Thursday, July 11, 2019

U.S. Citizens and their Federal Government, c. 1900-1975

This post is my answer to a broad question: How and why did the relationship between American citizens and the federal government change between 1900 and 1975? Which personalities, issues, and events most powerfully shaped that transition?

The word citizen refers to an inhabitant of a political state. But the term also suggests the possession and use of civic rights and privileges.[1] So, then, the question is, How did the relationship between inhabitants of the United States, with legal standing, and their federal government change during the first three-quarters of the twentieth century?

One way of responding would be to ask, Which American citizens? For example, it was not until 1920 that the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution secured for women the most basic right of citizenship, the right to vote. Yet even with that, negative stereotypes of women were slow to fade, and walls preventing achievement were slow to crumble.[2]

Also, as late as 1940, in the eleven states that made up the Confederacy, fewer than five percent of eligible African-Americans were even registered to vote. That remarkable figure becomes even more significant when we note that, at the time, roughly three-quarters of all blacks in the U.S. lived in the South.[3] Consequently, any discussion of this topic must occasionally refer to certain groups as well as to all citizens.

Signing the 19th Amendment in KY

My answer will follow the sequence of time. And it will sometimes put a spotlight on specific groups. I will argue that two main ideas characterized the relationship between American citizens and the federal government during the twentieth century: security and belonging.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, most Americans related to the federal government primarily at the post office or perhaps through some involvement with the military. By that time, however, those few connections had already begun to grow stronger and more numerous. The period in U.S. history between 1877 to 1920—that is, from the end of a failed Reconstruction to just beyond the conclusion of the First World War—was characterized by struggles over a seemingly endless number of political and economic issues, almost all of which were related to America’s Industrial Revolution. These included
  • woman suffrage
  • prohibition
  • railroad regulation
  • maximum hours of work
  • child labor
  • workmen’s compensation
  • black civil rights
  • graduated income taxes
  • banking reform
The crises associated with such challenges meant that America’s future seemed to require “giving to government a role radically different from that envisioned by the nation's founders.”[4]

At least some people in every time period imagine that, unlike people in earlier times, they uniquely stand on a precipice. Such anxiety certainly prevailed during the decades immediately following Reconstruction. For example, in an 1890 issue of the reform-minded literary magazine The Arena, Professor Joseph R. Buchanan noted that “the portents of the coming storm gather thick and dark in the sky.” He warned that “unless the power of money to oppress is modified or destroyed very soon, the present generation will witness the crash.”[5]

Over time, in response to what Robert Wiebe called that era's “search for order,” a vision emerged according to which the federal government would serve as arbiter between capital and labor, and between industry and consumers. For example, 1887 witnessed the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission. Designed to control the rates of railways, the ICC was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland as the very first independent regulatory agency in U.S. history. Its supervision of the railroads was nominal, at least initially. However, coming into the twentieth century, the powers of the ICC expanded.

In much the same way, the antitrust movement began as early as the presidency of Benjamin Harrison (1889-93). Yet, most of the legislation it generated was vague and effectively weak. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 typified all of the early federal antitrust legislation. Attorneys representing business interests often succeeded in overturning its apparent intent.[6]

On September 6, 1901, Leon Czolgosz, an American-born anarchist, shot President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. In his book titled Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt's America, Eric Rauchway relates some of the events that unfolded after the president died and Czolgosz was quickly tried and executed. At least one renowned expert in the science of mental illness sought to determine what had caused Czolgosz to act. Dr. William Channing of Boston sent his assistant, Dr. Lloyd Vernon Briggs, to determine what he could. Upon interviewing dozens of Czolgosz’s family members and associates, Briggs concluded that the assassin had been driven to murderous insanity partly by an environment of social and economic inequity. By contrast, upon reading the evidence that Briggs had gathered, Channing thought otherwise. He concluded that Czolgosz was indeed insane, but only in the sense that no sane person assassinates the President of the United States.

As Rauchway points out, the new president, Teddy Roosevelt, noticed these two conflicting interpretations and used them to great political advantage. At times, Roosevelt sided with Channing’s view, insisting that there were anarchists in the United States who were sane enough to unleash chaos. Therefore, it was imperative that political leaders should protect the social order from radical forms of dissent. At other times, the new president sided with the Briggs interpretation, arguing that the pathologies of the American social and economic order had pushed the assassin towards insanity. Therefore, political leaders had a mandate to use the power of government to make the United States a more humane and just society.[7]

These compelling story lines did much to generate what has come to be known as the Progressive Era in American politics. From the turn of the century to the time of America’s involvement in the Great War, Presidents Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson served as the figureheads of a federal government that was intent on restoring moral values to political and economic life. For example, spurred by such works as Upton Sinclair’s best-selling novel The Jungle, in 1906 federal legislators passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, the first of many consumer protection laws introduced during the twentieth century.  President Wilson advanced a central banking system with the introduction of a Federal Reserve Board, and the Clayton Antitrust Act closed some of the loopholes in its predecessor, the Sherman Act. At the time, there were signals that the federal government’s greater supervision and assistance would come at a greater cost. A would be defender must be strong. Thus, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1913, provided that Congress would have the power “to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.”[8] The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, also adopted in 1913, provides for the direct election of U.S. Senators.

Following the end of the Great War, presidential candidate Warren G. Harding's call for a return to “normalcy” struck a chord with millions of Americans. Campaigning in May 1920, Harding asserted, “The world needs to be reminded that all human ills are not curable by legislation, and that quantity of statutory enactment and excess of government offer no substitute for quality of citizenship.”[9]

Harding's successor, pro-business President Calvin Coolidge, fairly bragged but was hardly exaggerating when he said, “If the Federal Government should go out of existence, the common run of people would not detect the difference in the affairs of their daily life for a considerable length of time.”[10] However, unregulated speculation in securities and an agricultural sector that was desperate to gain a share of America’s economic growth were looming.

