Listen here to an audio introduction to the Third District Agricultural School. Narrated by Professor Mark Trout.
The Third 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 Third District School was to serve citizens of the state’s southwest region. Students soon nicknamed their school TDAS
To locate a school in their communities, towns had to raise money matching the state appropriation. William R. Cross headed a Columbia County committee that outbid the cities of Camden, Hope, Stephens, and Mena. As a result, the school was built on 410 acres of farmland a mile and a half north of Magnolia’s town square.
During 1910, the school’s board of trustees employed a principal and oversaw construction of campus and farm buildings. Among several early principals, the most influential were Elbert E. Austin from 1915 to 1921 and Charles A. Overstreet from 1921 to 1925.
The first semester began on January 3, 1911, when 75 students registered at Old Main and were assigned rooms in Jackson and Holt Halls. 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 various 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. At TDAS, the football team chose the name Mule Riders in 1912. It was later changed to a one-word version, Muleriders
TDAS, 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. Special Act 223 of 1923 assigned the agricultural schools responsibility for training teachers for the state’s rural schools. Act 45 of 1925 provided each agricultural school with a junior college name. TDAS became State Agricultural and Mechanical College, Third District. It was popularly known as Magnolia A&M. It was the last of the agricultural schools to convert to a four-year institution and was renamed Southern State College in Act 11 of 1951. It was also the last to gain university status as Southern Arkansas University with Act 343 of 1976.
For more information about the Third District Agricultural School at Magnolia, see James F. Willis, Southern Arkansas University: The Mulerider’s Centennial History, 1909-2009 (2009).