John Brown Watson, teacher, businessman and college president, was born in Smith County, Texas, in 1872 to Frank and Chrystial (Gary) Watson. He graduated from Bishop College in Marshall in 1889. After graduation he taught in the Smith County schools. From 1900 to 1901 Watson attended Colgate College, and then Brown University, from which he received a degree in 1904. For the next five years Watson taught at Morehouse College. In 1907 he married Hattie Rutherford, daughter of S. W. Rutherford, founder of the National Benefit Life Insurance Company of Washington, D.C. In 1909 Watson left the teaching field in order to take a position with the International Young Men's Christian Association among Negroes. He resigned to pursue a career in the Atlanta, Georgia, insurance business in 1917. He was receiver for the Atlanta State Savings Bank from 1921 to 1923, when he was asked to become the president of Leland College in Baker, Louisiana. In 1928 he became president of the Arkansas Agricultural and Mechanical College at Pine Bluff. The institution was in run-down condition and needed classroom equipment. From a school with a student body of thirty-six Watson built an institution with a student population of 700 and forty faculty members during his fourteen year tenure. He was recognized by Morehouse College with honorary degrees of master of arts and doctor of laws. Watson died on December 6, 1942. He was survived by his wife, Hattie, and their daughter, Marian Anderson Watson, adopted three years before his death.
Is history important to you?
We need your support because we are a non-profit organization that relies upon contributions from our community in order to record and preserve the history of our state. Every dollar helps.
Journal of Negro History, January 1943.
University Presidents and School Administrators
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
“Watson, John Brown,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 25, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1995
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: