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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 14, No. 3
September, 1936
OKLAHOMA'S FIRST COLLEGE,
OLD HIGH GATE,
AT NORMAN.

By OSCAR A. KINCHEN, Ph. D.
Professor of History
Texas Technological College
Lubbock, Texas

Page 312

At the east end of Main Street, at Norman, upon the commanding site now occupied by the Oklahoma State Hospital once stood the building of High Gate Female College, the first college to be located in the Oklahoma Territory, being established by the Indian Mission Annual Conference of the Southern Methodist Church in the summer of 1890. The old main building of High Gate, resting on the site now occupied by the Administration Building of the Hospital was demolished in 1926 to make way for the present structure.

At the session of the Annual Conference at Norman, in April 1890, it was ordained that a college be established within the bounds of the newly-settled Oklahoma Territory. J. P. Jackson, J. M. Chastain, J. E. Turner, W. H. Seawall, and J. A. Jones were appointed members of the board of trustees, and the board was intructed to negotiate with the towns that might be interested in securing the school, and "to accept the bid that appeared most advantageous."1

In response to a call by the mayor a large mass meeting assembled at the South Methodist Church in Norman, to confer with the trustees "concerning the establishing hire of a university that will be second to none in the country." With great enthusiasm, the assembly approved. A citizens committee consisting of Mort Bixler, editor of the State Democrat; W. C. Renfrow, later territorial governor; W. N. Elledge; S. B. Brown; and Captain J. T. Johnson was appointed. The committee "would endeavor to secure suitable grounds for a site, see what amount can be raised, and attend to anything further to secure the institution



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at Norman."2 On May 28th, another mass meeting convened, and many speeches were made, urging townsmen to get behind the new enterprise and to express their interest in terms of dollars and cents. At this time two committees were formed, one on Location, and the other on Finance.3

By the seventh of June the Committee on Finance reported "a considerable amount of cash pledged, and not yet through canvassing the city"; while the other was able to report "five locations of a site of ten acres each offered, with a probability of securing others yet."4 On July 23d the college trustees met with the committee representing the town; and the latter agreed to provide a ten-acre tract of ground and "to put up a building that would meet the approval of the trustees and to cost not exceeding $10,000."5 On paper, a Methodist college had come into existence at Norman; and all it now needed was a campus, a building, a faculty, a student body, and money enough to make the wheels go round.

Following the joint-meeting of July 23rd, the trustees elected the Reverend J. T. Farris, as president, and a staff of three teachers pending the erection of a college building on the selected site. Several rooms in and adjacent to the South Methodist Church, on Tonkawa and Gray streets, were equipped for school purposes. Tuition was "made low to suit the times," and the institution opened its doors on September 18th, 1890.6 About one hundred and thirty students enrolled the first year.7 The attendance was all that could be desired at this stage of development. The institution had no competitors in the field, as little had been done toward the organization of public schools, and a territorial university at Norman had scarcely been mentioned.

In the following March, 1891, a ten-acre site was chosen, an elevation at the east end of Main street, on the northeast corner of C. J. Bowling's claim.8 The first year's work of the new college left a splendid impression upon the mind of the townsmen. Its















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first commencement was an outstanding event for Norman, then a town of about thirteen hundred. On this occasion Seawall's "Opera House," at 113 East Main, was the scene of "one of the largest crowds that ever gathered in this spacious structure." The Norman Transcript avowed that "the progress of this school is wonderful . . . . The school is a credit to Oklahoma, and worthy of the patronage and praises of Norman and the entire territory."9

The second year opened, in September, 1891, and one hundred and fifty students enrolled, paying a tuition of three dollars per month. Out-of-town students boarded at a cost of ten dollars per month or less. In its advertisements, much was said of the moral and religious atmosphere that prevailed among its students, though "no sectarian dogmas" or "political creeds" were fostered. Discipline was "kind but firm," and "pupils are not wanted who will not work and obey."10

Times were hard, and funds for the new building were exceedingly difficult to raise; and almost the end of the second year had arrived before work on the new structure began on the selected site facing the east end of Main Street. But the editor of the Transcript was confident that "a new era of progress has set in for Norman, another step of advancement has been made: Norman, the Athens of Oklahoma is marching on."11

The infant college, still meeting in the Methodist Church and other rooms nearby, began its third year under less promising circumstances. Competitors were entering the field, the most formidable of which was the new territorial university, located on the second floor of the stone building at 208 West Main. It promised "a full corps of professors; classes to be organized in all preparatory and college studies," and that "Pupils will have the use of a library and apparatus from the first." Expenses would be low, and "Tuition free to all residents of the Territory."12 On September 15th, 1892, President David R. Boyd opened the door of his institution with a faculty of four and about twenty students enrolled, presumably all of high-school rank.13 Far less











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important, yet another competitor of the Methodist school, was Noble Academy, owned by local share-holders and under the management of E. D. Macready, who later enjoyed a wide and favorable publicity in the Territory.14 Moreover, public schools were being organized at Norman and in most of the neighboring towns.