The stock market crash of October 1929 and especially the wave of bank failures during the months that followed led to a near-complete economic and social collapse for the United States. What came to be called the Great Depression was accompanied by the environmental catastrophe known as the Dust Bowl. Decades of soil erosion, combined with drought and high winds, turned the southern great plains into a veritable desert.[11]

The desperation of the times and the weakness of the nation led some analysts to fear that America might be vulnerable to fascist demagoguery. The task of simply trying to survive consumed the time and attention most Americans.[12] As the presidency of the unfortunate Herbert Hoover dragged on, millions of Americans stoically struggled through what they experienced as a shameful, guilt-ridden poverty.

In 1933, the newly-inaugurated president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, immediately responded to the crisis. He promised the American people “a New Deal,” and initiated drastic measures that only such drastic times would permit. On June 16, 1933, as President Roosevelt signed the last of the initial New Deal legislation, he remarked, “[M]ore history is being made today than in [any] one day of our national life.”[13] He was likely right.

The New Deal, consistently promoted with all the power of Roosevelt’s winning personality and contagious confidence, aroused widespread hope in the American people. It was a welcome change. Speaking to Congress on June 8, 1934, Roosevelt pointed to an American past when a person’s family members were nearby, a time when families within a small community could provide security for each other. The emergence of a larger, more mobile society had changed all that:
The complexities of great communities and of organized industry make less real these simple means of security. Therefore, we are compelled to employ the active interest of the Nation as a whole through government in order to encourage a greater security for each individual who composes it.[14]
At the time and ever since, observers and analysts have questioned the coherence, consistency, and real economic success of Roosevelt’s policies and programs.[15] But for all its real or imagined failings, the New Deal was a tremendous political success. It eased the terrible effects of the Great Depression. Policy intellectuals were brought into the political arena, and Americans became familiar with the idea that their government employed millions of people.[16] The presidency of Franklin Roosevelt changed everything. Its legacy was such that until 1980 all subsequent presidents, even Republicans Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, operated in a decidedly-liberal mode.

Nearing the end of the 1930s, the drumbeats of war in Europe, and an island nation with imperial dreams in the Pacific, required the U.S. to turn its attention outward. America’s involvement and eventual victory in the Second World War did much to rebuild the strength and solidify the authority of a nation that was by that time the world’s greatest economic and military power. In the wake of two world wars, the U.S. was now obsessed with national security. Yet, its obsession with real and imagined enemies directly related to its unfinished business at home. In the emerging Cold War, de facto apartheid in postwar America now provided the Soviet Union with plenty of material for its anti-U.S. propaganda machine.[17] It was time for the nation to reckon with what Gary Gerstle has called “a conviction that notions of racial superiority no longer had a place in America.”[18]

During and immediately after the Second World War, at least some blacks, mostly due to their military service, became more visible and significant to white America. With all due respect to black veterans, George Vecsey was correct when he wrote: “Every black politician, every black rap singer, every black athlete of today, every black citizen vaguely getting by, comes through Jackie Robinson.”[19] Professional baseball’s popularity at mid-century meant that Robinson’s ascendancy to the major leagues in 1947 would be nothing short of a sea change in American society. Part of the credit for the Robinson story belongs to Albert B. (Happy) Chandler. A U.S. Senator from Kentucky, Chandler became the baseball commissioner in 1944. Not long afterward, he assured reporters that blacks would soon be welcome to play in the major leagues. Significantly, decades later, as he looked back on the late 1940s, Chandler recalled that he “didn’t think it was right for these fellows to fight at Okinawa and Iwo Jima, and then come home and not be allowed to play.”[20]

Professional baseball, still slow to change, was one thing. Ubiquitous public institutions were another. By all accounts, the legal breakthrough that led to dozens of other victories on the racial front in America was the 1954 Supreme Court’s ruling in the case known as Brown v. Board of Education. The Brown decision was ultimately the result of a campaign of litigation launched by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as early as the 1930s. The NAACP sought to abolish “Jim Crow” standards, according to which segregation in public accommodations and schools was legal. The opinion of the Court, penned by Chief Justice Earl Warren, exhibited a “brisk” and “nontechnical” style. The document ran to a mere ten pages, barely a note by Supreme Court standards. Above all, the Court’s ruling was unanimous, a rare occurrence.[21] As James W. Ely Jr. describes the ripple effect of the ruling, the Court’s decision not only struck down “the historical practice of racial segregation in public education,” it thereby “opened a new chapter in the history of equality in America.”[22]

Significantly, 1954 was not only the year of the Brown decision, it was also the year that Martin Luther King, Jr. became minister of Montgomery, Alabama’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. King’s leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, sparked by the activities of Rosa Parks in December 1955, catapulted him into the national spotlight. From that time until his assassination in 1968, his efforts as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which inspired allied groups like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the predominantly white Congress of Racial Equality, created both backlash and subsequent progress. Slowly but steadily the civil rights movement, essentially a prophetic religious movement, led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These two pieces of federal legislation were the most significant laws passed since the Civil War Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.[23]

Good feelings did not last for long. Within a seven-year period, from 1968 to 1975, standing at the center of the world’s stage, the United States experienced devastating tragedy and humiliation both at home and abroad. Assassins took the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago, broadcast on national TV, was surrounded by mayhem due to violent antiwar protests and a brutal police crackdown. Unrest due to lingering racial tensions and the anti-war movement generated countless demonstrations, protests, and riots. In 1973, American military forces withdrew from Vietnam under an agreement that brought about what President Nixon called “peace with honor.” The next year--only after it became apparent that evidence of corruption and deceit would eventually force him out of office--Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, an unprecedented disgrace. The following year, the capital of South Vietnam, Saigon, fell to communist troops from North Vietnam, and its name was changed to Ho Chi Minh City. These developments forever changed the United States, and set the stage for the country's immediate future.


