Lamar College, in honor of Mirabeau B. Lamar, second president of the Republic of Texas. A building program begun in 1933 gave the college almost entirely separate facilities. The Lamar Union Junior College District was established in 1940, and Lamar College was separated from the South Park district. Bonds for construction of a new campus were approved, and in June 1942 classes were held on the present campus on the Port Arthur highway, three blocks east of South Park High School. John E. Gray was named president of the college.
Enrollment increased rapidly after World War II, and a movement was launched to make Lamar a four-year institution. In June 1949 the Texas legislature passed a bill approving Lamar State College of Technology, effective on September 1, 1951. The bill specified that Lamar would emphasize engineering, technology, and science, but left to the board of regents discretionary authority to establish whatever educational programs were deemed proper. Under the leadership of Dr. F. L. McDonald, president from 1952 until his death in 1967, Lamar expanded rapidly. Enrollment increased to 9,000 students, twenty-five additional buildings were constructed, and many new academic programs were begun. Graduate work was authorized in 1960, when master's degrees were offered in several fields. The doctorate of engineering was authorized in 1971. That same year the Texas legislature changed the institution's status, and on August 23, 1971, Lamar State College of Technology officially became Lamar University.
In 1969 an extension center opened in Orange, and another opened in 1975 when the private Port Arthur College became Lamar University at Port Arthur. The Lamar University System, consisting of Lamar University–Beaumont, Lamar University at Orange, Lamar University at Port Arthur, and the John Gray Institute, a privately funded, state-operated, nonprofit research center located on the southern edge of the Beaumont campus, was established by the legislature in August 1983.
Ten years later, in 1993, a critical state management control audit led to a proposal to merge Lamar University into the Texas State University System. The transfer became official in 1995, with the campuses in Orange and Port Arthur and the university's Institute of Technology, founded in Beaumont in 1990, becoming separate components of the system. In 1999 they became known as Lamar State College–Orange, Lamar State College–Port Arthur, and the Lamar Institute of Technology. James M. Simmons became president of Lamar University in September of that year. In the fall of 1998 the Lamar University faculty numbered 423 and student enrollment was 8,241.
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Ray Asbury, The South Park Story, 1891–1971, and the Founding of Lamar University, 1923–1941 (Beaumont: South Park Historical Committee, 1972). E. E. Hutchinson, History of Lamar College (M.A. thesis, Texas College of Arts and Industries, 1938). Marvin Louis McLaughlin, Reflections on the Philosophy and Practices of Lamar State College of Technology as Shown Through Its History (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Houston, 1955). Joe Ben Welch, A History of the Growth and Development of Lamar University (Ph.D. dissertation, McNeese State University, 1974).
Public Four-Year Colleges and Universities
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Ralph A. Wooster,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 15, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
April 18, 2018