Waco University

A forerunner of Baylor University, Waco University served as one of the earliest and most influential institutions of higher learning following the founding of Waco Village in 1849.

When Waco incorporated in 1856, Baptists already held a significant presence in the small town. Seeking to establish a preparatory school for the provision of education for young Baptist men, First Baptist congregants banded together with the Trinity River Baptist Association in 1856 to create Trinity River Male High School, later called Trinity River Classical School. The small school held its first classes in 1857 in temporary quarters at First Baptist Church on Fourth Street. Hoping to expand the reach of the school, trustees purchased a 7 ½-acre tract of land south of the city plat between Fifth and Sixth Streets in 1859. With assistance from the local community, the school constructed two large brick buildings.

The year 1860 brought a series of new changes to the school, beginning with the formation of Waco Baptist Association, a voluntary group of nine Baptist churches organized to provide support to the local Baptist community. Taking control of the school from Trinity River Baptist Association, the Waco group renamed the institution Waco Classical School.

In 1861 a bitter dispute at Baylor University, still located in Independence, concerning teaching methodology and a coeducational dance brought former and future Baylor president Rufus Burleson and four new faculty members to Waco Classical School. Following the resignation of school head John C. West, trustees offered Burleson the presidency. Burleson adjusted the scope of the school and in September of that same year, it reopened as all-male Waco University.

Tuition at the Waco school ranged from ten to twenty dollars throughout the university’s years of operation, although the children of poor ministers and young men in training to become preachers often received their education for free. Budgetary concerns, a constant concern for the short-lived university, were underscored by large numbers of young men enrolling in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

Enrollment increased and coursework expanded at the university in the years following the Civil War, aided by the addition of a female department in 1866. Although one of the first coeducational universities in the nation, classes remained segregated by gender.

The growing Waco school soon began to compete with Baylor University for students and the two universities, supported by separate Baptist associations, coexisted for several years. However, the growth of Waco, bolstered by the recent arrival of the railway, signaled the gradual decline of Baylor in Independence. When the general and state associations which supported the two universities consolidated to form The Baptist General Convention of Texas, it was decided to consolidate Waco University and Baylor University in Waco, utilizing Baylor’s name.

Waco University held its last classes in the spring of 1886, although Baylor retained many of the university’s policies, course offerings, and faculty for many years after the consolidation. As the Baylor campus expanded, the former Waco University structure was transitioned into a dormitory, and later phased out completely.

Today, Waco University’s contribution to educational life in the city is lived out through the operations of Baylor University.

Images

Women's Education

Women's Education

Waco University likely turned many heads when it became coeducational in the mid-nineteenth century. Although coeducation had become more popular overseas by the 1800s, Waco University and later Baylor University were among the first schools in the South to offer courses for both men and women. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Mythology Class (c. 1884)

Mythology Class (c. 1884)

Waco University offered a wide range of classes for its ever-growing student body. A typical student could choose from courses such as Latin and literature, modern foreign languages, natural philosophy (physics), mathematics, civil engineering, natural sciences, history and political economy, English and literature, rhetoric, oratory, philosophy, chemistry, and evidences of Christianity.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Promotional Pamphlets

Promotional Pamphlets

Rufus C. Burleson wrote pamphlets such as this one in order to inform interested parties about developments at the university. It was his hope that these updates would garner more financial support for the institution.  | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Day Scholars (c. 1885)

Day Scholars (c. 1885)

The university grew rapidly following Rufus Burleson’s arrival, and by the time it consolidated with Baylor University in 1885, nearly twenty teachers offered instruction for 385 students. The majority of those students boarded at the school, but some day scholars lived at home in Waco and traveled to and from the university each day. View File Details Page

Growing Attendance

Growing Attendance

The collegiate division nearly disappeared during the Civil War when the majority of male students enrolled in the Confederate Army. Despite this drop in attendance, an increasing interest in the preparatory department ensured that overall enrollment continued to grow. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Maid of Arts

Maid of Arts

Coeducation in the nineteenth century often referred to gender segregated classrooms, although men and women were generally taught by the same professors. The use of the word “bachelor” for women was considered odd at this time, leading to differing terms on women’s diplomas. While some universities used “sister of arts” or “laureate of arts,” Waco University adopted “maid of arts” for its female graduates. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Lasting Tradition

Lasting Tradition

The ringing of Waco University’s large bell signaled the change of classes during a typical day for students. On occasion, professors rang the bell to mark special occasions and holidays. When Waco and Baylor Universities merged in 1885, the bell was moved to its current location on Burleson Quadrangle in order to stand as a reminder of the school’s academic roots. A smaller bell, brought from the Baylor campus at Independence, stands next to it. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Leading Educational Institute

Leading Educational Institute

Late nineteenth-century Waco University advertisements touted it as the best option for students looking for an education in Texas, boasting an able and zealous faculty and inexpensive but remarkable facilities. This particular advertisement shows plans for the construction of a center building in 1880 which would connect Georgia Burleson Hall and Maggie Houston Hall. The plans were set aside until the consolidation in 1885. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Audio

From Independence to Waco

Guy Brian Harrison Jr. speaks of the move of Rufus Burleson from Independence to Waco. | Source: Harrison Jr., Guy Brian, interviewed by Thomas Lee Charlton, June 20, 1974, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Consolidating Baylor and Waco University

William Pinson Jr. explains the conflict between Waco University and Baylor University, and the decision of the Conventions to consolidate the schools in 1886. | Source: Pinson Jr., William Meredith, interviewed by Lois E. Myers, November 11, 2010, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Baylor University at Waco, Texas

Guy Brian Harrison Jr. describes the details of uniting Waco University and Baylor University to become Baylor University at Waco, Texas in 1886. | Source: Harrison Jr., Guy Brian, interviewed by Thomas Lee Charlton, June 20, 1974, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amanda Sawyer, “Waco University,” Waco History, accessed May 30, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/122.

Related Tours

Subjects

Share this Story