Welcome to SAU’s Historic Campus Plaza!
Listen to an audio introduction to the Historic Campus Plaza narrated by Professor Mark Trout. The sounds, heard above in Professor Trout’s narration, were once very familiar to rural America: the hoof beats of a mule, wearing shoes much like those you see mapping the original campus building locations on the Historic Campus Plaza.The history of Southern Arkansas University and the three other Arkansas regional universities located in Jonesboro, Monticello, and Russellville began with echoing hoof beats of mules when these institutions were first established as residential agricultural schools.
The mule was the foundation of traditional agriculture in the South. When Arkansas’s four agricultural schools were founded in 1909, over five million mules still plowed southern fields, pulled wagons, and carried farm boys riding bareback to town. Southern Arkansas University was then the state’s Third District Agricultural School. The 1912 football team members, who rode mules to catch the train at McNeil to go to games, selected Muleriders as the school’s mascot.
Arkansas’s four agricultural schools were innovative experiments in educational reform tied to a national movement to modernize rural life. This Country Life Movement was particularly significant in the South where farms had not adopted the newest scientific agricultural practices to improve efficiency and boost incomes.
President Theodore Roosevelt’s Commission on Country Life urged the establishment of specialized agricultural schools, a call taken up by the Farmers’ Educational and Cooperative Union, then the nation’s largest farm organization. Several states, including Arkansas, responded. For a decade, Arkansas’s schools were leaders in secondary agricultural education.After the First World War, Arkansas’s four agricultural schools broadened their mission. The four schools became two-year colleges in 1925, and each later joined the ranks of four-year colleges and universities.For more information about Arkansas’s four agricultural schools or the original buildings of Southern Arkansas University, follow the links on this page.
For more information about the Arkansas’s 1909 experiment with agricultural schools, see James F. Willis, “The Farmer’s Schools of 1909: The Origins of Arkansas’s Four Regional Universities,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 65 (Autumn 2006): 224-49.