Waco University

By: Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: August 1, 1995

The predecessor of Waco University, at Waco, was established in 1856 under the name Trinity River High School by the Trinity River Baptist Association. This preparatory school opened in 1857 in temporary quarters at the Waco Baptist church with an enrollment of forty-nine boys. Tuition ranged from ten to twenty dollars, although poor young ministers and the sons of ministers were admitted free of charge. Solomon G. O'Bryan served as both principal and trustee until late 1859; he was succeeded by John C. West. The trustees acquired a 7½-acre tract of land and with help from the community built two brick buildings. Control of the institution was transferred to the Waco Baptist Association, and the school received a new charter under the name Waco Classical School in February 1860. After West resigned as principal in 1861 in order to join the Confederate Army, Rufus C. Burleson became head of the school and brought with him his faculty from Baylor University, which was then located at Independence. Shortly thereafter, Waco Classical School was renamed Waco University. In September 1861 the institution had sixty students and a library of 700 volumes. From 1862 to 1865 the collegiate department was practically nonexistent because of the Civil War, but the primary and preparatory departments prospered. The institution had 192 students in the 1863–64 school year. A girls' department was added in 1866; classes for boys and girls were held in separate buildings. In 1868 a vocational training program began, which offered courses in both surveying and civil engineering. Ownership was transferred in 1881 to the Baptist General Association, which directed the affairs of the school until its consolidation with Baylor University in 1886. During its last year as an independent entity, Waco University had nineteen teachers and 385 students.

J. D. Bragg, "Waco University," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 51 (January 1948). Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Carl Bassett Wilson, History of Baptist Educational Efforts in Texas, 1829–1900 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1934).


  • Education
  • Defunct Colleges and Universities
  • Religion
  • Baptist

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

Vivian Elizabeth Smyrl, “Waco University,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 08, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/waco-university.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995