Marshall McIlhany, Methodist minister, teacher, and principal of high schools and president of colleges in Missouri and Texas, son of Mortimer McIlhany and Mary Ann (Washington) McIlhany, was born on January 4, 1837, at Rosewood, a family home near Hillsboro, Virginia. His ancestry traces to James McIlhany, a major in the Revolutionary War. His mother was the daughter of Edward and Betsy Hugh Washington, and her father Edward was a cousin of Gen. George Washington.
The family moved to Missouri in 1849 and first lived in Monroe County, where they were listed on the 1850 census, and then Montgomery County. Marshall McIlhany was home-schooled by his older brother John McIlhany and in 1856 enrolled for one year in Howard High School in Fayette, Missouri. No evidence has surfaced that he subsequently obtained other formal education. After his year of study, he taught school in Montgomery County, Missouri, and in 1858 traveled with an expedition to Pike’s Peak in the Rocky Mountains.
In 1859 he studied law but was listed as a school teacher in Danville, Montgomery County, Missouri, on the 1860 census. He soon developed an interest in ministry and in 1861 was admitted into the Missouri Conference in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. During the Civil War he was listed as a “preacher” on Montgomery County draft registration records and apparently traveled a circuit throughout the area. From 1866 to 1870 McIlhany was principal of the Palmyra (Missouri) Female Seminary. During this time, in 1869, he was also a traveling preacher and an elected and ordained elder. McIlhany subsequently served for five years as principal of the Monticello Seminary in Lewis County, Missouri, and from 1876 to 1878 was president of Central Female College in Lexington, Missouri.
McIlhany moved to Texas in 1879 and during 1880 and 1881 was president of Dallas Female College. He was principal of Stephenville High School in Stephenville, Texas, from 1883 to 1885 and president of Centenary College in Lampasas, Texas, from 1886 to 1887. He resigned sometime before mid-November 1887. In 1890 McIlhany was president of Marble Falls Industrial College at Marble Falls but apparently returned to Centenary College as president in 1892. He was appointed president of Stephenville College in 1893, but the institution went bankrupt and was sold at public auction on March 5, 1895.
John Tarleton died on September 11, 1895, and left part of his estate—mostly property—to be sold to “erect, endow and maintain” The John Tarleton College. Texas Governor Charles Allen Culberson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction James McCoy Carlisle and Erath County Judge Thomas B. King were named as trustees. On March 12, 1896, they appointed McIlhany principal, instructed him to open the college on September 7, 1896, and pay himself from tuition because the Tarleton estate lacked sufficient cash on hand. On July 3, 1897, trustees unanimously “continued” McIlhany “as President of College on same terms as year 1896–1897.” On January 11, 1898, to assist in local management of the college, trustees established a board of directors in Stephenville that re-elected McIlhany in February 1898, but trustees declined to ratify that action. On March 22, 1898, trustees Culberson and Carlisle elected William Herschel Bruce as second president of The John Tarleton College, and McIlhany left Stephenville that summer. From 1898 to 1903 he served as the first president of Goodnight College, near Goodnight, Texas.
Marshall McIlhany moved to Artesia, New Mexico, in 1906 and incorporated Artesia College on July 27, 1906. An account of the school’s operations appeared in the September 1, 1907, edition of the Artesia Advocate in an article titled “Artesia College Opens,” which reported that “24 acting pupils” were enrolled. McIlhany announced on January 16, 1908, in the Pecos Valley News, the spring term would “commence about the first week in February.” However, Artesia College apparently shut down in early 1908 due to low enrollment and lack of funding. An article published in the August 22, 1908, edition of the Artesia Advocate stated that the Artesia School Board “rented the college building for several months,” and that “pupils of the High School and 8th grade will attend until the new high school is finally erected.”
Marshall McIlhany married Anna Mary Blackwell on November 22, 1860; she died in 1865. They had one child. On March 6, 1867, he married Virginia Catherine Johnston; she died in 1870. The couple had two children. On June 10, 1874, McIlhany married Lucy Turner Plant. They had twelve children. Two children, Henry (Harry) Johnston McIlhany and Ann (Annie) Mary McIlhany, were teachers at The John Tarleton College.
Marshall McIlhany died on June 9, 1910, in Artesia, New Mexico, and was buried there in Woodbine Cemetery. A June 11, 1910, obituary in the Artesia Advocate identified him as an educator, that he succumbed to apoplexy, and was “one of the most noted educators in the Southwest.”