History of Ouachita
Ouachita Baptist University (pronounced Wash’-uh-taw) was named for the Ouachita River, which forms the eastern boundary of the campus. Ouachita is a Caddo Indian word which is thought to have meant “eastern boundary of our nation.”
Ouachita Baptist University, located on the banks of the Ouachita River in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, opened for the first session on September 6, 1886, and has operated continuously since that date.
Interest in a Baptist school antedated the opening by many years. Caleb Lindsey, a Baptist preacher from Kentucky, was operating a private school in what is now Randolph County in 1816. In 1850 a committee on ministerial education recommended to the Arkansas Baptist State Convention steps necessary to establish a “seminary for the education of her ministry.” Interest continued, and in 1857 this committee recommended raising an endowment fund. The following year, W. R. Trewick and W. M. Lea, agents, secured pledges amounting to $42,000. By 1860 the endowment reached $75,000 in pledges, but the Civil War eliminated any hope that the pledges ever would be paid.
Following the Civil War, interest in a Baptist college in Arkansas revived; at the same time, the Convention was supporting Mississippi College. Several small Baptist schools were founded, among them the Arkadelphia Baptist High School, opened in 1876 by the Red River Baptist Association with Rev. J. F. Shaw as president. The school was located on the site of the Arkansas Institute for the Blind, which later became the campus of Ouachita Baptist University.
The Convention in 1883 reviewed the educational picture of the state, commending four schools then operating, but its committee on education added that the “advantages of concentration are incalculable.” The committee on education reported to the Convention of 1883 that a Baptist state college was a “necessity,” and a commission was appointed to “agitate” the issue for another year. At the next Convention favorable response to the idea throughout the state was reported, but another year of planning was recommended. In 1885 the commission reported that many associations had passed resolutions urging the Convention to establish a college and had pledged their support, so a Board of Trustees was appointed to locate and begin building the college. The Board met in Little Rock on April 8, 1886, to consider eight towns’ bids for location of the school. On the seventy-second ballot Arkadelphia was selected.
The Red River Baptist Academy (formerly Arkadelphia Baptist High School) was repaired at a cost of $600 to house the college, and assets of approximately $10,000 came to the school as a bonus for locating at Arkadelphia. On June 22, 1886, Professor J. W. Conger of Prescott, Arkansas, was elected president and moved to Arkadelphia in the first week of July to organize the school, named Ouachita Baptist College.
Enrollment in the coeducational school reached 235 the first session. There were three departments–Primary, Preparatory, and Collegiate–along with courses in music, art, and bookkeeping. The institution opened in one building.
During President Conger’s administration (1886-1907), a number of buildings were constructed, including Old Main in 1888, the Young Ladies Home (later called North Dorm) in 1891, the Conservatory Building (later called Wallis Hall) in 1898, the President’s Home in 1904, the Mary Forbes Industrial Hall for Girls (later called the Home Management House) in 1906, and the Chemical Laboratory, which was to burn in 1915, in 1905. During his tenure the faculty expanded from 6 to 26, the enrollment grew from 235 to 476, and the graduating class increased from 3 in 1888 to 25 in 1907.
From its early days the college faced the dilemma of trying to pay off indebtedness while attempting to expand. During the presidencies of Dr. Henry Simms Hartzog (1907-1911), Dr. R. G. Bowers (1911-1913), and Dr. Samuel Young Jameson (1913-1916), several campaigns were waged to pay the debt; on December 18, 1914, all existing mortgages were paid.
During the administration of Dr. Charles Ernest Dicken (1916-1926), the endowment was raised from $51,000 to $532,466, thanks in large measure to the efforts of John Gardner Lile, Endowment Secretary. The college was first put in the Arkansas Baptist State Convention budget in 1925. The gymnasium, to be converted into the Little Theatre in 1938, and the Dining Hall were both built in 1920. Cone-Bottoms Hall for girls was completed in 1923.
In the first year of the presidency of Mr. Arthur B. Hill (1926-1929), a bond issue by the State Convention cleared the debt of $126,209 and opened the way for Ouachita to be admitted to membership in the North Central Association for Colleges and Secondary Schools on March 18, 1927. Property value reached $323,334.
During his term as president (1929-1933), Dr. Charles D. Johnson fought a constant battle to keep the school open during the Great Depression. Enrollment dropped, Convention financial support was non-existent, other income was negligible, and keeping the doors of the school open was a constant struggle against overwhelming odds.
