Montana Wesleyan College
Genealogy.rootsweb.com provided the photos of the football team. The 1919 Prickly Pear has been placed on Internet Archive, providing information about students and their organizations. Intermountain.org provided the photo of the Prickly Pear building.
Montana Wesleyan College was approved by the Methodist Church under the leadership of William Van Orsdel in 1888. A year later the college opened in a 205 acre campus in the Prickly Pear section of the Helena Valley. For 10 years the college operated at that site; however, in 1898 Helena closed the rail line to the campus. This action forced the school to move into downtown Helena.
The 1919 yearbook shows a student body of fewer than 90—24 in the college, 52 in the academy and nine commercial students. The faculty numbered 17. In 1923, at the time of the merger, Wesleyan had 93 college students and 51 academy students.
Students had two literary societies—Daedalian and Philodorian—a YMCA, a YWCA and a Dramatics Club, in addition to informal county clubs. Social life at the school involved drama and debate, “feeds,” picnics and “plunge” parties in the Broadwater. After World War I, Wesleyan’s Department of Music developed a Girls Glee Club that toured on behalf of the school. The school also had an intercollegiate debate team.
In 1918 Montana Wesleyan was designated as a Student Army Training Corp unit in conjunction with neighboring Mt. St. Charles College. Ultimately fifty students were part of the corps. The unit was disbanded soon after the armistice.
In 1923 the College of Montana from Deer Lodge was merged with Montana Wesleyan, creating Intermountain Union College.
Bricks and Mortar
The original Prickly Pear school was a three-and-a-half story brick building. Built at a cost of $40,000 and featuring hot and cold running water, it contained dormitory rooms for 40 students, classrooms, offices, a dining hall, and a reception room.
That building was abandoned when the school moved into Helena. It sat empty and deteriorating for a decade, until it was renovated as the new home for Montana Deaconess School in 1909. As a result of damages in the 1935 earthquake, that building had to be razed.
In 1899 Montana Wesleyan moved into town, occupying buildings still in use today. College Hall on the corner of Helena Avenue and North Warren today houses the Helena Body & Paint, Inc.
Old Wesleyan Building in the Prickly Pear Valley. (Photo courtesy of Intermountain.org
Team name: Panthers
Colors: Orange and Blue
Montana Wesleyan played in the Montana College conference, at a time when the University of Montana and Montana State University were a part. The school sponsored intercollegiate teams in football, basketball, and track. Tennis was a major intramural sport. Because of the flu epidemic students had very limited intercollegiate activity in 1918-19.
The 1921 team were co-champions of the conference, compiling a 6-1-1 record. Victories came over Helena High School, neighboring Mount St. Charles (twice), Billings Poly, Montana Agricultural College (now Montana State), and Gooding (ID). The team played a scoreless tie with Montana Mines and lost to College of Idaho.
The 1917 Montana Wesleyan football team. (1918 Prickly Pear, courtesy of Genealogy. Rootsweb.com) Note the pile of helmets in the foreground.