[1] Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed., s.v. “citizen,” accessed January 23, 2018,

[2] For a brief overview of the first wave of feminism, see Sara M. Evans, “American Women in the Twentieth Century,” in Perspectives on Modern America: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century, ed. Harvard Sitkoff (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 166-67.

[3] David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 18-19. For an evocation of how racism permeated American society in the early twentieth century, see Langston Hughes’s collection of short stories, The Ways of White Folks (New York: Knopf, 1934). Along the same line, Melton McLaurin describes small-town life in the American South during the 1940s and 1950s in his memoir, Separate Pasts: Growing Up White in the Segregated South. 2nd ed. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998).

[4] Philip Jenkins, A History of the United States (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997), 148. The story of Reconstruction as a short-lived success with freedmen as the central actors is told by Eric Foner in Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988). Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967) described the transition from a United States characterized by “island communities”—small towns where personal relationships and face-to-face interactions were the norm—to a world in which the forces of industrialization and the growth of cities, fueled by massive immigration, impacted everything. Cf. Nell Irvin Painter, Standing at Armageddon: The United States 1877-1919 (New York: Norton, 1987), esp., ix-xliv. Here, I have used the expression “woman suffrage” because that was the phrase people used until sometime around 1900, at which point the modifier “women” or “women’s” was becoming more common.

[5] Painter, Standing at Armageddon, x.

[6] See Jenkins, A History of the United States, 188-92; John F. Stover, “Railroads,” in Reader’s Companion to American History, ed. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), 906-910.

[7] Eric Rauchway, Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2003).

[8] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1954) discusses the sweeping reform legislation enacted by Congress from 1913 to 1917.

[9] Earlier in the same speech, Harding said: “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.” His presidential administration appears to have been a capitulation to an American political environment friendly to industry and cold to restriction and regulation. Jenkins, A History of the United States, 168.

[10] Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, 30, quoting Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Crisis of the Old Order, 1919-1933 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956), 57.

[11] Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979). In this work, one of the most significant early contributions to the still relatively-new sub discipline known as environmental history, Worster argues that it was no mere coincidence that the Dust Bowl and Depression occurred in the same decade. “Both events revealed fundamental weaknesses in the traditional culture of America, the one in ecological terms, the other in economic” (5). The same excessive pursuit according to which financial assets were expected to generate increasingly more money, also pushed industrialized farmers to treat nature itself as capital. Worster insists that this was the origin of the Dust Bowl. See also Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great America Dust Bowl (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006). Even in those areas hardest hit by the Dust Bowl—parts of six states running from southwest Nebraska to the Texas panhandle—most people stayed. Egan, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, relates their misery and determination by telling the stories of several families.

[12] An entertaining and revealing primary source along this line is Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl and Depression memoir, Bound for Glory (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1943).

[13] Kennedy, Freedom from Fear, 153.

[14] Ibid., 245.

[15] See, for example, Anthony J. Badger, The New Deal: The Depression Years, 1933-40 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1989). Nearing the end of the 1980s, Badger set out to provide a synthesis. His aim was not to tell, yet again, the story of the New Deal and the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. Instead, he wanted to take stock of New Deal historiography, which had been growing at an exponential rate up to the time of writing. The arrangement of the book is thematic rather than chronological. Although Badger tends to assume that New Deal initiatives were the best among difficult options, he concludes with a chapter titled, “Unanticipated Consequences.” Though it is now dated, the 51-page bibliographical essay that rounds out the book is still helpful.

[16] See H. W. Brands, Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (New York: Anchor Books, 2009), who presents a full-scale biography of Franklin Roosevelt, a son of privilege who became a “traitor to his class” by appealing to and serving the interests of the American masses. Brands argues that while Roosevelt was not himself a radical, his presidency radically altered the way Americans viewed the role of the federal government in the lives of citizens. See also the splendid new work by Alonzo L. Hamby, Man of Destiny: FDR and the Making of the American Century (New York: Basic Books, 2015), esp. 175-279.

[17] See Mary L. Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), who persuasively argues that “federal government action on civil rights was an aspect of Cold War policymaking” (15).

[18] Gerstle, American Crucible, 237.

[19] George Vecsey, Baseball: A History of America’s Favorite Game (New York: Modern Library, 2006), 119.

[20] Ibid., 120-21.

[21] Dennis J. Hutchinson, “Brown v. Board of Education,” 38.

[22]James W. Ely Jr., “Introduction,” in Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions, 2nd ed., eds. Kermit L. Hall and James W. Ely, Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), vii.

[23] Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988) assumes that the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. “is the best and most important metaphor for American history in the watershed postwar years” (xii). For obvious reasons, Branch also asserts that any biography of King must relate the story of the civil rights movement. He gives some attention to King’s predecessors, his family of origin, and his early years. However, this lengthy, engaging narrative, the first volume in a series of three, really takes off in 1954, when King became the minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery. It ends in 1963 with the March on Washington and, finally, the assassination of President Kennedy. Branch’s focus on King has drawn criticism from those who see the leadership of the civil rights movement through a wider lens. David L. Chappell, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004) persuasively argues that the civil rights movement was a new expression of the biblical prophetic tradition, and was not the result of American political or cultural liberalism, which, on the civil rights front, had been impotent for many years.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Federal Census of the Texas Panhandle, 1880

The last day or two, I've been spending time with the federal census of 1880. It's amazing.

