Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Eton of the South

Hopson Owen Murfee, who succeeded his father, James Thomas Murfee, as the second superintendent of Marion Military Institute, began developing a broader scope and purpose for the Institute during the early 1900s. His plan would establish Marion Institute (dropping Military from the name) as the “Eton of the South,” an American version of Eton College, one of the great public schools in England along with Harrow, Rugby, Winchester, etc. Murfee wanted to establish in the American Lower South a unique school of high culture, learning, service, and refinement.

The Instiute received prominent national attention under H. O. Murfee’s leadership. U. S. President William Howard Taft was persuaded to join the new Board of Directors (a Board filled with talent and influence), and Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, gave the Government Day Oration at MI in 1905. Following Wilson’s appearance, MI’s school colors were changed to orange and black and the athletic teams became the “Tigers”` in tribute to Wilson and Princeton University.

H. O. Murfee’s plan for an “Eton of the South” came to a halt with the outbreak of World War I. The military aspect of the Institute was again emphasized and a ROTC program was established in 1916, paving the way for the Early Commissioning and Service Academy Prep programs.

Under H. O. Murfee’s leadership, Institute graduates were highly sought by some of the best colleges and universities in the country. Here is a 1903 letter from J. M. Page of the University of Virginia citing Marion Military Institute’s beneficial military training!

Here is a long letter (1909) from H. O. Murfee to President William Howard Taft in the White House requesting that Taft join the new Board of Directors of Marion Institute. (Murfee wanted to change the name to Marion College - like Eton College, the famous English public school - and Marion College would also be a school rather than a college).

A copy of President Taft’s acceptence letter to Murfee.

Finally, here is a copy of a letter (1909) from H. O. Murfee to Woodrow Wilson as president of Princeton University. Murfee is looking for another Princeton man to teach the sciences at Marion. Salary, by the way, was $1,000 plus room and board!