Rutersville College Receives Charter, February 5, 1840
Texas Methodists established a college even before they organized an annual Conference. Martin Ruter, head of the Methodist Mission to the Republic of Texas, was determined that Texas would have a university. Although Dr. Ruter was mainly self-taught, he had been president of two colleges in the United States. He and his colleague, the Rev. Littleton Fowler, spent much of their first weeks in Texas in Houston lobbying the Congress of the Republic of Texas for a university charter. Mexico's embrace of Roman Catholicism had a left a majority of the Congress suspicious of governmental entanglements with sectarian enterprises.
Less than six weeks after Ruter's death in May, 1838, twelve investors decided to take the bull by the horns and begin a town and university in spite of the lack of a charter. They purchased a league of land near present-day LaGrange and hired the Rev. John Wesley Kenney to survey it into city blocks and small farms. They named their town Rutersville and immediately began planning the school that would anchor the town and help them sell their town lots. The founders enacted phohibitions against the sale of alcoholic beverages.
By the fall of 1839 plans were far enough along to hire Chauncey Richardson as president of Rutersville College, and on the last Monday of January, 1840, doors opened. President Richardson, his wife Martha, and Charles Thomas were the faculty who greeted sixty-three students. There were three departments, Classical, Preparatory, and Female. Few of the student had prerequisites for anything other than Preparatory. Entrance into the Classical Department required knowledge of algebra through quadratic equations, ancient and modern geography, Latin and Greek grammar and the ability to read Cicero, Virgil, and the Gospel of St. John in the original languages.
The doors had been open only a week when news came that the Congress, now meeting in nearby Austin, had granted the charter. It had even granted land to help sustain the school.
Rutersville College became a focus of Methodist acitivity in western Texas. Methodist families moved there so their children could attend classes. On Dec. 25, 1840 the Texas Annual Conference was organized there.
This first attempt at higher education in Texas lasted only until 1856. The establishment of other universities such as Baylor at Independence and Soule at Chappell Hill made student recruitment more difficult. Even though it closed, its legacy lives on in its successor, Southwestern University.