Higher education came to The Republic of Texas in 1840 with the Republic’s Congress officially approving the charter of Rutersville College in the new town of Rutersville, located six miles northeast of LeGrange. Although founded by a group of Methodists, the co-ed school was open to all religious denominations. Its two-story main building was completed the following year. By 1844, enrollment was 194 students, both men and women.
Lest you scoff at the idea of a serious college on the early frontier, take this challenge…do you think you could flip the tassel on your mortarboard to signify successful graduation from Rutersville College? Let’s take a look at the terms of admission and the courses in the second annual college catalogue.
To gain admission, candidates for the Classical Course must be acquainted with the rudiments of the English language, ancient and modern geography, arithmetic, first lessons in Algebra. So far so good, right? But there’s more: You must also know Greek grammar, latin Grammar, Greek and Latin Prosody. (That’s the rhythm, and sound used in poetry—I had to look it up.) You must also be familiar with Anthon’s Cicero, Cooper’s Virgil, the four Gospels or Jacob’s Greek Reader. All that checked off, you must provide satisfactory testimonials of a good moral character.
If you met those requirements for admission, here’s what your course list would look like:
In the first of five major areas of study, The Department of Moral Science and Letters, you would study elocution, analysis, rhetoric, logic, intellectual philosophy, elements of moral science, elements of criticism, evidences of Christianity, and political economy. You would also be called upon for weekly exercises in composition and declamation. Whew! Quite a work load!
In The Department of Mathematics, be prepared to master algebra, geometry, trigonometry, surveying, navigation, calculus, civil engineering, astronomy, and natural philosophy.
The Department of Ancient Languages and Literature would offer you extensive readings in Latin plus Latin composition and declamation.You would also study more than a dozen Greek books on a variety of topics including five books of Homer’s Iliad. And don’t forget Greek composition and declamation. A Classical dictionary and ancient atlas would be available as resources.
Have a knack for languages? You might turn to The Department of Modern Languages to learn Spanish, French, Italian, and German. I’m not clear whether you could choose just one or would have to study all four. I suspect the answer is all four.
Nothing sounds challenging enough? Then The Department of Natural Science would be for you! It seems to be a combination of most all of the above minus the romance languages with geology, mineralogy, and botany thrown in for good measure.
But let’s not forget the female department (just having one seems progressive for 1841!) If you are a lady wondering what might have been available to you. Ladies could pursue any of the studies embraced by the departments already mentioned. In addition, females could study drawing and painting, or music on the piano forte.
The Collegiate year of Rutersville College encompassed two terms with a month’s break in the summer. Tuition for the higher studies ranged from $20 to $25 per term. Music was an additional $15 per quarter. Board—which also included washing and fuel—was $12.50 per month. A far cry from today’s college tuition, but still more than many could afford.
Seems to me that one might conclude from all this that a classical education was alive and well in Texas in the 1840s! Looking back at the Rutersville College curriculum, I think many “educated” individuals of today would find the 1841 classwork challenging. I certainly would.
Native American troubles, the Mexican War over the boundary between Texas and Mexico in 1846, and competition from other educational institutions caused a decline in registrations, and in 1856 Rutersville College and its properties merged with the Texas Monumental and Military Institute, which itself, closed when students left to join the Civil War.
Schools for younger students were also plentiful in early Texas. Prior to 1854, when the state legislature introduced a state public school system, teachers offering schooling in towns and villages were numerous. Private tutoring was also an educational option for those who could afford it, and many children were home schooled. All in all, despite what we would consider as the often primitive circumstances of many Texans, the desire for an education was strong.
This is Laurie Moore-Moore with the Texas Brave and Strong Podcast. Tune in every other week for a new episode and discover tidbits of Texas you never learned in school. It’s the best little podcast in Texas. Find it on Apple, Spotify and other podcast sites.
You may also wish to read my new historical novel—GONE TO DALLAS, The Storekeeper 1856-1861. GONE TO DALLAS is a fast-paced fictional story salted with true history and peppered with real people along with fascinating fictional ones. Find it on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, Ingram Spark and more. Ask for it at your local bookstore. Available as a trade paperback and in digital form.
Thanks for listening! Ya’ll come back! Source: The Second Annual Catalogue of Rutersville College, Rutersville, Fayette County, Texas, 1841