Protestant Episcopal Education

By: Edward M. Hartwell

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: January 14, 2021

The first efforts at establishing Protestant Episcopal Church schools in Texas were largely made by individuals without official appointment or appropriation. In 1835 the general convention of the Episcopal Church made the first provision for the election of missionary bishops for states and territories in foreign countries where the church was not organized, and the foreign committee of the board of missions considered sending a missionary to Texas. The result-authorization without appropriation-proved to be the plight of the Episcopal Church and its schools in Texas for decades. John Wurts Cloud, a priest from the Diocese of Mississippi, was in Texas in 1831 and conducted a school at Brazoria. Chester Newell, an Episcopal deacon, operated a school at Velasco in 1837. Richard Salmon set out for Texas in 1836 with an interest in forming a group of Episcopalians within Austin's colony. After arriving in Velasco in October, his group disintegrated almost immediately. He later moved to Brazoria and attempted to open a school, but he was stricken with tuberculosis and was unable to work much. In 1837 a few citizens of Matagorda united, formed Christ Church, and requested the foreign committee to appoint a missionary. This was the first parish of the Episcopal Church in Texas; to it Caleb Smith Ives, the first rector, was able to go only because the group had sufficient money to hire him as a teacher. This parish and school flourished and provided greater continuity in year-to-year operation than any similar effort in that generation.

In 1839 Leonidas Polk, missionary bishop of the Southwest, who was making his first official visit to Texas, was impressed by the work at Matagorda. This visit led him to concur with the opinions of Benjamin Eaton of Galveston and Charles Gillette of Houston that a school was needed to support their congregations. Almost all of the first dozen Episcopalian missionaries to Texas taught school in conjunction with their pastoral duties. For the remainder of the century it was common for a group to purchase a building, operate a school for a year or so, and then in despair sell its assets to another church, a lodge, or a municipal school. In most cases both private and church schools endured a precarious existence for short periods. Their fluctuating strength and effectiveness was determined by many factors, including droughts and consequent crop failures in such places as Brazoria and Columbia, instability of the money of the Republic of Texas, yellow fever in Galveston, cholera in Austin, as well as storms and floods (see WEATHER). The most ambitious plan of the 1840s and 1850s was the effort to found diocesan schools in Anderson. The original plans for boys' and girls' schools failed for lack of money. Charles Gillette moved to Anderson and operated St. Paul's College, a primary-through-college diocesan school, for a brief period. The only noted success of these efforts was the training of some of the tutors to serve as clergymen. Election of Alexander Gregg as the first bishop of Texas in 1859 gave new but brief impetus to the church and its schools. One of Gregg's ambitions was to found strong boys' and girls' schools in the diocese. He moved to San Antonio and strengthened St. Mary's Hall, a school for girls that fulfilled half his plan. The effort to establish a boys' school was thwarted, however, by lack of funds, leaving St. Mary's Hall the only church school existing continuously from those days to the present. Hopes for expanding education were deterred by the confusion during the Civil War, and with Reconstruction the establishment of Episcopal Church schools did not have the urgency of the past. In addition, the demand for public education was being met with increasing effectiveness by public schools. Between 1838 and 1874 the church established many schools of varying levels in connection with parishes and missions in such places as Brenham, Washington-on-the-Brazos, Independence, Galveston, Houston, San Antonio, and Waco.

Most of the church schools begun in the nineteenth century did not survive to witness the revival of interest in general education by the church in the 1940s. The parish day-school movement sprang from different motivation than the parochial schools of the previous century. Many communities had adequate public grade schools but no kindergartens, and churchmen moved to fill this need. Their efforts were not characterized by any dominant motivation or method, however. Some churches initiated schools to provide a Christian balance to the content and methodology of the public schools, which were considered too secular because they were required to be nonsectarian. In 1951 classes began at the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. In 1966 there were about fifty schools operated by the Episcopal Church in Texas. Three of these were interparish schools, operated jointly by more than one congregation in a particular city: St. James' School (Corpus Christi), St. Andrew's School (Austin), and All Saints' School (Beaumont). Most of the schools were operated and underwritten by one congregation and varied in scope from preschool through high school. Several schools were directly affiliated with their dioceses. St. Mark's School of Texas in Dallas had diocesan affiliation, as did Texas Military Institute in San Antonio. In the Diocese of Texas, St. Stephen's Episcopal School (near Austin) was unique in providing high school training for both boys and girls in a boarding school setting with additional provision for day students. Some of the original church schools severed their church ties in times of crisis. Such was the case with St. John's School, Houston, which was patterned after a New England academy and maintained no liaison with the Episcopal Church or its schools. Most Episcopal schools, being the responsibility of given congregations, have been free to evolve and develop in accordance with their native leadership and particular motivation. The Episcopal schools of Texas weathered the social crises of the 1960s, though many of them, it was falsely charged, were "White flight" schools formed to circumvent integration. The formation of the Texas Episcopal School Association and the National Association of Episcopal Schools had assisted in voluntary compliance with desegregation and the establishment of basic standards for church schools. In 1992 the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest had an enrollment of sixty-seven. In 1994 there were sixty-one members of the Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools in Texas. This number included both elementary and high schools.

Lawrence L. Brown, The Episcopal Church in Texas, 1838–1874 (Austin: Church Historical Society, 1963). George L. Crocket, Two Centuries in East Texas (Dallas: Southwest, 1932; facsimile reprod. 1962).


  • Education
  • Religion
  • Protestant Episcopal

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

Edward M. Hartwell, “Protestant Episcopal Education,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 21, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 14, 2021