This was the first census following the Red River War (1874-75), the first census taken in the Texas Panhandle. The counties in this region were established by the Texas Legislature in 1876. So by 1880, they had been in existence only four years.

The contrasts are striking. Today, Randall and Potter Counties are home to more than 250,000 people. (In 2017, Randall County was estimated at 134,442, and Potter County at 120,458). But in 1880, these counties, not much more than squares on a map, had a grand total of 27 residents. Almost all of those residents were young men. Only one of those men was married. In what is the Greater Amarillo area today? Barely two dozen young guys, almost all of them, according to the census taker, "Herding Cattle" and "Hunting Mustangs." A few lonely cowboys. That was it 140 years ago.

Source: Ernest R. Archambeau, "The First Federal Census in the Panhandle--1880," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 23 (1950): 22-132.

Friday, March 01, 2019

James J. Trott: Missionary to the Cherokees, 5

In spite of minimal help from congregations or from the Disciples' American Christian Missionary Society, by the end of 1859, James Trott had resumed his dream of working among the Cherokees, this time in Indian Territory. By then, Trott and his second wife had five sons and three daughters.[1] Not long before the outbreak of the Civil War, he was able to report:
We have already about 75 disciples in the Cherokee Nation, which we humbly hope and pray may be the first fruits of a glorious harvest. Some of these are the result of our humble efforts in the old nation more than twenty years ago. Some are the fruits of the able efforts of Bro. Graham, and the pious labors of Bro. Robertson; and some 50 were converted by the zealous efforts of brethren Goodnight and Phillips. We had the pleasure last fall of immersing three descendants of the red man, while on a visit to Grand Prairie, where we have a good prospect of establishing a High School. Having volunteered our humble efforts in this missionary field, free of charges to church or state, and having a large family to care for, we have not been able to devote as much time to preaching the word as we desired, and the cause demands.[2]
Trott's report indicates that he was enjoying at least some success in his mission. It also tells us that he worked among a network of fellow preachers. At least some of those men resided in northwest Arkansas and made trips across the border into Indian Territory in order to preach to Cherokees. 

But in 1862, troops entered the Cherokee Nation confiscating goods as they went. They helped themselves to provisions that belonged to Trott, and one of his sons, Timothy, was killed. At this, the family fled to Arkansas, and then to Missouri. Eventually, they found refuge in Kansas, but not before one of Trott's daughters, Elizabeth, died from exposure on Christmas Day 1862. 

One might guess that after the war, Trott would have stayed in Kansas, where the Disciples had made him the state evangelist, or gone back to Tennessee, where he had many friends and family. But in June of 1866, he returned to the Indian Territory to once again work among the Cherokees. Nevertheless, by that time deprivation and depression had taken their toll.

In 1868, James Trott set out for Tennessee, and died on December 19, 1868, not long after he arrived. He lies buried in Carmack Cemetery in Sumner County.[3]


[1] J. Edward Moseley, Disciples of Christ in Georgia (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1954), 130.

[2] Report of the Proceedings of the Anniversary Meeting of the American Christian Missionary Society Held in Cincinnati, October 23, 24, 25, 1860 (Cincinnati: H. S. Bosworth, 1860), p. 16.

[3] Moseley, Disciples of Christ in Georgia, 130-31; Tolbert Fanning, "James J. Trott: Messenger of the Church of Christ at Franklin College, Tenn., to the Cherokee Nation," Gospel Advocate (March 25, 1869).

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A Brief History of Hereford College (3)

In January 1906, after just one semester at the helm, C. Q. Barton added his name to the growing list of former presidents of Panhandle Christian College. He was replaced mid-year by the next new president, A. C. Elliot.

Why so much turnover? Naturally, ambitious and talented men welcomed the opportunity to become a college president. But in the words of historian Fred Stoker, "after experiencing the financial pressures, debts, and small enrollments in [a] frontier town," not to mention a demoralized, underpaid staff and no endowment, it became easy to accept a job offer somewhere else.[1]

So it was that in quick succession, Elliot was succeeded by T. R. Day, who was followed by E. M. Haile, T. E. Shirley's son-in-law, and finally Douglas A. Shirley, a nephew of the great benefactor. Apparently, nearing the end of the school's existence, T. E. Shirley could recruit presidents only from within his family.

During those last few years of the college, in the spring of 1910 and 1911, First Christian Church in Hereford hosted rallies meant to shore up the financial base of the school. But real contributions never began to match financial pledges, and Hereford College ceased to exist after its May 1911 commencement.

In his evaluation of the school, Stoker mentioned the ways in which it brought benefit to the region. Specifically, he observed that in 1910 the rate of illiteracy in Deaf Smith County was 1.6 percent, an incredibly low number in a pioneer town. Many residents of Hereford loved having a Christian college for the moral tone as well as the intellectual values it brought. It was a dream we wish could have lasted much longer.[2]


[1] W. M. (Fred) Stoker, History of Hereford College (Canyon, TX: West Texas State University, 1971), 17.

[2] Ibid., 18-30.

Monday, February 25, 2019

A Brief History of Hereford College (2)

Note: This post picks up a series I began with A Brief History of Hereford College (1).

As they planned for the future college, members of the board, although many of them were also members of the Christian church, determined that the school should not belong to any church, but to the town.

More than one donor provided land for the school. However, the cash needed to construct facilities on that land was harder to acquire. The board established a goal of raising $5,000 (approximately $160,000 in 2019 values) before construction could begin. But by January of 1902, they had collected barely $4,000.[1]

Nevertheless, later that year the local newspaper announced that classes would begin in September and that Randolph Clark, the veteran schoolmaster, had agreed to become the first president of the college. When September arrived, the school was still without a facility. So the inaugural session of what was called Hereford College and Industrial School met in the Deaf Smith County Courthouse.[2]

The lack of funds and slow progress toward their goals demoralized many people who had been early promoters of the college. In early 1903, some people in Hereford were ready to give up on the idea. Someone suggested that the school would have a better chance of surviving if it became affiliated with the Disciples of Christ. Soon, the board unanimously voted to turn the college over to the Disciples, also known as the Christian Church.

