Chronicling our Distinguished Past
Mississippi College traces its roots back to 1826 when the institution was chartered by the state Legislature as Hampstead Academy. The same year, America celebrated its 50th birthday and John Quincy Adams served as president of a growing nation with a little more than 9.6 million people. Mississippi College remains the oldest institution of higher learning in the Magnolia State.
Situated on five acres near Mount Salus in Central Mississippi, the new school was renamed Mississippi Academy and began offering classes for boys and girls in January 1827. Back when tracts of land sold for $1.25 per acre, the academy was located on a tiny piece of the 6 million acres of property in Central Mississippi transferred from the Choctaw Indian nation to the American government. That treaty was signed in 1820. Three years earlier, in 1817, the state of Mississippi joined the United States.
Rhetoric was among the subjects taught to the first group of students at Mississippi Academy when the school- house opened. The initial campus building in a small town that later became Clinton was large enough to accommodate 150 to 200 students. Known as the “academic edifice” for decades, the school’s first building contained four “handsome” rooms, each with two fireplaces. To the west of it stood a second building with a beautiful chapel added just to the east of in 1860.
The academy was renamed Mississippi College in 1830 and was authorized “to confer…such degrees in the arts, sciences and languages as are usually conferred in the most respectable colleges in the United States…”
A private institution, Mississippi College was coeducational and in December 1831 made history as the first college in the nation to grant a degree to a woman. Gold medallions were presented to the first group of female graduates.
There were other historic firsts for the college in the years to come. In 1842, the college was given to the Presbyterian Church, which later encountered financial straits and to its original owners in 1850. That same year, the Mississippi Baptist Convention obtained the college that today remains the second oldest Baptist institution in America.
Among other noteworthy dates in Mississippi College history: the school’s Female Department was discontinued in 1850, but in 1853 a Central Female Institute, later renamed Hillman College, was launched for women in Clinton.
Soon, cannons were fired in places like Vicksburg, Mississippi and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania with the Civil War shattering the fabric of American life. As North battled South in bloody skirmishes, the war nearly decimated schools like Mississippi College.
The tumultuous times brought by the Civil War represented defining and often tragic moments in the history of Mississippi College. A large group of MC students, three faculty members, a trustee, and townspeople in Clinton organized the Mississippi College Rifles. The company boarded a train for Corinth and a lengthy series
of Civil War battles, primarily in northern Virginia, but few returned home alive. The college kept its doors open during the war years with an average enrollment of about 30 students.
Amid the deadly Civil War struggles, portions of the Mississippi College campus served other purposes. Soon after it opened in 1860, Provine Chapel was utilized as a hospital by Northern U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant and his wounded Civil War troops. Others believe the ground floor of the two-story building was also used as a stable for his horses. A cherished campus landmark today, Provine Chapel remains the oldest building on the Clinton campus. It is the setting for Christmas concerts by the Mississippi College Singers, the headquarters of classrooms and offices for the Department of Christian Studies & Philosophy and a wonderful venue for Southern family weddings year-round.
Despite its endowment being wiped out, many of its students leaving to fight in the Civil War, and its physical plant badly deteriorating, MC experienced a post-war resurgence. Leaders like President Walter Hillman helped save Mississippi College and did so with a modest salary of $1,000 per-year.
Administrations of Mississippi College Presidents like Drs. Warren Webb, W.T. Lowery and J.W. Provine energized a fruitful period with new buildings, the redevelopment of the school endowment, and enrollment growth.
Enrollment climbed to 400 students during the Provine presidency and the endowment grew to more than $500,000. Mississippi College landmarks like Jennings Hall opened in 1907, and it was considered among the most elegant residence halls in the South. It was heated with steam, and students bragged about having an electric light in every room! The dormitory provided meals in a well-furnished dining hall. Today, Jennings remains a splendid headquarters for faculty offices, classrooms and houses delightful fountains in its renovated courtyard.
After the Roaring 20s, there were enormous financial challenges facing Mississippi College, all of American higher education and the business world. Shaking America’s foundations, and creating widespread poverty for millions of people in big cities and small towns, Mississippi College survived the ravages of the Great Depression that began in 1929 and lingered for well over a decade. Mississippi College students at times made tuition payments with a wagonload of potatoes. Gifts of land, houses, and other resources were welcomed, along with cash at the Baptist school. It was the same way during the difficult years of Reconstruction. Despite adversity Hillman College prospered in the late 1920s, with two brick cottages built for a dozen female students and a faculty member on the Clinton campus. The good times didn’t last with Hillman consolidating with Mississippi College in 1942.
Combined with the influx of women was a post-World War II enrollment boom with many G.I. vets returning from overseas battles to receive a college education in Clinton, Mississippi.
While the Hillman campus no longer exists today other than a marker at a Clinton park, many notable MC buildings are alive and well in the early 21st Century. Constructed in 1925, multi-purpose facilities like Alumni Hall are still going strong in 2013. Alumni Hall includes an indoor water fitness pool, student gathering spots with large flat-screen TVs, a basketball court, coffee shop, conference rooms for the Board of Trustees and a student counseling center. Longtime college dormitories like Chrestman Hall and Ratliff Hall continue to receive extensive use. The Leland Speed Library, Self Hall, home of the School of Business, and Aven Hall, home of musical and theater productions, have undergone extensive renovations.
Mississippi College’s administrative home and auditorium that was built in 1948, Nelson Hall continues to be a cornerstone of the Christian university. Buildings in downtown Jackson that serve as the home of the university’s School of Law (purchased in 1975) also take a prominent place in Mississippi College history books. The construction of Cockroft Hall, home of the School of Nursing, the A.E. Wood Coliseum, the university’s basketball arena, and setting for today’s graduation ceremonies, and the list goes on.
