Written in 1995 by Libby Proffer, TCU Emeritus Dean of Students
When the Civil War ended in the United States in 1865, General Robert E. Lee was invited to lend his name to several business enterprises for money. Instead of accepting the lucrative offers, General Lee decided to give the remainder of his life to education. In explanation, he wrote, “The best thing that any man can do for the South is to build it with citizens.”
Addison Clark, another former Confederate Army officer, made a similar statement about the same time without knowing that Lee had taken such a stand.
Addison and his brother, Randolph (also a former Confederate officer) came home to Fort Worth determined to educate young men and women as Christian citizens who would help rebuild the shattered nation. Their initial plans to teach in a public school were thwarted when the federal government passed a law that came to be called the “Iron Bound Oath” which prohibited any individual who had ever fought against the federal government from ever holding any position of honor or trust in the public sector. The law essentially disenfranchised every confederate veteran from ever holding office – including teaching in public schools.
The two brothers decided to open a private school and began teaching classes in 1868 on a site located in downtown Fort Worth where the First Christian Church now stands.
By 1869, their father, Joseph Clark, was so encouraged by their endeavors that he bought a plot of land on which to build a school near the site of the present convention center.
Unfortunately, the site he chose was soon to be called “Hell’s Half Acre” because of the saloons, gambling halls and houses of prostitution that were located nearby.
Shortly after that purchase, the city got word that the long awaited railroad would be coming into Dallas and then on to Fort Worth. While most of the city’s leaders were overjoyed with the news, the Clark brothers were devastated. They took their religion seriously and they believed that the increased population the railroad would bring would mean the death knell for the young school.
In his memoirs, Randolph would write, “The town boys, the boys from farms and ranches, rough but clean, were dazzled by the glitter of vice and caught up like insects around a street light. It might have been the better part of valor to have remained and fought the flames in an effort to prevent the fire from spreading, but we thought more of saving those who could be kept out of the burning, and of building a place to prevent others from being caught.
Searching for a new site away from Fort Worth, Randolph Clark visited a location 40 miles southwest of Forth Worth that was offered for sale by ‘Old Man Thorp” who had land certificates for nearly all of that region. There was a perennial spring of clear cold water and a sulfur water spring. Thorp and his partner thought they could make a profitable health resort out of the area if they could attract enough people.
They built what was then considered a commodious building and offered it and several acres of land to the Clarks for $9,000. The Clarks accepted the offer and in September, 1873, Addran Male and Female Academy (the forerunner of TCU) opened with 13 students. Since there was no date for late registration, the session closed with an enrollment of 75. The Clarks obtained a charter from the state of Texas that first year and the student body had grown to 117 by 1884.
Virtually all of the schools that were started after the Civil War were for men only or for women only and the establishment of a coed school was a remarkably progressive step for the two brothers.
Although both Addison and Randolph were ministers in the Christian faith and were determined to build a school where young men and women would be able to study “under Christian influence,” Addison would not consent to its being called a “Christian College.” If it became Christian, he said, “it would be so by the Christian teachers who taught there and would be known by the fruit of their labors.”
During the first year, however, the Clarks secured the endorsement of a convention of delegates from the congregations of Christian churches in Texas, and every member of the faculty was required to be a member of the Christian Church.
Rules concerning student behavior were strict, as they were in most schools in those days and school policies would horrify students today. The school catalog of 1883-84 included this statement” “There will be two holidays during the session, Christmas day and one in April. Parents will please not encourage nor expect their children to return home for Christmas, or any time until the close of school. It is impossible to have children do good work when they lose time from their studies.’
Four years after the move to Thorp Spring, the Clarks were in dire financial straits and could not keep up their payments on the property. Mr. Thorp decided to take back his building. Before the first building was vacated, the Clarks raised $650 and bought six and a half acres near the original site and began to build their own building. The money for the first payment came from the sale of the family homes of Addison and Randolph in Fort Worth and the sale of 320 acres that belonged to Randolph’s wife in Collin County.
Even with these sacrifices, the Clark’s had money problems and in 1889 the Clarks turned the young college over to the Brotherhood of the Christian Church. The new charter changed the name to AddRan Christian University.
Financial difficulties continued and in 1895, the executive committee from the Christian Church in Waco submitted a proposal to move the school to Waco. They agreed to deed over to the University the defunct Waco Female College, 15 acres of land and to build a dormitory for boys – provided it did not cost more than $5,000 (Today it costs more than $5,000 to replace the carpeting in a residence hall). The offer of the Waco church was accepted and in 1896, students and faculty moved bag and baggage to Waco.
In 1902, the Board of Trustees appointed a new president to replace Addison and changed the name of the school to Texas Christian University. At the same time, the trustees decreed that the college of science, literature and art would be called thereafter AddRan College of Arts and Sciences. It bears that name today.
At 8:30 am on March 22, 1910, a fire of unproven origin destroyed the magnificent ‘fireproof’ main building in Waco. Insurance money was small and made only a modest contribution toward paying the debts against the building. The prospect of Waco’s providing funds for the rebuilding was so doubtful that several Texas cities, including Dallas, sent invitations for the school to move.
Wise trustees accepted an offer from Forth Worth which provided for a campus of 50 acres (far removed from the center of the growing city), $200,000 in money, and assurance of connections with city utilities and the street car.
For the 1910-11 school year, trustees leased several two story buildings at the comer of Weatherford and Commerce for classes, and TCU students used the lawn of the Tarrant County Court House for their first Fort Worth campus.
On September 6, 1911, the University opened on its new campus with three new buildings: a class room and administration building known then as Main but now known as Reed Hall, a dormitory for women called Jarvis, and a dormitory for men called Goode which stood where the present Clark Hall stands.
Because Goode was designated for “preacher boys” only, other male students complained and work on the original Clark Hall was started almost immediately. It stood where Sadler Hall stands today.
There were no paved roads to the school, no houses in the area, and only one scraggly little tree which shows up in a photo of that early campus.
Since then TCU has become a university of the first rank with a national reputation. It is small enough (some 6700 students) to treat people as individuals and large enough to have nice facilities and a great faculty and staff.
The school was integrated in 1964 and the student body now includes a diverse student population, caring faculty, and a solid reputation. Countless faculty, staff, students and benefactors have given their time, talents, wisdom, and money to make this university what it is today. Those of us who have benefited from their love of TCU now have an obligation to make sure that TCU continues as a great university that is dedicated to its student body.