McKenzie College

By: B. E. Masters

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: July 31, 2020

McKenzie College, three miles southwest of Clarksville, Red River County, was organized by John W. P. McKenzie in 1841 in a log cabin. The original enrollment was sixteen, and growth was slow. Until 1846 the school offered high school work only. In 1848 the institution was chartered as McKenzie Institute, and progress was accelerated. By 1854 it had 300 students and nine faculty members. The college had an administration building and three dormitories, two for boys and one for girls. Its equipment was considered first-class, and the library probably had between 2,000 and 3,000 volumes. About half of the students came from the Red River area, 40 percent came from other sections of Texas, and 10 percent from Louisiana and Arkansas. Tuition, board, room, and laundry cost $180 for ten months. Private piano lessons were $60 a term. Sometimes the tuition was paid with produce or with the horse and saddle the student had used to reach the school. The school had compulsory prayers at 4 A.M. and compulsory chapel attendance; it afforded varied social contacts and stimulation from the personality of McKenzie, and students were said to return home reluctantly at the end of the ten-month session. Both B.A. and M.A. degrees were granted in 1860. McKenzie College, for several years the largest college in Texas, was always a Methodist institution, although it was actually controlled by the Methodist conference for one year only. It trained almost all of the Texas Methodist ministers of the period. McKenzie deeded the school to the church in 1855 but on conditions that the conference could not fulfill. Again in 1860 he made a conditional deed of the property to the conference. By the summer of 1861 most of the student body had gone into the Confederate Army, and the church returned the property to McKenzie. The school adapted itself to the times by offering military drill to students. In 1863 enrollment dropped to thirty-three, and the average enrollment from 1864 to 1867 was seventy-four. McKenzie and his son-in-law, Smith Ragsdale, no longer able to keep the school independent financially, closed it on June 25, 1868.

B. E. Masters, A History of Early Education in Northeast Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1929).

  • Education
  • Defunct Colleges and Universities
  • Religion
  • Methodist
Time Periods:
  • Republic of Texas

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

B. E. Masters, “McKenzie College,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 31, 2020