Following Dr. Johnson’s resignation, Dr. James R. Grant served as vice president and acting administrator until 1934, when he became president. During Dr. Grant’s presidency (1934-49), the college experienced significant growth. A new gymnasium was finished in 1939, the Flenniken Memorial Student Center was built in 1941, Mitchell Hall was finished in 1942. Ernest Bailey Hall, Terral-Moore Hall, and G. E. Cannon Infirmary were dedicated in 1949 as a result of the Million Dollar Campaign and gifts from individuals for whom the buildings were named. Student enrollment and faculty numbers increased, particularly after World War II when an all-time high of 1,123 students was reached in 1947. The curriculum was also greatly expanded. James Richard Grant Memorial Building, erected in 1953 to replace Old Main, which had been destroyed by fire in 1949, was named in appreciation of Dr. Grant’s many contributions. Grant Memorial served as the administration center.
While Dr. Seaford Eubanks was president (1949-1951), Hamilton Moses Science Hall and Riley Library were built. Gifts through the Cooperative Program reached new highs of $100,000 for operating budget and $50,000 for indebtedness in 1951.
After serving six months as an acting administrator, Dr. Harold A. Haswell was named president in January 1952 and served until September 1953, when he resigned. During this period the curriculum was revamped, accreditation was regained, Conger and Grant Halls were constructed, and Convention support was increased.
During the administration of Dr. Ralph Arloe Phelps, Jr. (1953-1969), the curriculum was revised and expanded, a graduate program was added, the endowment was doubled, and the student body reached a record high of 1,671 (1,881 including extension enrollment) in the fall of 1966. Major buildings constructed during Dr. Phelps’ administration were: O. C. Bailey Hall, J. E. Berry Chapel and Bible Building, Riley Library additions, Birkett Williams Dining Hall, Northwest Hall (renamed Ernest Bailey Hall), West Hall (renamed Conger Hall), Daniel Hall, Winthrop Rockefeller Field House, Frances Crawford Hall, and Verser Drama Center. A School of Nursing was established in 1965 and dropped in 1967. In the Spring of 1965, the status and name were changed to Ouachita Baptist University.
Following the resignation of Dr. Phelps in 1969, Dr. Daniel R. Grant was elected president, effective February 1, 1970, with Dr. Donald Seward serving as acting president until then. Dr. Grant served as president from that time until his retirement on August 31, 1988.
During Dr. Grant’s tenure Ouachita experienced strong qualitative and quantitative growth in virtually all aspects of the University. Relations with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention were strengthened significantly. The emphasis on both “Academic and Christian Excellence” led to international exchange programs, a stronger honors program, the Henry Academic Enrichment Grants, the Water Chemistry Research Center, the Maddox Public Affairs Center, the Institute for Regional Studies, the Center for Christian Ministries, the Missionary-in-Residence program, the Joint Educational Consortium with Henderson State University and the Ross Foundation, and the establishment of nine endowed chairs of instruction. Much of the campus was rebuilt with the addition of Evans Student Center (1973), Lile Hall (1973), Mabee Fine Arts Center (1975), the maintenance building (1976), the campus drive and pedestrian bridge (1976), Eddie Blackmon Field House (1977), McClellan Hall (1978), Lancelot and Starlight Apartments (1981), Sturgis Physical Education Center (1983), and Riley-Hickingbotham Library (1987). The average number of graduates each year grew from 228 in the 1960s to 347 in the 1980s.
Dr. Ben M. Elrod was elected as Ouachita’s thirteenth president, effective September 1, 1988. Under his leadership, undergraduate enrollment grew by over 30 percent and climbed to record levels during the 1990s. The University phased out graduate programs to concentrate on undergraduate education. A far-reaching emphasis on international education was developed through the Daniel R. Grant International Studies Program. The number of international students and MKs (children of foreign missionaries) grew to represent over 10 percent of the student body, and each year nearly 100 domestic students chose to participate in foreign exchange programs established with universities in more than 10 countries. Dr. Elrod served as chairman of the Consortium for Global Education, a 48-member group of Baptist colleges and universities involved in individual and cooperative educational and missions efforts in nations around the world.
The campus took on a new look with the addition of R. A. Lile Hall (1989), Jones Performing Arts Center (1992), Anthony Residence Hall for Men (1994), Maddox Residence Hall for Women (1995), the Tiger Den (1996), the Katie Speer Pavilion and Gardens (1996-1998), the International Flag Plaza and Fountain (1997), and the Harvey Jones Science Center (1997). Cone-Bottoms Hall, a residence hall for women from 1923 through 1985, was remodeled completely in 1994 to house the Grant Administration Center. Funds for these projects, endowments, and general needs were raised through the Decade of Progress Campaign, which in Phase I raised gifts and pledges of over $27 million, and nearly $30 million in Phase II by the time of Dr. Elrod’s retirement. During the Elrod administration, the general endowment grew from about $11 million to over $29 million.
In December 1997, the Ouachita Board of Trustees elected Dr. Andrew Westmoreland as the fourteenth president of Ouachita. He assumed the office on January 1, 1998. Dr. Elrod, although retired, continues to serve in the honorary post of chancellor. Dr. Westmoreland, a graduate of Ouachita, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has served on the Ouachita staff since 1979. Prior to his appointment as president, he held the position of executive vice president.
Under Dr. Westmoreland’s leadership, Ouachita continued its emphasis on strengthening undergraduate education. The CORE Curriculum, with goals of fostering intellectual inquiry and breadth of knowledge, was fully implemented, reviewed, and revised. The academic program was re-organized into eight schools, each led by an academic dean: the Frank D. Hickingbotham School of Business; the Chesley and Elizabeth Pruet School of Christian Studies; the Michael D. Huckabee School of Education; the Bernice Young Jones School of Fine Arts; the School of Humanities; the School of Interdisciplinary Studies; the J. D. Patterson School of Natural Sciences; and the School of Social Sciences.
During the Westmoreland administration, three of the schools were named in honor of strong supporters of the university: Chesley and Elizabeth Pruet of El Dorado; Governor Michael D. Huckabee of Little Rock; and Dr. J. D. Patterson of Searcy. In addition, the Center for Family and Community was re-named in honor of Chancellor Ben M. Elrod, and the Center on Integrity was established in honor of long-time trustee chairman William H. “Buddy” Sutton and his late wife, Peggy. In early 2006, President Westmoreland led the Board of Trustees to authorize a study of the need for graduate education programs at Ouachita, especially in the area of Christian Studies.
Ouachita’s relationship with the churches of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention was strengthened. The annual consultation with the convention’s Nominating Committee continued to yield mutual agreement on trustee nominations. Regular reporting to the ABSC Annual Meeting, Executive Board committees, and associational annual meetings, along with frequent collaboration with Executive Board program leaders, resulted in enhanced understanding of the university’s mission and ongoing support for its operating budget. The implementation of the Christian Leadership Scholarship Program provided additional opportunities for local churches to encourage member students to consider attending Ouachita.
Additions to the campus during Westmoreland’s tenure included: the Ouachita Commons dining facility; the Crews Indoor Athletic Pavilion; Hickingbotham Hall; and the Pat and Willard Walker Conference Center. The acquisition of property along the Ouachita River north of the campus and in nearby neighborhoods increased university holdings from 85 to about 200 acres.
The Decade of Progress Capital Campaign, Phase II, initiated when Dr. Westmoreland served as Executive Vice President and completed in 1999, resulted in a final total of $40 million in gifts and pledges. The first phase of the Circle of Excellence Capital Campaign, conducted from 2002 to May 2005, raised gifts and pledges of $62.7 million, exceeding a goal of $62.5 million. Fund-raising efforts yielded record totals in successive years and topped $15 million for Fiscal Year 2005-2006.
Dr. Westmoreland was elected chairman of the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools, the Consortium for Global Education, and Arkansas’ Independent Colleges and Universities. His service on other boards included those of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Foundation for Independent Higher Education, Baptist Health Corporation, Elk Horn Bank and Trust, the Joint Educational Consortium, and the Gulf South Athletic Conference. He also served as a consultant-evaluator for the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
In January 2006, Dr. Westmoreland was elected president of Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He continued to serve at Ouachita until May 31. On April 6, 2006, Dr. Rex M. Horne, Jr., senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, was named by the Board of Trustees to become the fifteenth president of Ouachita, effective June 1, 2006. A former Ouachita student and former member of the Ouachita Board of Trustees, Dr. Horne also served as president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
During the first five years of Dr. Horne’s presidential leadership at Ouachita, the university has significantly enhanced and expanded campus facilities, including opening the Student Village and Westside residence halls, Ben and Betty Elrod Boulevard and campus entrance, and Heflin Plaza. During his tenure, Ouachita was ranked as the No. 1 Regional College in the South by U.S. News & World Report for four consecutive years while also earning national recognition among “America’s Best Colleges” by Forbes magazine.
President Horne facilitated Ouachita’s yearlong 125th anniversary celebration in 2011, including launching the university’s 125th anniversary “Defining the Difference” campaign. Defining the Difference, a major fundraising initiative with a base goal of $25 million, is designed to help finance several priority campus initiatives, including student scholarships and academic advancement.
A call for Ouachita students, faculty and staff to be “difference makers” in all areas of life has been a hallmark of Dr. Horne’s presidency. As Ouachita prepares current and future generations of students for ongoing intellectual and spiritual growth, lives of meaningful work and reasoned engagement with the world, President Horne consistently affirms Ouachita’s steadfast commitment to fostering the twin pillars of a love of God and a love of learning.