Around the same time, the name of the school was changed to Add-Ran College. This had been the name of a well-known college in Hood County, Texas, that later merged with Texas Christian University. The leaders at Hereford thought that using this name might draw students from outside the county. At any rate, soon the girls' dormitory was in use, and by November of 1903, about 100 students, from kindergarten up, were attending classes in the newly finished administration building. Always proud of the college, the local newspaper asked, "Might not we call Hereford the Athens of the Panhandle?"[3]

But the good feelings were not to last. In the spring and summer of 1904, locals held town meetings and sent out appeals designed to relieve the school's embarrassing financial status. By then, Randolph Clark, who had apparently exhausted himself recruiting students and raising funds, resigned the presidency.[4]

Under its new president, W. T. Noblitt, the school took on its third name in as many years: Panhandle Christian College. Although one of the board's original conditions was that the school would never borrow money, in August of 1904 reports indicate that it had recently borrowed $5,000. Under that cloud, the college began classes in September with 50 students.

Around this time, Hereford received a visit from T. E. Shirley, a leader among the Disciples of Christ in Texas. Shirley saw great potential in the school and upon his recommendation at the state convention that year, the Christian Church in Texas voted to adopt the college.[5] In January 1905, the reorganized Panhandle Christian College opened as a branch of Texas Christian University under chief executive Jesse B. Haston. (W. T. Noblitt's presidency had lasted one semester!) It appears that the new arrangement meant that Panhandle Christian would serve as a feeder school for TCU, and that TCU would be responsible for Panhandle's debt. E. V. Zollars, the president of TCU, underscored the new relationship between the two schools when he visited Hereford in March 1905. One can only imagine how it sounded to locals when Zollars announced that he had already raised $500 for the school, and that the parent institution would be spending $2,500 to improve the main building there at Hereford.

If Zollars meant for his visit to revive the spirit of the town and its college, he succeeded. In the fall of 1905, a new school year began under the leadership of a new president, Charles Q. Barton. Soon, the college hosted a series of events attended by townspeople as well as students. It organized an orchestra, started a theater program, and even began to field a few sports teams. Perhaps the most significant development in 1905 was that the aforementioned T. E. Shirley decided for health reasons to move to Hereford on the high plains. A man of considerable wealth and influence, Shirley was the one most responsible for the school being adopted by TCU. He would remain its most stalwart supporter until the end.[6]


[1] W. M. (Fred) Stoker, History of Hereford College (Canyon, TX: West Texas State University, 1971), 2-3.

[2] Ibid., 3-4.

[3] Ibid., 5-8.

[4] Ibid., 9-11.

[5] Ibid., 11-13.

[6] Ibid., 13-16. For more on Zollars, see Charles R. Gresham, "Zollars, Ely Vaughan (1847-1916)" in Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 799.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Lockney and Panhandle Christian Colleges: Why They Died

The Christian colleges at Lockney and Hereford, Texas began with worthy goals and high hopes. If nothing else, the structures they built, remarkable in that time and place, signaled the devotion of the men and women who supported these schools. So why did both of them close so soon after they opened?

Girls' Dormitory, Panhandle Christian College,
Hereford, Texas, c. 1903 

We live at a time when the remedy for a losing team is to get a new head coach, when the answer for a poor-performing corporation is to replace the CEO. So, naturally, we wonder if the schools at Lockney and Hereford closed due to a failure of leadership. On this question, I follow the lead of West Texas historian Fred Stoker. In commenting on the demise of Panhandle Christian College, Stoker concluded that the presidents of the school could hardly have done more than they did. He described them as "men of high caliber who struggled under the impossible tasks of too few students and too little money."[1] With that, Stoker not only took the focus off of the leaders of the school at Hereford, he pointed to the real problems with which the presidents of both schools had to contend, and why most of the presidents seemed unwilling to stay with the job for very long.

The towns of Lockney and Hereford were born at a moment in history not long after buffalo hunters and U.S. soldiers closed the West Texas Indian frontier, at a time when ranchers and farmers first began to make the region a more livable place for white Americans who were moving west. As new communities began to spring up, local boosters always imagined that their town was the best place in that part of the world, and that anyone who would only visit would want to stay. To the extent that they were sure of a future marked by rapid growth and never-ending prosperity, they were wrong.

Take Hereford as an example. In 1902, the year the college began, Hereford was a brand new town, only four years old, in a region that was barely settled and sparsely populated. For example, in 1880, in the entire Texas panhandle, which is larger than the state of West Virginia, the federal census counted 1,607 people.[2] According to another source, as late as 1900 Deaf Smith County and its neighbor Castro County had a combined population of 500.[3]

Although Hereford grew during its early years, it did not grow as rapidly or as large as some had dreamed that it would. For example, the Hereford Brand newspaper, the town's tireless cheerleader, promoted the goal of 5,000 residents by the beginning of 1908. But two years later, in 1910, in all of Deaf Smith County the census counted fewer than 4,000.[4] Even as late as 1940, the county had only 6,494 residents. In an area of nearly 1,500 square miles, the population density came out to only 4 per square mile.[5] As scholar Carter Boren later remarked, Panhandle Christian College "was established in a part of the state about as thinly populated as one might hope to find."[6]

In addition, the relatively-few residents of the Panhandle Plains did not represent old money, accumulated wealth acquired long ago and passed down through the generations of prominent families. Consequently, even the school's big donors were not especially big.

