Rutersville College

By: Judson S. Custer

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: June 13, 2020

Rutersville College, once located in Rutersville, seven miles northeast of La Grange in central Fayette County, was the first chartered Protestant college in Texas. The institution, which flourished between 1840 and 1856, was the dream of Martin Ruter, a Methodist missionary from Pennsylvania and superintendent of the Methodist mission in Texas in the early days of the republic. In 1837 Ruter wrote a charter for the school, which he planned to call Bastrop College. He died on May 16, 1838, in Washington-on-the-Brazos, and soon after his death Robert Alexander, Littleton Fowler, and ten other Methodists agreed to purchase land for the college and submitted Ruter's charter to the Congress of the republic. Initially, the Congress rejected the charter because of its espousal of Methodist doctrine, but in 1840 it accepted a second charter that had been amended to eliminate any reference to religious denomination.

In 1839 the first Texas conference of the Methodist Church appointed Chauncey Richardson the first president of the college and renamed it Rutersville College. The coeducational school opened on the last week of January 1840, with sixty-three students. The town of Rutersville, which developed simultaneously with the college, donated fifty-two acres for the men's division of the college and twenty-four for the women's division. Richardson, his wife Martha G., and Charles W. Thomas made up the original faculty. The charter was amended in February 1841 to extend the life of the school from ten to ninety-nine years. Congress donated four leagues of land in Fayette and Gillespie counties to the college, money from the sale of which was to provide funds for the construction of buildings and the purchase of necessary equipment. By 1841 the enrollment of the college's two divisions reached 100, and another professor, Thomas S. Bell, was added to the faculty. The main building, completed in 1842, was a two-story wooden structure with a pair of double doors on the front, a wide chimney extending up two stories, and a bell in a tower atop the sloping roof. The ground floor of the main building held a study hall and two classrooms; the second floor served as the auditorium where examinations were given and commencement exercises were held. The women's building was constructed of limestone and contained a combination study hall, recitation room, chapel, and dining room. The president's two-story home also served as the women's dormitory.

Enrollment reached 194 by 1844–45, but the school began to fall on hard times. Indian attacks, departure of students for the Mexican War, and the establishment of Baylor University in 1845 caused a decline in the number of students. Richardson left the presidency in 1845 and was replaced by William Halsey. In 1848 John Rabb, who was the treasurer of the college and attorney for the Rutersville Townsite Company, deeded lots to the trustees to be held in trust for the Texas Methodist Conference. This prompted a dispute with Fayette County, which withdrew its support of the institution. The self-perpetuating board of trustees also came under attack. A church trial for misconduct of faculty members did further damage to the school's reputation. After 1850 Chappell Hill Male and Female Institute (later Chappell Hill Female College), another Methodist institution, began to compete for students. In 1856 Rutersville College consolidated with Texas Military Institute, Galveston, and the Texas Monumental Committee at La Grange to form Texas Monumental and Military Institute. In 1883 the Rutersville campus was purchased by the Southern German Conference of the Methodist Church, which operated it as a conference school until 1894, when the school was closed. The buildings were eventually razed, and all that remains today is a Texas Centennial historical marker.

Frederick Eby, The Development of Education in Texas (New York: Macmillan, 1925). John O. Gross, Martin Ruter: Pioneer in Methodist Education (Nashville: Board of Education of the Methodist Church, 1956). Ralph W. Jones, A History of Southwestern University, 1873–1949 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1960). Ralph W. Jones, Southwestern University, 1840–1861 (Austin: Jenkins, 1973). William Franklin Ledlow, History of Protestant Education in Texas (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1926). Julia Lee Sinks, "Rutersville College," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 2 (October 1898). Homer S. Thrall, A Brief History of Methodism in Texas (Nashville: Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1889; rpt., Greenwood, South Carolina: Attic, 1977).

  • 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.

Judson S. Custer, “Rutersville College,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 13, 2020