From new buildings to new academic programs, from successful fund drives to the hiring of award-winning faculty and the latest computer technology purchases, Mississippi College has experienced tremendous advances under its presidents in the modern era. Presidents D.M. Nelson, R.A. McLemore, Lewis Nobles, Howell Todd and now Lee Royce can all point to accomplishments.
Under the guidance of its leaders at Nelson Hall, a caring faculty and staff, and enriched by God’s many blessings, Mississippi College has emerged from humble beginnings to become as one of the South’s premier Christian universities, with a bright future still to come.
Dr. Todd’s administration was committed to preparing Mississippi College for the 21st century. As part of that mission, Dr. Todd targeted a number of physical improvements to maintain and replicate the architectural character of the Mississippi College campus. Renovations and remodeling of Latimer-Webb, Mary Nelson, and Whittington residence halls were completed. Nelson Hall and Alumni Hall were renovated. Self, Farr, and Aven halls also received renovations. In addition to renovations, the Foreign Language Learning Center, a multimedia language lab, was added to Jennings Hall, and state-of-the-art soundproof music practice rooms were installed in Aven Hall. New construction included men’s and women’s residence halls, a 106,000 square foot health facility, and a math, computer science and chemistry complex. A campus-wide computer network, MCNET, was installed to offer access to the Internet and act as a communication link for all administration, faculty, staff and students. In 2002, MC successfully completed a $100 million capital campaign entitled “New Dawn” launched in 1996, the largest campaign in the school’s history. Through these physical, financial and technological advances, Mississippi College can continue its legacy of academic excellence and Christian witness while offering the best of the total university experience.
In June 2001, Dr. Howell Todd retired as president of the university after serving seven years. The Board of Trustees named Dr. Lloyd Roberts, vice president for business affairs and professor of management, to serve as Interim President from July 2001 until June 30, 2002. Dr. Lee G. Royce became the 19th president of Mississippi College on July 1, 2002.
Mississippi College has seen steady enrollment growth, revitalized its facilities, and welcomed extraordinary levels of gift giving under President Royce. Enrollment has climbed to nearly 5,300 students, while the main campus in Clinton, and School of Law in downtown Jackson have been undergoing a building boom under Dr. Royce’s leadership the past ten years. A successful “Growing the vision” campaign to boost student scholarships, the university’s endowment, enhance facilities and strengthen academic programs raised $87.4 million when it concluded in Fall 2011. It began as a $65 million drive in 2006, but school trustees raised the goal to $80 million, despite a weak USA economy.
Mississippi College’s rapid growth accelerated upon Dr. Royce’s arrival in July 2002 after serving as president of Anderson University in South Carolina. MC’s enrollment has climbed steadily from the 3,227 students enrolled when he took office as the Christian university’s leader. International student enrollment has boomed to nearly 300 students from 30 nations, up from the nine students when Royce began his administration. A new Flowood Center catering to working adults in metro Jackson opened its doors in August 2010, and has been a convenient way for them to work on degrees during evening hours in Rankin County near the Dogwood Festival Mall.
MC’s academic growth has also seen the arrival of stellar new programs. The Physician Assistant program is the only one of its type in the Magnolia State. The two and one-half year master’s program will train professionals to work under the supervision of physicians. The program is based at newly renovated facilities in the Baptist Healthplex and works closely with the University of Mississippi Medical Center, federal clinics and hospitals in the region. The P.A. program will produce professionals who will play critical roles in easing the state’s medical shortages in underserved areas of the state and nation. New doctoral programs in educational leadership and counseling are also adding new students. Mississippi College made history by awarding its first educational leadership doctorate in August 2011 to a Jackson elementary school principal.
Mississippi College’s extensive list of building projects includes a new front entrance to Robinson-Hale Stadium, a new soccer complex, and baseball facility. New athletic facilities will help as MC transitions to NCAA Division II athletics and returned to the Birmingham-based Gulf South Conference in Fall 2014. Adding to the building renaissance: a three-story parking garage, a prayer garden outside Alumni Hall, and a bookstore next-door to Pimento’s café in Olde Town Clinton. Overlooking MC’s hometown on a hilltop, sits the Phillips House, a new residence for the MC president. A generous lead gift from MC Foundation Board President and university trustee Dr. Don Phillips and his wife, Sue, made construction possible. The four-bedroom residence will be extensively used to entertain Mississippi College faculty, staff, students, alumni and other guests. The new medical sciences building opened in January 2013 and includes classrooms, a cadaver lab and the latest research facilities. Other major improvements include the addition of the East Campus, formerly the old Clinton Junior High property, and a makeover for Self Hall, home of the MC School of Business. New residence halls with apartment-style units with 188 beds will attract students, who will move in on the East Campus by August 2015.
The Mississippi College community has enjoyed welcoming an all-star lineup of prominent national speakers for its spring scholarship dinners. Speakers have included award-winning physician and author Dr. Benjamin Carson in 2014, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2013 and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in April 2012. MC’s signature event has raised more than $2 million for student scholarships since 2008. National recognition has come to the Baptist-affiliated university in other ways. “U.S. News & World Report” ranked MC 4th among the South’s regional universities in the “Great Schools, Great Prices” category in September 2014. MC ranked 8th in a survey of America’s 50 most affordable Christian colleges by Christian Universities Online.
In his 13th year as Mississippi College president, Dr. Royce continues to make progress on goals outlined in the institution’s vision statement “To be recognized as a university known for academic excellence and commitment to the cause of Christ.”