As the twentieth century progressed, the most important factor was that private schools had a difficult time competing with tax-supported schools as these became more common. Along this line, the following picture of the comparatively-huge administration building at West Texas State Teachers College in 1928 is revealing. The school, located in Canyon, Texas, a mere 30 miles from Hereford, began as West Texas State Normal College in 1910, the year before Panhandle Christian College closed.

Administration Building, West Texas State Teachers College, 1928.

For all of their enthusiasm for having a local academy, Lockney and Hereford simply could not keep up with regional competition and the high demands of maintaining a private school. As vital as they are, strong faith and good intentions cannot sustain a college.

Many communities and church groups learned this bitter lesson. The demise of Hereford College in 1911 foreshadowed the fate of not only Lockney Christian College in 1918, but that of several other schools in this region of Texas. These included Canadian Academy, a Baptist school in Hemphill County (1901-1913); Seth Ward College, a Methodist school northeast of Plainview in Hale County (1910-1916); the Lowery-Phillips School, a private boarding academy in Amarillo (1910-1917); and Goodnight College in Armstrong County, an industrial institute founded by the famous cattleman Charles Goodnight (1898-1917).[7]

In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the Disciples and Churches of Christ established a total of at least 21 colleges in Texas. Of these, only three survive to this day: T.C.U., Abilene Christian University, and Jarvis Christian College.[8]


[1] W. M. (Fred) Stoker, History of Hereford College (Canyon, TX: West Texas State University, 1971), 34.

[2] Handbook of Texas Online, Frederick W. Rathjen, "PANHANDLE," accessed December 22, 2018, See also, Ernest R. Archambeau, "The First Federal Census in the Panhandle--1880," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 23 (1950), 25.

[3] Bessie Chambers Patterson, "Hereford: From Cow Town to Capital of Farming Empire," 5. Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum Research Center, Canyon, TX.

[4] Ibid., 10-11.

[5] Carter E. Boren, Religion on the Texas Frontier (San Antonio, TX: Naylor Company, 1968), 250.

[6] Ibid.

[7] For information about these schools, see the relevant sections of the following two works: Donald W. Whisenhunt, Encyclopedia of Texas Colleges and Universities (Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1986), and Charles R. Matthews, Higher Education in Texas: Its Beginnings to 1970 (Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2018).

[8] D. Duane Cummins, The Disciples Colleges: A History (St. Louis, MO: CBP Press, 1987), 84.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Lockney Christian College (7): The Ledlow Years and the End of LCC

In the summer of 1914, evangelist W. F. Ledlow held what was then called a "protracted meeting" (an extended series of sermons) at the Lockney Church of Christ. While he was in town, Ledlow met with leaders of Lockney Christian College and agreed to serve as the next president of the school. Associates of the college knew well that the most successful past presidents brought strong academics and good public relations. Both were vital. Ledlow had just completed a master's degree at the University of Texas and was a gifted speaker. The leaders of the school were thrilled to bring him on board as the new president.[1]

Ledlow soon initiated a number of projects, building up the library and improving some of the school's facilities. His first year at Lockney came at a time when both the town and the school were experiencing noticeable growth. By the end of the academic year in 1915, student enrollment stood at 166. That summer, President Ledlow announced in the pages of the Firm Foundation that the school would be offering a standard junior college course of study.[2] It was an exciting time. But the relationship between the new president and the school was not to last.

During his second year at Lockney, in the fall of 1915 the secular press reported that W. F. Ledlow had been offered a position at the University of Texas. The president did his best to quell the rumors about a resignation, and even announced some of his plans for the coming year. But by the summer of 1916, the Firm Foundation included a note in which Ledlow stated, "we have moved to Thorp Spring, and have begun life in our new home.  . . . I love the Lockney people and have hundreds of friends there, but Thorp Spring offers me better opportunities."[3] He was now serving as the president of the faculty at Thorp Spring Christian College under the leadership of C. R. Nichol.[4]

Significantly, after Ledlow's announcement of his move, it appears that the Firm Foundation never mentioned Lockney Christian College again. Later in 1916, a publication known as Christian Higher Education issued a number that contained historical sketches of ten schools with connections to the Churches of Christ. But it never mentions L.C.C.[5] By 1918, the school finally closed. In his brief survey of the history of the school, Norvel Young offered several reasons why:
Lockney was a small town and unable to support the college well enough for it to gain accreditation. Abilene Christian College and Thorp Spring Christian College gained recognition as standard junior colleges and attracted many students away from Lockney. The dislocation caused by the war further added to the school's problems, . . . Ledlow attributed the closing to the above factors as well as to "peculiar views and local dissension."

[1] Platt, "History of Lockney Christian College," 35.

[2] Ibid., 36-37.

[3] Ibid., 38-39.

[4] Ibid., 39.

[5] Ibid., 39-40.

[6] M. Norvel Young, A History of Colleges Established and Controlled by Members of the Churches of Christ (Kansas City, MO: Old Paths Book Club, 1949), 151-52. For the quotation, Young cites William Franklin Ledlow, "History of Protestant Education in Texas" (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1926), 403.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Lockney Christian College (6): Two Brief Presidencies

At the end of the school year in the spring of 1911, James L. German resigned as president of Lockney Christian College. From that time on, the school witnessed a period of uncertainty and rapid turnover in leadership until it permanently closed its doors seven years later.[1]

German's successor was one J. C. Estes, a graduate of the Nashville Bible School. The Estes administration, which lasted two years, seems to have had its problems. The school did not issue a catalog for the 1911-1912 session, and by 1912 not one member of the faculty who served under President German remained at the school.[2]

In the late summer of 1913, the Firm Foundation informed its readers that 27-year-old T. W. Croom had agreed to become Lockney's next president. Croom was quoted as saying that he intended "to build up a great institution in this place for the training of those energetic young men and women who will have so much to do in shaping the future of the west." The same announcement stated that Lockney, now a town of 1200, had "no saloons and kindred evils so common in our larger cities."[3]

One of the more interesting events in the story of Lockney dates from the new president's brief tenure. Not long after Croom began his work at the school, G. H. P. Showalter, one of the former presidents of the school and now the editor of the Firm Foundation, published a favorable review of a book by W. F. Lemmons titled The Evils of Socialism. In reply to Showalter's review, seventeen men from Lockney wrote in asserting that Lemmons's book contained false statements and that it twisted the Scriptures. In response to their challenge, they asserted, the editor ought to "put up or shut up."

