TU 2007 Homecoming One Hundred Years in the Making
By CHARLES CANTRELL
ONE HUNDRED YEARS AND COUNTING: This year’s University of Tulsa Centennial Homecoming celebrates the relocating of Henry Kendall College from Muskogee to Tulsa. Pictured here is Kendall Hall, the first permanent structure built on the new campus in Tulsa. It was completed in 1908; one year after the doors opened to what would become the states premier private university. Although time and campus expansion have claimed the building, the crowning cupola and bell, traditionally rung by happy seniors to celebrate graduation, were saved and occupy a permanent place of honor on campus.
On May 14, 1907, a mere six months before Oklahoma statehood, Tulsans picked up the Daily World or the Daily Democrat to read the headline, TULSA GETS $200,000 COLLEGE. The announcement was a bit premature due to several legal hurdles remaining before Henry Kendall College could be relocated to the “cowtown” destined to become the Oil Capital of the World. The college was a Presbyterian mission school, originally for Creek Indian girls, turned private college and located in the larger city of Muskogee. Nonetheless, at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 18, 1907, Tulsa’s first college opened its doors to an enrollment of 35 students with a faculty of seven.
The opening of the college came about from collaboration between the Presbyterian Church and an organization of early day Tulsa movers, shakers and visionaries called the Commercial Club. Although the collaborators were driven by different motives, the move would prove mutually beneficial.
From the perspective of the regional leaders of the Presbyterian Church, moving the college from Muskogee with its population of 14,418 to a city with exactly half that population was driven not by Tulsa’s emerging bright future, but a desire to relieve the church of the heavy financial burden of operating and maintaining the college. Tulsa, though smaller and less established, offered great possibilities.
To begin with the financial future looked bright. The Red Fork oil strike of 1901 and the later, more spectacular Glenpool strike of 1905 had initiated economic momentum that would propel the city through decades of prosperity. The membership roster of the Commercial Club, with names like Hall, Kerr, Skelly, Phillips, and McClure, was a who’s who of city founders who seemed to know at every turn how to build and grow the city. This organization would eventually become the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and its early members would proactively solicit, procure and in many cases personally finance many of the infrastructural needs necessary for a sleepy Tulsa farming community to evolve into a metropolitan center of commerce. By using the inherent intrigue of newly discovered oil, they succeeded in convincing the Frisco Railroad to extend their tracks from Vinita to Tulsa. When it became essential they built the 55-mile Spavinaw Waterline for a thirsty city. They were instrumental in creating Tulsa Municipal Airport. But first and foremost on their agenda was providing the city with educational opportunity and the relocating of Henry Kendall College to Tulsa was a cornerstone of that effort.
It was also very helpful that many Presbyterians were not only members of the Commercial Club but held positions of leadership throughout the city. According to Guy Williams Logsdon’s book “The University of Tulsa,” the city had the largest Presbyterian community in the state and because many of them had tapped into the prosperity brought on by oil, the issue of financial solvency for the fledgling college could be put to rest. The Presbyterian’s decision to move the school to Tulsa was simply a matter of more church members and more affluence in Tulsa. All that remained were the moving logistics and pesky lawsuits serving only to delay the inevitable by those interested in keeping the school in Muskogee.
Both daily papers heralding Tulsa’s new college branded the school, “One of the New State’s Greatest Educational Institutions.” Whether that was true at the time or over zealous prophesy matters little in lieu of the ensuing years of success and accomplishments by an institution that has continued to grow and evolve into a premier university.
In 1921 Henry Kendall College became The University of Tulsa. The university’s growth has paralleled the state’s growth over the last century. Its humble beginnings forged in optimism and its persistent growth and evolution guided by visionary leadership mirror the history of the state and the city of Tulsa. Moreover, it has always held a special place in the hearts of Tulsans by persisting in its role as a vital part of the city’s tradition of prioritizing and pursing educational excellence.
On the campus of the University of Tulsa stands a monument in which hangs the historic tower bell rung to celebrate Oklahoma statehood on Nov. 16, 1907 by Mrs. Kerr, wife of one of the school’s founders, Rev. Charles W. Kerr. For this and all future homecomings it will serve as testament to the University’s century old commitment of service to the state and the city of Tulsa. It will also symbolize why this year’s homecoming is a special celebration a century in the making.