The Reverend J. T. Farris having resigned the presidency of the Oklahoma Methodist College at the close of its second year, the trustees selected W. L. Chapman as his successor. Chapman, who came from outside the Territory and knew nothing of the position he was expected to fill, related years later that "After coming here and looking the field over, and the University starting the same year on the other side of town, with free tuition, while I was expected to run my institution on fees, I said to the Board: 'Do you think I've actually gone crazy?', and I did not accept the position."15 A. N. McDaniels,16 who later organized a private school at Norman, then served as acting-president until January 1893. Meantime the Reverend A. J. Worley, presiding elder of the Oklahoma district, was elected president for a term of ten years. The trustees agreed to give Worley four acres of ground near the college upon which he would erect, at his own expense, a girls' residence hall.17

For some time, Worley had been operating a Methodist school in a grove about twenty miles west of Oklahoma City, which he called Queen's Camp. The school had been carried on in a frame building surrounded by several small cottages and tents in which students lived at a very low cost. When Worley came to take charge of the college at Norman the two schools were, in theory, united. Queen's Camp closed in January, but only one of its teachers and few, if any, of its students followed their president to Norman18 to his new post.

At Norman, the new president met with discouraging circumstances on every hand. By the end of January his enrollment











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had sunk to about fifty students.19 McDaniel, his predecessor, had started a school of his own in the Williams Building and many of his former students rejoined him at his new location. Others later withdrew from the college, expressing their intention to enroll at the University on the other side of town.20 The college building on the new site was far from completion. By March, the walls were up, but the committee in charge were still short of funds and urgently appealing for further aid from the citizens of Norman. Editor E. P. Ingle of the Transcript joined in the new appeal, insisting that "The maintainence of the school at this period is of inestimable value, and our people should respond in a liberal measure until the institution is on a sound basis.21 The third year of the college closed with the new building still unfinished. The Transcript, in a front-page editorial, expressed the fear that "unless the building is completed by fall, the M. E. Trustees will consider its obligation to the town unfulfilled, and turn to some other town that offers better inducements than Norman."22

While work on the new building was lagging behind, Worley was pushing the erection of his own, a girls' residence hall not far from the main structure. By the middle of June he was able to announce with a measure of satisfaction the actual completion of the college storm-cellar, thirty feet long and twelve wide, near the main building.23

Shortly after the beginning of the fourth year, the school moved out of its old quarters at the Methodist Church to occupy the new building, now christened High Gate College because of its commanding location at the eastern entrance to the city. The college building was ninety feet long, forty-four wide, and three stories high. The first story was of native stone, the second of pressed brick, and the third was formed by a Mansard roof, with projecting windows on front and rear. The residence hall, when completed, was to be occupied by President Worley and wife, "who would give their personal supervision to the Boarding Department." The school would be divided into three departments:











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preparatory, grammar-school, high school and collegiate; the latter including music and art.24

From now onward, High Gate would be open to girls only. Worley appears to have envisaged an institution of a conservative, exclusive type, as well as one free from the laxity in morals so commonly charged to co-educational schools, and to state supported colleges in particular. Stringent rules were accordingly laid down for High Gate students; "Young ladies desiring to have a good time will not find this institution to their liking." Students would not be allowed to attend "places of amusement," and all correspondence with persons outside the school would be subject to examination by the college authorities.25 Even a code governing the conduct of faculty members is said to have been promulgated, one rule of which required that male members, when appearing on the street, should wear a silk tie and Prince Albert coat.26

Scarcely had the school settled down in its new quarters, under a revised policy, when there began a movement profoundly affecting local opinion with respect to the maintainance of denominational colleges, and of High Gate in particular. On the other side of town, President Boyd was battling with grave problems in his own institution. The University had entered its second year with still a mere handful of students, only one of whom was of true collegiate rank. Criticism was being leveled at the University by members of the Legislature, and others, as being an institution for which there was no real demand—as an expensive luxury maintained by the Territory for the benefit of the few.27 But if the University appeared to many as an expensive luxury; to Boyd the establishment of colleges by the various denominations, in this new and undeveloped region, seemed an even greater superfluity. Boyd was determined "to stop their attempts" by substituting a novel plan for theirs." He would so improve the advantages at the University as to convince the public that it would be able to give to the student everything that the denominational