Not one to back down, Showalter responded in the Firm Foundation dated March 17, 1914, calling the men the "Socialists of Lockney."[4] It seems that in the early twentieth century, the sentiments of leftist politics had not all faded away in West Texas. As late as 1914, the Socialist Labor Party in Texas fielded a candidate for governor. At that time, the party outranked the Republicans in Texas. Second only to the mighty Democrats, the Socialists were the next largest political party in the state.[5]


[1] Robert M. Platt, "History of Lockney Christian College," 1960, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Research Center, Canyon, TX, 32.

[2] Ibid., 33.

[3] Ibid., 34.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Handbook of Texas Online, Alwyn Barr, "SOCIALIST PARTY," accessed February 21, 2019,

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Lockney Christian College (5): The James L. German Years

By the time he came to Lockney, not yet thirty years old, German had already traveled widely and established a strong record of academics and service to the church. He was a graduate of Grayson College in Texas, and later attended both the Nashville Bible School and the University of Chicago. He helped to establish Southwestern Christian College in Denton, Texas, and served on the school's board of regents. For two years, he taught languages at Southwestern, working there during the presidency of A. G. Freed. In addition, he was the song leader for T. B. Larimore during his evangelistic tour of Canada.[1] In at least one gospel meeting, during the summer of 1906, for two weeks, German preached twice a day and led the singing.[2]

As president of Lockney Christian College, German set out to reach at least two goals. He wanted to strengthen the faculty and to make at least part of the school a true college. These goals were now possible, necessary, and compelling. They were possible because for over a decade, starting at the elementary level, the school had been developing a group of students who were now prepared to do college work. The goals were necessary because as the State of Texas developed its public colleges, the growing competition in higher education now meant that the school at Lockney had to either keep up or abandon the idea of being a college. Finally, German's goals were compelling because secularized public schools in America typically did not teach the Bible. Where they did teach the Bible, to quote Lockney's catalog, they sowed "the seeds of infidelity . . . in the hearts of our boys and girls."[3] According to the school's leaders, the best practice was to teach the Bible in a non-sectarian way. Moral teaching should come by
a study of God's Word - getting the student to think God' thoughts. We purpose to teach no sectarian doctrine, but desire to impress what is written only. The college is not a 'preacher factory'; but we help all to teach and preach in private and public and we assist young men to qualify themselves for the ministry of the Word.[4]
During the three full years of President German's administration, from 1909 to 1911, enrollment levels remained steady with 129, 139, and 136 students. More significantly, during those years Lockney Christian began issuing bachelors degrees in six of the eight disciplines in their college curriculum. And, in much the same way that old Bethany College taught the Bible yet had no School of Theology, Lockney issued no Bachelor of Bible degree. Also by this time, the school's third building to serve as the main facility was now a two-story concrete block structure, 85 by 90 feet.[5] It seems that in many ways the German administration was the high-water mark in the history of the school.


[1] Robert M. Platt, "History of Lockney Christian College," 24-25. On Grayson College, see Donald W. Whisenhunt, Encyclopedia of Texas Colleges and Universities (Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1986), 55. On Southwestern Christian College, see the brief entry for "Clebarro College" in Whisenhunt, 32. A more extensive overview of the history of Southwestern Christian College can be found in M. Norvel Young, A History of Colleges Established and Controlled by Members of the Churches of Christ (Kansas City, MO: Old Paths Book Club, 1949), 161-64.

[2] James L. German, Jr., "Texas," Gospel Advocate (August 16, 1906), 525.

[3] Platt, "History of Lockney Christian College," 25-28. For important insights on the historical context discussed here, see Whisenhunt, Encyclopedia of Texas Colleges and Universities, iii-iv.

[4] Catalogue of Lockney College and Bible School, Sixteenth Session, 1910-11 (Lockney, TX: Beacon Prose, 1910), 7-8, as quoted in Platt, "History of Lockney Christian College," 28.

[5] Platt, "History of Lockney Christian College," 30-31.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Lockney Christian College (4): The Return of Showalter and Later Developments

The summer of 1904 must have been an exciting time in Lockney, Texas. Several issues of the Firm Foundation carried announcements that Lockney Christian College would begin its tenth session on September 6, and that G. H. P. Showalter was returning as president.

