In June 1907, George Washington Donaghey, future Arkansas governor, was seen scurrying about the community contacting its leading citizens. His mission—to raise money to secure the recently authorized State Normal School. In forty minutes he secured pledges for $40,000. That figure eventually rose to $60,000.
The 34th General Assembly, in its final days, had adopted Act 317 which authorized a Normal Board of Trustees to select and locate the Arkansas State Normal School. The idea for such an institution grew out of the demands of rural people in the late nineteenth century, now remembered as the Populist Movement. Normal schools were teacher training institutions, associated with the agrarian effort to improve the quality of rural life.
In the months that followed, five communities vied for the honor of being the site of the normal school — Benton, Fort Smith, Russellville, Quitman, and Conway. The Normal Board visited each of these cities, considering their bids. They toured Conway June 27, 1907 and it was ultimately selected because it pledged more local support than its rivals.
Later the Board chose John James Doyne, the state superintendent of public instruction who had drafted Act 317, as the normal school's first president. Doyne presided over the Arkansas State Normal School from 1908 to 1917.
A native Virginian and graduate of the University of Virginia, he regarded himself as a Latin and Spanish scholar. In 1879, a visit to the local normal in Lonoke turned into a residency when he was invited to teach. Local normals were similar to workshops where instructional programs would run for a week or two weeks, usually in the summer to upgrade the teacher's certificate. In 1898, Doyne was elected superintendent of public instruction. He was in his second term when he was selected to become the president of the new institution.
The board then turned to providing facilities to house the normal school. The school's first building, Cordrey Hall, housed administration, classrooms, assembly room and the library. It stood on the site of the current Burdick Business Administration Center and later was the science building.
Arkansas State Normal School’s opened Wednesday, September 23, 1908, with an appropriate opening ceremony. It had eight instructors, including Doyne, and 105 students; 170 by the time registration ended.
There were never enough state appropriations for the institution to carry out its job, unless it skimped and cut corners, which is what it had to do. The institution received much assistance from its friends and neighbors in Faulkner County who picked up the slack. The story of the construction of Old Main illustrates this well.
The legislative only provided half of the funds needed to construct Old Main so E.E. Cordrey, a faculty member in the Science Department, wired the building. Donaghey was the building contractor and cut costs by leaving the ground floor unfinished. Doyne went to the community and secured funds for equipment. Conway residents also helped the school in other ways; over half of the paid subscribers of the school's newspaper, The Echo, were townspeople.
During these years, the practice school was established; the first dormitory (Doyne Hall) was built; the first summer term opened; and enrollment grew steadily. My great uncle, Truman Adcock, attended the school during this time; his name remains on the sidewalk in front of Old Main. He went on to get his Master of Arts and Ph.D. from Columbia University.
Certainly, part of the early success of the Normal School can be attributed to Doyne's clear vision of its mission—meeting the needs of people in an overwhelmingly rural and agrarian state. He realized that rural schools could not improve until the communities were able and willing to improve them. For Doyne, the prime purposes of teacher education were to prepare teachers to be community leaders as well as teachers.
Doyne ran the Normal. He led; others followed. It may well be that success and survival during these formative years depended upon his dominance. Inevitably, conflict arose because of that leadership style. Ultimately, Doyne was advised to resign and the board elevated one of its members, Burr Walter Torreyson, to the presidency in 1917. Doyne's resignation in 1917 left the school resting on a sound foundation and Torreyson would continue to build the college.
Note: This article was based on an account written by Dr. Waddy Moore for Faulkner County: Its Land and People (1986). Dr. Moore was my honors thesis advisor at UCA in 1984, helping me take my first steps into researching and writing about Arkansas history.
Cindy Beckman is a local freelance writer. She may be reached at email@example.com