Southern Arkansas University (SAU), a comprehensive regional public university, was founded more than a century ago as the Third District Agricultural School (TDAS). It was one of four such schools established by Act 100 of the Arkansas legislature on April 1, 1909, a date celebrated at SAU as Founder’s Day. It opened on January 3, 1911, as a residential secondary agricultural school for Southwest Arkansas after local citizens had raised funds to match state financing to locate the institution in Magnolia (Columbia County). A Progressive Era educational reform urged by the Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union, the school taught rural youngsters scientific agricultural practices, modern home economics, and academic subjects equivalent to a high school degree. The legacy of the Farmers Union continued as the school evolved into a university. SAU operates one of the state’s largest collegiate farms, and the school’s colors—Blue and Gold—are those of the union. SAU’s agricultural roots are also evident in its unique symbol—Muleriders–adopted in 1912 when its football players rode mules, ubiquitous and essential to Southern agriculture, to practice and games. The student yearbook was named The Mulerider in 1922, and the newspaper The Bray in 1923. At each home football game, a student rider on a mascot mule celebrates team successes.
To increase the supply of rural schoolteachers, Arkansas elevated TDAS and the state’s other residential agricultural schools to junior college status with Act 229 in 1923 and Act 45 in 1925. Officially renamed State Agricultural and Mechanical College, Third District, the school was known everywhere as Magnolia A&M. The North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools accredited Magnolia A&M in 1929, and the institution afterward maintained continuous accreditation through its later transformations. In the fall of 1949 the Board of Trustees, exercising authority vested in it by the state legislature, decided to change the junior college into a four-year, degree-granting institution. By Act 11 on January 24, 1951, the legislature confirmed this change in renaming the institution Southern State College (SSC). Enrollment grew from a few hundred students during the junior college years to well over two thousand during SSC’s twenty-five year history. The Arkansas legislature in Act 171 on February 14, 1975, created a three-campus SSC system by adding two junior college branches at El Dorado and Camden to the main campus at Magnolia. The El Dorado branch became an independent institution in 1991. Having gained accreditation from the North Central Association in 1973 to offer graduate courses in education, SSC began a Division of Graduate Studies on June 2, 1975. Legislative Act 343 granted SSC permission, subject to approval by the State Board of Higher Education, to change to university status. On July 9, 1976, SSC was renamed Southern Arkansas University. An Honors College for undergraduates and additional masters degrees in agriculture, business, computer science, counseling, and public administration in a School of Graduate Studies established at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century increased enrollment to more than 3,000 students.
See also James F. Willis, “Southern Arkansas University (SAU),” in the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas[http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=4140].