Even before the start of the new school year, on August 25, Lockney played host to a debate between a Baptist preacher named J. N. Hall and one of the greatest debaters among the Churches of Christ, Joe S. Warlick. Approximately 1,500 people, roughly three times the population of the town, attended, and the president of the college served as Warlick's moderator. In addition to his debating, Warlick preached three sermons in Lockney. Within days, 40 people were baptized into Christ.[1]

It likely came as a blow when, in 1906, Showalter announced for a second time that he would be leaving Lockney to help establish yet another Christian school. This time he was going to Sabinal, Texas, about 70 miles southwest of San Antonio on the Southern Pacific Railroad. There Showalter would help to found Sabinal Christian College.[2]

Showalter was succeeded at Lockney by James A. Sisco, whose tenure lasted only a year and a half. Not long after Sisco resigned in the middle of the 1907-08 school year, a certain J. F. Smith visited the town and observed the college, now under the direction of its new president, James L. German. The February 27, 1908 issue of the Gospel Advocate included Smith's impressions. Lockney was a town of five hundred people, he wrote. About 75 percent of the people in the town and the local area were "faithful Christians." The school was off to a good start with its new president, and several young men in attendance were studying to preach. In addition, a number of supporters of the school were planning to construct "a good school building, estimated to cost ten thousand dollars, which is very much needed in this undertaking."[3]


[1] Robert M. Platt, "A History of Lockney Christian College," 21-22. For a brief description of the Hall-Warlick debate, which appears to be a contemporary report, see the following URL, accessed Feb. 17, 2019,

[2] Platt, "A History of Lockney Christian College," 23. For a brief history of Sabinal Christian College (1907-1917), see M. Norvel Young, A History of Colleges Established and Controlled by Members of the Churches of Christ (Kansas City, MO: Old Paths Book Club, 1949), 158-61.

[3] J. F. Smith, "Lockney Bible College," Gospel Advocate (February 27, 1908), 139. Platt, "A History of Lockney Christian College," 23-24.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Lockney Christian College (3): Apparent Troubles

Following five years of successful work as president of Lockney Christian College, G.H.P. Showalter resigned and moved to Bethel, New Mexico, near Portales. He explained that he was going there to help S.W. Smith, a co-founder of the school at Lockney, to establish another school.[1]

In retrospect, this move seems related to a string of events, all of which reflected and made for instability. In 1902, the year Showalter resigned, W.O. Hines, Arthur S. Kennamer, and N.L. Clark purchased Lockney Christian College. The new owners changed the name to Lockney College and Bible School.

The next year, Clark, who was then serving as president, announced that he would be moving to Grayson County, Texas, some 300 miles to the east. Clark was moving there to become president of Gunter Bible College, a school that was always controlled by non-Sunday School advocates among the Churches of Christ, and that eventually trained hundreds of students of that persuasion, including 150 preachers. Then, during the 1903-04 school year, Lockney Christian College was apparently never in session.[2]

Were these unexpected changes at Lockney connected to the fact that over the next few years, N.L. Clark, one of the new owners, and who succeeded Showalter as president, would emerge as a prominent leader among non-Sunday School advocates? The details are not easy to track down. But it may be noteworthy that in 1904, when Showalter returned to serve a second time as president, his first act was to restore the name of the school to Lockney Christian College.[3] It might also be significant that, to this day, in the towns of Lockney and nearby Floydada, both of which have been dwindling in population for decades, there are congregations of the non-class persuasion and congregations with separate Bible classes.


[1] Handbook of Texas Online, R. L. Roberts, "LOCKNEY CHRISTIAN COLLEGE," accessed February 12, 2019,

[2] Ibid. See also Robert M. Platt, "A History of Lockney Christian College," 1960, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Research Center, Canyon, TX, 17-21. For more on N.L. Clark and Gunter Bible College, see M. Norvel Young, A History of Colleges Established and Controlled by Members of the Churches of Christ (Kansas City, MO: Old Paths Book Club, 1949), 152-58; and Handbook of Texas Online, N. L. Clark, "GUNTER BIBLE COLLEGE," accessed February 16, 2019,

[3] Platt, "A History of Lockney Christian College," 21.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Lockney Christian College (2): After the Start

At least two factors led to the growth of Lockney Christian College during its first few years. In 1895, a local public school closed and most if not all of its former students enrolled at the college. Then, in 1897, G.H.P. Showalter was named president of the school. A native of Virginia who earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Milligan College in East Tennessee, Showalter was a capable man and a natural leader. He would go on serve at the editor of the Firm Foundation from 1908 until his death in 1954.

J. T. Showalter and sons, including G.H.P. (front row, far right) and M.V. (top row, third from left) at Snowville, VA in 1906. G.H.P. served twice as president of Lockney Christian College. M.V. also served on the faculty of the school.

As the new president of the institution, which was functioning as the public elementary school for the moment, Showalter proved himself adaptable. Scores of young students, many of them with no connection to the Churches of Christ, was not what the founders of Lockney Christian College had in mind. Nevertheless, the new president reorganized the school and focused on elementary education. Under his leadership, the student body grew. In 1898, the school constructed a second frame building. The next year, enrollment stood at 425. Showalter and other staff at the school recruited students and asked for contributions by way of regular notices they sent to the Firm Foundation under the title "Lockney Links."[1]

In 1900, one such notice quoted from the college catalog as follows: "All human beings are creatures of education and they are happy and useful to the extent that they are properly educated. The knowledge acquired during the first twenty years of life, in a large measure shapes the future life of that person. A few rise above these earthly environments, but the many do not. We are convinced after several years of observation, that the impression made upon the mind during the period of development are never wholly effaced. . . We should labor unceasingly to throw around the child those environments only which will conduce its usefulness and happiness. . . . What book could take the place of the Bible in our curriculum?"[2]


[1] Handbook of Texas Online, R. L. Roberts, "LOCKNEY CHRISTIAN COLLEGE," accessed February 12, 2019, See also M. Norvel Young, A History of Colleges Established and Controlled by Members of the Churches of Christ (Kansas City, MO: Old Paths Book Club, 1949), 149-50; and Robert M. Platt, "A History of Lockney Christian College," 1960, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Research Center, Canyon, TX, 8-11.

[2] Firm Foundation, April 24, 1900, as quoted in Robert M. Platt, "A History of Lockney Christian College," 14.