Rio Grande Female Institute

By: R. Douglas Brackenridge

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: December 1, 1994

Rio Grande Female Institute, in Brownsville, a Protestant mission school devoted to the education of young Hispanic girls, came into being in 1854 through the efforts of Melinda Rankin, a New England schoolmistress who moved westward in the 1840s. During her travels she came in contact with soldiers returning from the Mexican War. Stirred by their reports of Catholicism in Mexico, she decided to go to Texas and wait for an opportunity to begin missionary activity in Mexico. In the spring of 1852 she arrived in Brownsville and opened a school for girls who wanted to learn English. She started out with five students but soon had a group of thirty or forty girls enrolled in classes. The curriculum consisted of the usual academic subjects and intensive biblical studies that stressed Protestant theology. On May 3, 1854, aided by a Presbyterian clergyman, Hiram Chamberlain, Rankin and some associates bought a lot in Brownsville as a building site for the Rio Grande Female Institute, to be operated under "the care and visitation" of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Early in 1858 the institute petitioned the Western Texas Presbytery to assume "control and management" of the school, and the request was granted. At the initiation of the presbytery the Texas legislature issued a charter on December 9, 1861, placing the institute under the direct control of the presbytery. About the same time, Rankin moved to Matamoros, Tamaulipas, and was forced to sever all connections with the Brownsville school because of her Union sympathies. The Rio Grande Institute was closed during most of the Civil War and opened thereafter; it continued to operate for nearly a decade with Rev. A. J. Parke as president. Lack of financial support hampered operations, however, and in 1874 the Western Texas Presbytery turned over the institute building to the Board of Foreign Missions as a training school for missionaries to Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. Although Rio Grande Institute officially ceased to exist following that action, the building itself continued to be used for educational purposes until the end of the nineteenth century.

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Robert Douglas Brackenridge, and Francisco O. GarcĂ­a-Treto, Iglesia Presbiteriana: A History of Presbyterians and Mexican Americans in the Southwest (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1974; 2d ed. 1987). William Stuart Red, A History of the Presbyterian Church in Texas (Austin: Steck, 1936). John C. Rayburn, "Melinda Rankin-Crusader of the Rio Grande," Journal of Presbyterian History 40 (September 1962).


  • Education
  • Defunct Elementary and Secondary Schools
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Religion
  • Presbyterian
  • Women

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

R. Douglas Brackenridge, “Rio Grande Female Institute,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 24, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994

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