A Rich History and Continued Momentum
In 1835, William Barret Travis, leader of a group of Texas settlers, called for the establishment of a Methodist presence in the region through a letter written to the New York Christian Advocate. In response, Methodist church leaders dispatched three missionaries to Texas, including Martin Ruter of Pennsylvania.
Ruter found Texas an unsettled region recovering from the ravages of war and surviving under the danger caused by enmity between settlers and Comanches. Despite the challenges, Ruter’s vision of a college came to fruition in 1840 with the founding of Rutersville College, six miles north of La Grange. A.M. Levy, who served as the Republic of Texas’ surgeon general, donated 320 acres of land so that Methodist pioneers could open Rutersville—the first institution of higher learning in Texas. Southwestern traces its genesis to Rutersville and three other early Texas Methodist institutions that were founded later: Wesleyan College in 1844, McKenzie College in 1848 and Soule University in 1856.
In 1868, Francis Asbury Mood, a teacher at the South Carolina State Normal School, agreed to become Soule’s president. Mood found Soule in disarray. He quickly formulated a plan to sponsor and support one central Methodist institution. Mood was elected president of the new institution, which later became Southwestern, located in Georgetown. Two years after opening its doors as Texas University in 1873, the state of Texas granted the institution’s Union Charter under the name South Western University. The name Texas University
was relinquished to the state.
Over the next several decades, Southwestern emerged as Texas’ central Methodist college. Struggling with enrollment and finances during the 1920s and 1930s, Southwestern was saved from financial ruin by Elizabeth Carothers Wiess, a Houston benefactor. World War II brought prosperity to Southwestern when the War Department selected it as a site for a Navy officers training program. Among the Southwestern midshipmen were some of the best football players from Baylor, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University, Rice University and Oklahoma University. By the fall of 1943, the “Immortal 36”—as they became known—overpowered other teams, even beating UT Austin. The Pirates went on to win the Sun Bowl in 1944 and 1945.
The 1950s marked Southwestern’s return to its focus as a liberal arts and sciences college. The few graduate degrees it offered at the time were dropped. Over the next few decades, Southwestern’s reputation grew. By the early 1980s, the name “Southwestern University” began to appear in national college guidebooks. In 1988, U.S. News & World Report named Southwestern the top regional liberal arts college in the nation.
In 1994, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching promoted Southwestern to classification among 160 national liberal arts colleges. A chapter of the prestigious honor society Phi Beta Kappa was installed in March 1995.
Much of Southwestern’s emergence as a national liberal arts college was due to a 20-year “challenge grant” funded by The Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston. Between 1976 and 1996, the challenge brought in more than $31 million, which provided funds for the University’s first endowed professorships, established the annual Brown Symposium and funded the Brown Scholars program, which offers full scholarships for outstanding students.
Today, Southwestern is considered one of the nation’s premiere undergraduate liberal arts colleges. Its Paideia® Program, which was started in 2002 with the help of an $8.5 million grant from the Priddy Charitable Trust of Wichita Falls, Texas, provides a unique integrative educational program for the 21st century.