Southwestern University

By: Edwin M. Lansford, Jr.

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: June 13, 2020

Southwestern University, in Georgetown, was formed initially as Texas University by the five Methodist Episcopal Conferences of Texas in an educational convention of April 1870, through a merger of four earlier "root colleges"—Rutersville College, Wesleyan College, McKenzie College, and Soule University—and was renamed Southwestern University under a charter of February 6, 1875. Its formation and location resulted largely from the intensive work of Francis A. Mood, who was the first "regent" (president) of Southwestern after its opening in Georgetown in October 1873. A branch for women was established later. Five young faculty members who arrived in the period from 1875 to 1881, including Claude C. Cody, John H. McLean, and Robert S. Hyer, formed a unifying faculty core for the school, which was organized initially into departments of Pure Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Latin, Greek, Modern Languages, English Language and Literature, Mental and Moral Philosophy, History and Political Economy, Chemistry and Geology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Commercial. In its first decades Southwestern University played a central role in Methodist higher education and accreditation in Texas and initiated expansions, which included the first medical school in Texas, established in Dallas in 1903, and a School of Fine Arts. Three of the first five Rhodes Scholars from Texas were Southwestern University graduates. An emphasis on Christian values under the first three presidents converged, under physicist Robert Hyer, with scientific empiricism and professionalism.

After the Methodist Church founded Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 1911, Southwestern redefined its role as that of a small liberal arts university. It survived with difficulty the period of social and economic uncertainties of World War I and the Great Depression. In the 1940s financial revival began, along with academic and organizational improvements and the start of a substantial building program. Graduate work was discontinued, and the university was organized into the Humanities Division, Natural Sciences Division, Social Sciences Division, and School of Fine Arts. Enrollment more than doubled temporarily during World War II with a Navy V-12 program, but dropped to less than 400 in 1952; it increased steadily to about 1,200 students by 1993. Personnel increased from forty-five faculty and nineteen staff in 1952 to 136 faculty and 151 staff in 1993; by 1998 the faculty had grown to 150. Under its recent presidents the endowment has grown from less than $1 million to $340 million, and major building additions have included a chapel, Science Hall, Religious Activities Center, Fine Arts Center, Student Union, University Commons, and major extensions of the library. The developed campus, with more than thirty buildings, is on seventy-five acres. While Southwestern University has maintained throughout its history a strong underlying emphasis on liberal arts education that is now embodied in its general education requirements, it has preprofessional programs in teacher certification, pre-medical, pre-dental, business-economics, and fine arts performance areas. The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the National Association of Schools of Music, the University Senate of the United Methodist Church, and the Texas Education Agency. Enrollment during the 2000–2001 school year was 1,309. Jake B. Schrum became the fourteenth president of the university in 2000.

Ralph W. Jones, A History of Southwestern University, 1873–1949 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1960). Ralph W. Jones, Southwestern University, 1840–1961 (Austin: Jenkins, 1973).

  • Education
  • Private Four-Year Colleges and Universities
  • Religion
  • Methodist
  • Central Texas

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

Edwin M. Lansford, Jr., “Southwestern University,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 13, 2020