George R. Smith College
One of my friends thought that the Old Missouri Homestead in Sedalia was the best restaurant on two continents. I have visited the restaurant and the town several times and have run a half-marathon there. But George R. Smith College was gone many years before I set foot in Sedalia. So I borrowed liberally from books by Rose Nolan and Jay S. Stowell and from materials in the Western Historical Manuscript Collection and the State Historical Society. Ragtime pianist Scott Joplin (right) attended George R. Smith College.
Named for the founder of Sedalia, George R. Smith College was begun in 1888 when the daughters of George R. Smith gave land to the Freedman’s Aid and Southern Education Society of the Methodist Church for a school “devoted to the moral and intellectual culture of the colored people of the west.” The main building was completed in January 1894 and classes began with 57 students. George R. Smith College received a state charter in 1903.
The college instructed students “in all those branches necessary to usefulness and happiness.” The 1895-96 catalog described the aim of the school as “to lead the youth to form and cultivate habits of accuracy, care, promptness, neatness, cleanliness, economy; to instill into their mind and heart the principles of manliness, womanliness, truthfulness, faithfulness, loyalty to principle, the dignity of honest toil of any kind, a love for learning and a taste for all that is good, and pure and right, and the true significance of life itself.” A testimony of good character was required for admission, and students were required to attend chapel daily and religious services twice weekly.
George R. Smith College offered courses of study leading to a Bachelor of Arts degree. The eight courses of study were the following: classical, philosophical, scientific, normal, commercial, English, musical and industrial. There was also a college preparatory course for students who had completed the sixth grade.
Stowell noted that most students were from Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, and that some worked their way through college with jobs in Sedalia. Following graduation, many became government employees and ministers. Several entered the medical profession
On April 26, 1925, a fire destroyed the school. The Methodists were unable to provide money to rebuild, so George R. Smith College closed. During its years of operation, it had graduated 3,000 students. Records went to Philander Smith College in Arkansas.
Bricks and Mortar
George R. Smith’s gift required that a building costing at least $25,000 be constructed. The four-story red brick building measuring 126 x 105 feet was built on 24 acres in the northeast part of Sedalia. Built at a cost of $40,000, this building contained 62 rooms, Among these were the chapel, dormitory rooms for 75 students, apartments for teachers, the presidential suite, kitchen and dining hall, labs, and library. The construction superintendent for the building was a former slave.
A football ground, a baseball diamond and a running track were a part of the campus.
After the fire, a Sedalia resident purchased the brick for $100, and had a residence built from them on Cooper Street.
Team name: Deweys
Colors: Purple and White
All students at George R. Smith were members of the Athletic Association with dues of $2 each year. Women participated in basketball, tennis, croquet and swings. Men participated in football, baseball, basketball and tennis.
In football George R. Smith College was a member of the Missouri Valley Conference for black schools. This conference contained Lincoln Institute of Jefferson City, Western University of Quindaro, Kansas, and the Kansas Industrial and Educational Institute of Topeka, Kansas. Other opponents of the Deweys included Langston University of Oklahoma and larger black high schools such as Lincoln Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, and Sumner High School in Kansas City, Kansas.
George R. Smith College building . (Courtesy of Carolina Digital Library and Archive,
1900 football team with their fans. (Smithsonian, Courtesy of State Historical Society of Missouri)