Listen here to an audio introduction to the Second District Agricultural School. Narrated by Professor Mark Trout.
The Second District Agricultural School was founded on April 1, 1909, when Arkansas Governor George W. Donaghey signed Act 100 creating and funding four agricultural schools. The Second District School was to serve citizens of the state’s northwest region.
To locate a school in their communities, towns had to raise money matching the state appropriation. Judge R. B. Wilson headed a Russellville committee that outbid offers from Fort Smith, Ozark, and Morrilton. As a result, the school was built on 342 acres of farmland one mile north of Russellville.
During 1910, the school’s board of trustees employed a principal and oversaw construction of campus and farm buildings. The Russellville school had a precarious existence in its early years, partially due to frequent changes in leadership. Its most successful principal was Hugh Critz from 1918 to 1924.
The first semester began on October 26, 1910, with 186 students, even though the school’s unfinished classrooms had no heat. Students followed a practical curriculum of vocational agriculture and home economics courses and such core subjects as were necessary for a high school degree.
Many students came from poor families and worked to pay for their education. Tuition was free, but boys worked on the farm and girls in the dining hall to earn the cost of monthly room and board. Strict rules governed student behavior at work, in the classroom and dormitories, and off-campus.
Extracurricular activities included literary societies and sports. The four agricultural schools’ athletic teams in the earliest years were often called Aggies, but each school adopted a unique name. After the First World War, Russellville’s football team was named the Wonder Boys.
Russellville, like the other agricultural schools, built facilities in the early years that were large enough to permit the institution to evolve into a residential college.
Two trends encouraged a change to full collegiate status. In the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, Congress funded vocational agriculture and home economics instruction in the nation’s regular high schools. Students no longer had to leave home to attend specialized agricultural high schools. In addition, Arkansas began to improve its public education system. Special Act 223 of 1923 assigned three of the four agricultural schools responsibility for training teachers for the state’s rural schools but Russellville was specifically omitted from this new mission. Its transition to collegiate status was threatened due to the nearby location of the State Normal School for teachers in Conway. As a result, the school became a technical institution. Act 45 of 1925 established a junior college program at the newly named Arkansas Polytechnic College, popularly shortened to Arkansas Tech. It became a four-year institution in 1948-49 without a name change. It gained university status as Arkansas Tech University with Act 343 of 1976.
For more information about the Second District Agricultural School at Russellville, see Kenneth R. Walker, History of Arkansas Tech University, 1909-1990 (1992).
Arkansas Tech University, Russellville, Arkansas http://www.atu.edu/