The site of old Western University is only a few blocks from Kansas City University, so I visited there on the same 2013 trip. I photographed the site and talked with the Quindaro Museum people about the school. Era of Progress and Promise has a sketch with photos of Western University.
Quindaro, in Wyandotte County, KS, was a port on the Missouri River populated by anti-slavery people. It was also a station on the Underground Railroad. In 1862 the Reverend Eben Blachley, a Prebysterian minister, operated a school for the children of freedmen. Growing out of this school, Quindaro Freedman University was chartered at the end of the Civil War. In 1867 the school deeded 15 acres of land to the state of Kansas in exchange for state support. Then in 1880 the African Methodist Episcopal Church began to provide support for the school.
An Era of Progress and Promise shows that in 1910 Western was school of 300 students and twenty teachers. However, newspaper accounts show an enrollment of 100-150 in most years. The school had six departments. There was a regular collegiate department, with a prepratory school to prepare students to enter the program. In 1872 a four-year normal department had been established to prepare black teachers. There was a small theological department. Most of the state support went to the “State Industrial Department.” Here students developed skills to enable them earn a living while contributing to society. A 1905 visitor commented that he found students laying brick sidewalks, roofing a barn, erecting a water tower, tailoring military uniforms, setting type for the monthly journal of the school, typing copy for that journal, sewing the dresses for female students, and washing and ironing the school’s laundry.
But the department which gained Western the most fame was Music. In addition to both girls and boys glee clubs, it featured a choral society which was described as “the best Negro musical organization west of the Mississippi River.” A number of its graduates—including Eva Jessye, Nora Douglas Holt and Etta Moton Barnett-- went on to professional careers.
During the depression, the AME was forced to withdraw support, but the state kept the school open until the early years of World War II. With dwingling numbers and support, Western closed in 1943.
Bricks and Mortar
After beginning in an old brewery, Western University erected it first building on a hill top away from the river. Ward Hall (1891), named for the Methodist Bishop T.M.D. Ward housed Theology and its upper floors were home for female students. Stanley Hall, named for Governor William Stanley, was the first building built by the state. It became the Administration Building with a floor devoted to recitation rooms and an auditorium. The Trades Building was constructed in 1905. This was home to music, domestic science and commercial departments.
Ultimately the campus had 14 structures including dormitories, power plant, barns, and laundry house, in addition to faculty housing. The first Ward Hall burned in 1912 and was replaced. When the college closed, Grant Hall, a dormitory was remodeled as Douglas Hospital. This building was razed in 1978. The last buildings—faculty housing—were burned or razed by the end of the 20th century. Nothing now remains excxept for cornerstones.
The two main Buildings from Western University. Ward Hall (left) and Trades Building (right). (Era of Progress and Promise, accessed 1-21-2017 <digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p249901coll37/id/4438>)
Team name: Bulldogs
Colors: Old Gold and Blue
Initially Western fielded teams in football and baseball, later adding basketball, track and tennis. Their teams were members of the Missouri Valley Interscholastic Athletic Association. Western, KIEA, George R. Smith, Lincoln, and Western Baptist were members along with a number of black high schools in the Kansas City metro area.
Through the years Western scheduled football matches with both colleges and high schools as well as independent teams representing towns, YMCA’s and military units. Their biggest rival was Lincoln University of Missouri; but a typical schedule also included Langston University of Oklahoma, Sumner High School, Lincoln Academy, and military teams from Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley.