Texas’ First School for African-American Women

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Mary Allen Seminary | Houston County Texas | c. 1886

What is left of this old school crumbles away more each day and without a drastic intervention soon, this important piece of history will be lost. 

Founded in 1886, by the Presbyterian Freedmen Mission, this school was the first in the state of Texas to offer education to African American girls. In January of that year, the school’s first 3 teachers arrived and lived together in a rented farmhouse nearby. At the end of the first year, the school had 46 students enrolled and one brick building had been erected to house students and faculty.

The school was initially a parochial school championed by Reverend Richard Allen and his wife Mary E. Allen, but when she passed away in 1887 just after the school had opened, the institution was named in her memory.

Over the years, enrollment grew and many donations were made to the school to help expand the facility, and by 1891, the campus included 290 acres and another brick hall had been erected.

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Photo of students at Mary Allen College, c. 1921. Photo from Teal Studios.

Although the students were all African-American, the faculty were all white women who were paid $44/month for an 8-month contract (1921). But in 1924, the school was restructured and the Texas School Board appointed its first African American administrator, Reverend Burt Randall Smith.

Photo of students at Mary Allen College in Physics class.

For the next 6 years, Smith overhauled the curriculum, expanding the library and science facilities. The curriculum, which was initially liberal arts-focused, was adapted to include more vocational training like cooking, dressmaking, shoe making, and millinery.

Photo of students in shoe-making class at Mary Allen College. The writing on the board behind them reads: “It matters not what you do, make a nation or a shoe.”

Thanks to his efforts, the school earned accreditation as a junior college in 1932 with an all-black faculty. The following year, the name of the school became coeducational and changed its name to Mary Allen Junior College.

The school ran successfully over the following decade but closed for the 1943 school year before reopening in 1944. The National Missionary Baptist Convention took over management and ownership of the college, which continued to educate African American students until 1972 when it closed.

The school was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, but it would never reopen. The years of disuse have not been kind and today, the building is almost completely exposed to the elements from a collapsed section of the roof. The building and its legacy have generated a lot of interest over the years- but no one has proposed a plan that could be brought to fruition (yet) and time is running out.

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  1. I love history and old buildings. Thank you for sharing the history of this building, I learned something new. Here’s to hoping they rescue this one, it’s so rich in history, and offered so much to those who passed through.

  2. The young ladies dressed so gracefully. I wish this building could be restored and used again as a school, church or museum, or for comfortable retirement housing for black veterans.

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