March is Women’s History Month and the story of Waco’s women would not be complete without a look back at one of the influential institutions of higher learning developed in the 19th century for them.
Waco Female College was chartered on Feb. 11, 1860, through the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, although it was operated as a nonsectarian institution.
It was formed from the consolidation of Waco Female Seminary (1850-1857) and Waco Female Academy (or Institute), founded in 1857 by the Rev. Franklin Collett Wilkes (1822-81), a local Methodist preacher who left Waco for Galveston the next year.
He later was a military chaplain to Confederate forces during the Civil War; raised funds for an orphanage for boys in the 1870s; and was chaplain to the Texas Senate before his death in Lampasas in 1881.
He was succeeded at Waco Female College by the Rev. William McKendree Lambdin (1811-67), a native of Virginia and son of a Methodist minister who came to Texas in 1857 with his second wife, Susan A. Thompson (1830-1910), and settled in Waco. Lambdin later served churches in Waco, Bosqueville and Houston as a presiding elder of the Fort Worth District. He died of yellow fever in 1867. He is buried at First Street Cemetery in Waco.
Professor Ferdinand Plummer Maddin (1828-1900) was named the school’s first “permanent” president in 1859 and served for 10 years. Maddin also was the tax assessor/collector for McLennan County.
The college erected a main building in 1859-60 on a city square — bounded by Jackson and Webster avenues, and Second and Third streets. The land had been reserved for female education in the original municipal plat surveyed by George Erath.
A boarding department was added in 1872. Kindergarten and primary departments were added to the preparatory department in 1883.
The course of study included penmanship, rhetoric, trigonometry, “evidences of Christianity,” mental “phylosophy,” ancient and modern geography, map-drawing; English, American and world history; astronomy, geology, botany, physiology and — of course — Latin. To earn a degree, a woman had to pass all courses, with the exception of being allowed to swap Latin for art, music, French or German.
“Physical culture,” mainly calisthenics, was mandatory. According to an 1883-84 booklet of course offerings, “Of all the classes of pupils, young ladies, and especially those who are hard students, need exercise the most, and none are as much inclined to neglect it.”
Tuition was $25 per term, $70 for boarding and a diploma fee of $5, paid in advance.
The Rev. Samuel Pascal Wright (1838-1911) was named president of Waco Female College in the late 1870s. His daughter, Mattie Minor Wright (1866-1948), an alumna, was the first consecrated deaconess of the Methodist Episcopal Church South and an active community organizer.
Enrollment rose from 126 students in 1883 to 202 in 1893. The college moved from its original downtown site to a 13.5-acre campus on the outskirts of Waco about 1892.
But the college closed in 1895 because of financial difficulties, probably caused by the debt of its expansion, coupled with the economic panic of 1893.
The foreclosed properties were purchased by Add-Ran Christian University, forerunner of the school known today as Texas Christian University.
A devastating 1910 blaze forced TCU trustees to move the college to Fort Worth.
Additional sources: Original research by T. Bradford Willis; Handbook of Waco and McLennan County (1972); Handbook of Texas Online; A Memorial and Biographical History of McLennan, Falls, Bell and Coryell Counties (Chicago 1893)