Monday, March 9, 2009

A Unique Howard College/MMI History

Howard College During the Civil War and Reconstruction, 1860-1873, by James Dean Lancaster, Jr., M.A. Thesis in History, Samford University, 1974.

This master’s thesis by James Dean Lancaster, Jr. - which is housed in the Samford University Library - is an excellent source of material about the history of Howard College in Marion, Alabama, during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
It also serves as a precursor to the founding of Marion Military Institute in 1887.

A native of Gadsden, Alabama, where he graduated from Gadsden High School, Mr. Lancaster is a free-lance entertainment and travel writer who lives in Branson, Missouri. A 1972 graduate of Samford University (A.B. in history and biology), he completed the M.A. degree in history there in 1975. Eminent historian, Dr. Wayne Flynt, served as Lancaster’s research supervisor.

This drawing (by Daniel Fate Brooks) from the thesis depicts The Chapel at Howard College/MMI, flanked on the left by Henry Talbird, the president who led Howard College through the Antebellum years to the Civil War; center: a Howard College student in uniform, 1873; and, on the right, President J. L. M. Curry, who tried to revive Howard after the war and bring it through the Reconstruction period. COL James T. Murfee, who served as president from 1871 until Howard moved to Birmingham in 1887, initiated the military system of discipline, uniforms, and drill. Murfee founded and served as the first president of Marion Military Institute beginning in 1887, utilizing the old Howard College campus in Marion, Alabama.

Painting of James Thomas Murfee in the Samford University Library. (Credit: Bill Mathews, MMI H’60, J ’62)

The title page from the thesis.

The thesis is divided into two parts: “Howard College During Antebellum Times and the Civil War, 1860-1865”; and “Howard College during Reconstruction, 1865-1873.” The “Table of Contents” is illustrative. Descriptive appendices and a strong bibliography complete this effort.

The “Table of Contents.”

From the author’s abstract:
“The years 1860 to 1873 were years of growth, turbulence, and transition for a small Baptist institution, Howard College. This was a period of adjustment which tried the patience of Howard and her presidents, faculty, trustees, and students.”

Finally: “Howard College during this fourteen-year period managed to survive a war and the ordeal of Reconstruction. It survived these trials as well as internal problems such as finances, lack of enough students, and even at times, a lack of leadership, to become the university [Samford University] it is today.”

Credits: Samford University Library, Birmingham, AL; James Dean Lancaster, Jr., author, Branson, MO; Daniel Fate Brooks, artist; and to Gail Barton and Jennifer Taylor of the Samford University Library/Special Collections staff.

In my opinion, this master’s thesis is worthy of publication.