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school could offer, while at the same time afford superior academic training, free of tuition charge.28

Boyd was profoundly impressed with a scheme that was being advocated by Bishop Vincent of the Methodist Episcopal Church. As a guest of the University the Bishop came to Norman on January 9th, 1894, and delivered lectures to which pastors of the various churches were invited. His specific proposal was the establishment by his own denomination of a student boarding hall at Norman "that would be an annex to the University, but under the control of the Church, where students could be as well cared for as in a denominational school." If the town would donate a five-acre site, the Methodist Episcopal Church of Oklahoma would agree to erect a hall at a cost of not less than $5000.29 With this prospect, in a time of nation-wide depression, of money flowing into Norman for the erection of expensive buildings, enthusiasm of the townsmen was unbounded. A committee was appointed, and a five-acre site selected and paid for by popular subscription within two days. The editor of the Oklahoma Call hailed the adventure as "A grand movement, and one that will undoubtedly be taken adantage of by the other denominations.30 The Transcript avowed that "If Bishop Vincent's plan was adopted by all the leading denominations in the Territory there would be no need of church schools; but members of all denominations could receive the advantage of the University, yet know that their children were being cared for by their own church."31

The State Democrat, while giving its general approval of the policy championed by Boyd and Vincent, urged at the same time that High Gate should continue to receive support, since its building was near completion and already occupied by teachers and students. Furthermore, the college was not really a sectarian institution, for half its teachers were members of other churches. Its program, he argued, was in harmony with that of the University, "as all who wish can enter the University after they leave the College. "Finally, the great advantage of High Gate was that girls can enter there and be educated at a time when the forma-









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tion of their character is of highest importance," and he was convinced that there were "plenty of people who need such a college for their girls."32

The Transcript again launched into a lengthy argument in behalf of "one strong educational institution" for the whole territory. With the universal adoption of the proposed scheme, Oklahoma University could be made to serve all denominational objectives, and thus render the maintainence of church schools unnecessary.33

At the height of enthusiasm for the new scheme a story went out that High Gate "was to be turned into a dormitory like the Vincent Hall." Friends of the college now rallied to her defense, and on February 14th President Worley replied in vigorous language:

"The Times-Journal and Transcript, and perhaps other papers are a little off in stating that our female college . . . is to be made a boarding hall . . . to board pupils for the University. No Sir: High Gate Female College will remain as it is. It is hoped that Southern Methodists will build a boarding hall near the University for the boys. There is a demand for a female college, and we intend that that this school shall fully meet this demand. All persons are not fully satisfied to send their daughters off to school in promiscuous boarding halls, though such halls have a university on every side of them."34

In another letter to the local press, Worley declared that the conversion of High Gate into a hall was wholly impractical, since the college building and that of the University were more than a mile apart; and besides; "There is a field for our school, and by the help of God and the good people we intend to cultivate that field."35 In the State Democrat, there appeared a veritable sermon by the Reverend D. W. Hughes of Noble, asserting that "Such a step for Southern Methodists would not only be a departure from well-defined and long-established usage, but would subvert rather









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than vindicate the wisdom of its inauguration, and utterly fail to meet the prospective demands of its constituency."36

Even at the commencement exercises at High Gate a comprehensive effort was made to show that there was a "field" for the College, the needs for which no other type of educational institution could adequately serve. The Reverend Lovett, pastor of the South Methodist church at Wynnewood, delivered a lengthy address on "Women and Women's Education." Another address in support of the College was delivered by the Reverend E. D. Cameron, Territorial Superintendent of Public Instruction, and short talks were made by five of the leading pastors of the Territory.37

After a campaign for the Democratic nomination for congressional delegate,38 Worley opened the College for its fifth year on September the third, with a new staff of teachers. Mrs. Worley supervised the "Boarding Department," Professor A. S. Brown and wife had charge of the "Literary Department," and Miss Amelia Bruce the music. "One thing is necessary to secure success," Worley asserted in his announcement to the local papers, "and that is home patronage. Young Ladies, consider the claims. of High Gate College, and act accordingly."39 An appeal for local patronage issued by A. S. Brown, one of the new teachers, reveals some insight into the problem the College then confronted; and which, along with other factors, might spell its final doom:

"Citizens of Norman: I am a new man in your midst. I have accepted the position as principal of the Literary Department of your High Gate Female College. I am not striving against any institution, but I want patronage . . . I have talked to several in your town and find them interested, but not satisfied with its past and present work . . . If you prefer private institutions to public and mixed ones, give me a trial."40

While there is no evidence to indicate that actual enrollment at the opening of High Gate's fifth year, the State Democrat noted











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an improved attendance, particularly of girls from outside of Norman. The College was said to have "doubled the number of boarders they had last year."41 Despite this single source of encouragement, the outlook was dark. Local patronage, upon which the continuance of the school so much depended, had failed to materialize. With the development of the public school system, and the opening of the University at Norman, local residents were growing indifferent toward a denominational college, somewhat austere and exclusive in spirit, charging a tuition which bore heavily in a time of nation-wide depression. It is not therefore strange that they had turned with enthusiasm to the "Vincentplan," with its pospects of many new buildings, more work, and "better business for Norman."

Scarcely was the autumn session under way when back to Norman came Bishop Vincent to deliver thirteen lectures in behalf of the extension of his beloved scheme to all denominations. Boyd had made elaborate preparations for his arrival, including a "welcoming committee," made of representatives from the various churches. The Bishop was expected to make a special report on the progress of the "Methodist Annex."42 In the latter part of October Boyd unfolded the "novel plan" before the assembled representatives of his own church, then in session at Guthrie. The presbyters were very favorably impressed, and it was resolved: "to accept the opportunity afforded by the University of utilizing its free tuition in conjunction with religious and theological instruction of the Church." A board of trustees was appointed and sent forthwith to Norman "to look after the matter of the proposed Westminster Hall."43

On the 27th of October another distinguished visitor arrived in Norman, Bishop R. K. Hargrove of the South Methodist Church, whose jurisdiction extended to the Oklahoma district. He, too, was met at the train by local dignitaries, including both Boyd and Worley, officials of the town, local pastors and many others. The Bishop "was shown through the University, and gave his approval to that institution."44 Whether he gave his official blessing to









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the "Annex Scheme," as Boyd vaguely intimated,45 will likely remain a mystery. We are left to later developments, alone, for light on the probable meaning of Hargrove's visit to Norman, while en route to the Indian Mission Annual Conference at McAlester, where he presided some days later.

Shortly after Bishop Hargrove's visit, the Transcript began to record the transfer of students from High Gate to the University, which continued till well into the last month of the old year. In December, Ex-President Worley, who had gone deeply into his own pockets in his enthusiasm for the advancement of the college, was graciously favored with one of the most desirable pastorates within the Conference. As the Christmas holidays drew near High Gate's halls and classrooms were left vacant and lonely, no more to be occupied by teachers and students.

But the building of the vanished college was not to remain idle for long, nor would it become another "annex to the University," as some of the advocates of the "Vincent-Plan" had longed to see. Early in the new year, the Oklahoma Sanitarium Company that had secured from the Territory a contract for the care of its insane patients, became interested in locating in the vacant building.48 A committee of Norman citizens worked long and arduously to meet the conditions laid down by the Company. On the 12th of the following April, the committee met with Dr. Threadgill of the Oklahoma Sanitarium Company, and the latter finally accepted Norman's offer of the old college building and grounds, and an additional forty acres which the city had purchased from the Forbes estate.49

Early in May, extensive improvements were begun on the old campus.50 The Mansard roof was torn away and a third story formed of brick. To the rear of the college building was erected an annex, one hundred feet long and forty wide, and a T-shaped structure was the result. Finally, on the evening of











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July 27th, 1895, "a car load of insane people" was observed coming into Norman, to make their future home on the campus of a "ghost college."

If Oklahoma's first college gave place to a psychopathic hospital what of the halls championed by Boyd and Vincent, as an inoculation against the establishment of denominational colleges in the new territory? Two such halls are said to have been organized before the end of the year 1894.52 But where is Vincent Hall? Where is Westminster Hall? They, too, have long since joined old High Gate in the realm of oblivion. The scheme which had appealed so strongly to churchmen and townsmen seemingly met with little response from university students, intent on living their own lives under a minimum of restriction. Nor did matters of high policy longer demand their presence. The crisis in the University's early history vanished with the return of economic prosperity in the later nineties, and with it languished the fear of serious competition from sectarian schools. Such institutions are now widely distributed over the state, while "university churches" encircle the campus at "the Athens of Oklahoma."



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