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Presbyterian Education

Michael Nelson Miller General Entry

A hallmark of the Reformed faith is a commitment to education. Presbyterians began work in primary education before the Texas Revolution. Presbyterian colonists built schools at Columbia and Gonzales, and Rev. P. H. Fullenwider taught in Stephen F. Austin's colony in 1834–35. In 1840 Rev. Francis Rutherford became president of the Velasco Institute near the mouth of the Brazos River. Hugh Wilson, a graduate of Princeton University (1819) and Princeton Seminary (1821), built a school at Gay Hill near his church, Prospect Presbyterian, the second oldest in the state. Rev. James W. Miller took over from Wilson and developed a women's school with a strong faculty, some of whom later founded Austin College. Emphasis on education was a major part of Presbyterian evangelism in the nineteenth century. The Presbyterian Pan American School of Kingsville is the present-day result of those efforts. Bilingual education work began in 1839, when William Cochran Blair organized a college designed to attract Spanish-speaking students from Texas and Mexico. Aranama College, promoted as "the college of the West," opened in 1851 and closed near the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1854 a remarkable woman named Melinda Rankin opened the Rio Grande Female Institute. A supporter of abolition, Rankin fled to Union-occupied New Orleans during the war and later worked in Mexico. The institute continued until 1875, when the facilities were taken over by the Foreign Missionary Committee of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, which used them until 1897. In 1912 the Synod of Texas opened near Kingsville the Texas Mexican Industrial Institute for boys. The Presbyterian School for Mexican Girls was opened at Taft in 1924. In 1956 the two were joined on the Kingsville campus to become a much-respected college preparatory school. In the early 1990s Presbyterian Pan American could boast a long and distinguished history of developing leadership in the United States and Latin America. In 1994–95 the school had 109 students from eight nations.

Presbyterian work in higher education in Texas started with the December 1840 opening of Galveston University, under the leadership of W. L. McCalla, a former United States Navy chaplain. With a board composed of Presbyterian clergy, the school quickly grew to 100 students. The effort, however, was underfunded, and foundered in 1844. To the north, the Republic of Texas saw the establishment, or attempted establishment, of short-lived Presbyterian colleges in San Augustine, Nacogdoches, and La Grange. The University of San Augustine closed in 1847 when its president was murdered. In Nacogdoches, pledges of land and financial support led to high hopes and the writing, by Rev. John May Becton, of a charter; the Presbytery of the Brazos was asked to elect a board of trustees, but the effort failed. The numerous abortive starts and early disappointments were overcome in 1849, when Brazos Presbytery, under the leadership of Daniel Baker, opened a serious discussion on the future education of Presbyterian clergy and laity in the state. Baker had pastored a congregation in the District of Columbia and counted John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson among his friends. A Princeton graduate, Baker was an articulate idealist with a strong personality. He played a critical role in the ultimate success of Presbyterian higher education in the nineteenth century. On November 22, 1849, Governor George T. Wood signed a state charter establishing in Huntsville a Presbyterian college named for Stephen F. Austin. In the early years the school emphasized remedial and college-preparatory work. College-level classes leading to a bachelor's degree began in 1853. Austin College, founded in Huntsville and since 1876 located in Sherman, is the oldest continuing Presbyterian college in Texas.

Before 1902 Presbyterians did little in Texas for the education of women, though there were some unsuccessful efforts. Plans by the two major Presbyterian bodies to establish a university in Dallas in 1886 failed to materialize, and Tyler Female College and Synodical College did not last long. More impressive were the efforts of individual Presbyterians: Victoria Female Academy, originally headed by John Shive and his wife; Galveston Female Collegiate Institute (see GALVESTON SEMINARY), headed by John McCullough; Lamar Female Seminary, headed by O. P. Starke at Paris; Bryan Female Seminary, headed by W. H. Vernor for some years after the Civil War; and Clarksville (originally New Boston) Female Institute, headed by Mrs. Eliza Todd and John Anderson (see CLARKSVILLE MALE AND FEMALE ACADEMY; RINGWOOD FEMALE SEMINARY; LIVE OAK FEMALE SEMINARY). In 1902, after a long series of false starts, Texas Presbyterian College for Girls opened in Milford; that first year it had fifty-five students, and Henry Clay Evans was president. Five years later its enrollment reached 200, and the school graduated more than 2,000 before it merged with Austin College in 1929. In 1994–95 Austin College had a student body of nearly 1,200, an operating budget of $20 million, and a faculty of eighty-five. In the first years of the Republic of Texas, perhaps because of conflict with other Presbyterians over the issue of an educated clergy, Cumberland Presbyterians showed little interest in higher education. After annexation, however, each of the three Cumberland synods organized a college. All three efforts, located near Jacksonville, Daingerfield, and La Grange, respectively, ended with the founding of Trinity University at Tehuacana in 1869. Like Austin College, Trinity struggled financially in the early years; eventually, searching for support beyond the denomination, Trinity moved to Waxahachie in 1902. In 1942 Trinity moved to San Antonio. In the early 1990s it operated, as did Austin and Schreiner colleges, as a private university in covenantal relationship with the Synod of the Sun, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In 1994–95 Trinity had an enrollment of nearly 2,500, an operating budget of $60 million, and a faculty of 224.

Schreiner College was founded in 1921 through the generosity of Charles A. Schreiner, an immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine who became a Texas Ranger and a successful businessman. Schreiner College, on a beautiful campus in Kerrville, was a preparatory school and junior college for many years. In 1982, under the leadership of Dr. Sam Junkin, Schreiner moved to become a four-year college, and in 1984 it granted its first degrees. In 1994–95 Schreiner had nearly 600 students, an operating budget of nearly $10 million, and forty-two full-time faculty.

Since 1928 Presbyterians have provided leadership for campus ministry programs at the major Texas state universities. In 1994–95 the Synod of the Sun supported twenty-five programs developed at state schools and led by the United Campus Ministry of Texas.

Late in the nineteenth century R. K. Smoot and Robert Lewis Dabney attempted to establish a theological seminary in Austin: the Austin School of Theology. The effort had the support of the Central Texas Presbytery and succeeded in graduating several ministers before it succumbed to financial problems in 1895. The role of a seminary and the need for it having been clearly demonstrated by the Smoot-Dabney effort, the Synod of Texas of the Presbyterian Church in the United States opened the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary near the campus of the University of Texas at Austin in the autumn of 1902. Under such leaders as David Stitt, Ellis Nelson, Prescott Williams, and Jack Stotts, the seminary has played a leading role in the development of the Presbyterian Church in the Southwest. In 1994–95 Austin Seminary had 327 students, a teaching faculty of nineteen, and an operating budget of $4.8 million.

Light Townsend Cummins, Footsteps to the Past: A Walking Tour History of the Austin College Campus (Sherman: Austin College Press, 1988). Merrimon Cuninggim, Uneasy Partners: The College and the Church (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994). Thomas White Currie, Jr., Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary: A Seventy-fifth Anniversary History (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1978). Donald E. Everett, ed., Trinity University: A Record of One Hundred Years (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1968). George L. Landolt, Search for the Summit: Austin College through XII Decades (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1970). George Marsden and Bradley Longfield, ed., The Secularization of the Academy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). Manning M. Pattillo, Jr., and Donald M. Mackenzie, Church-Sponsored Higher Education in the United States: Report of the Danforth Commission (Washington: American Council on Education, 1966). William Stuart Red, A History of the Presbyterian Church in Texas (Austin: Steck, 1936).


  • Education
  • Religion
  • Presbyterian

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

Michael Nelson Miller, “Presbyterian Education,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 02, 2020,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.