While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Judson S. Custer

RUTERSVILLE COLLEGE. Rutersville College, once located in Rutersville, seven miles northeast of La Grange in central Fayette County, was the first chartered Protestant college in Texas. The institution, which flourished between 1840 and 1856, was the dream of Martin Ruter, a Methodist missionary from Pennsylvania and superintendent of the Methodist mission in Texas in the early days of the republic. In 1837 Ruter wrote a charter for the school, which he planned to call Bastrop College. He died on May 16, 1838, in Washington-on-the-Brazos, and soon after his death Robert Alexander, Littleton Fowler,qqv and ten other Methodists agreed to purchase land for the college and submitted Ruter's charter to the Congress of the republic. Initially, the Congress rejected the charter because of its espousal of Methodist doctrine, but in 1840 it accepted a second charter that had been amended to eliminate any reference to religious denomination.

In 1839 the first Texas conference of the Methodist Church appointed Chauncey Richardson the first president of the college and renamed it Rutersville College. The coeducational school opened on the last week of January 1840, with sixty-three students. The town of Rutersville, which developed simultaneously with the college, donated fifty-two acres for the men's division of the college and twenty-four for the women's division. Richardson, his wife Martha G., and Charles W. Thomas made up the original faculty. The charter was amended in February 1841 to extend the life of the school from ten to ninety-nine years. Congress donated four leagues of land in Fayette and Gillespie counties to the college, money from the sale of which was to provide funds for the construction of buildings and the purchase of necessary equipment. By 1841 the enrollment of the college's two divisions reached 100, and another professor, Thomas S. Bell, was added to the faculty. The main building, completed in 1842, was a two-story wooden structure with a pair of double doors on the front, a wide chimney extending up two stories, and a bell in a tower atop the sloping roof. The ground floor of the main building held a study hall and two classrooms; the second floor served as the auditorium where examinations were given and commencement exercises were held. The women's building was constructed of limestone and contained a combination study hall, recitation room, chapel, and dining room. The president's two-story home also served as the women's dormitory.

Enrollment reached 194 by 1844–45, but the school began to fall on hard times. Indian attacks, departure of students for the Mexican War, and the establishment of Baylor University in 1845 caused a decline in the number of students. Richardson left the presidency in 1845 and was replaced by William Halsey. In 1848 John Rabb, who was the treasurer of the college and attorney for the Rutersville Townsite Company, deeded lots to the trustees to be held in trust for the Texas Methodist Conference. This prompted a dispute with Fayette County, which withdrew its support of the institution. The self-perpetuating board of trustees also came under attack. A church trial for misconduct of faculty members did further damage to the school's reputation. After 1850 Chappell Hill Male and Female Institute (later Chappell Hill Female College), another Methodist institution, began to compete for students. In 1856 Rutersville College consolidated with Texas Military Institute, Galveston, and the Texas Monumental Committee at La Grange to form Texas Monumental and Military Institute. In 1883 the Rutersville campus was purchased by the Southern German Conference of the Methodist Church, which operated it as a conference school until 1894, when the school was closed. The buildings were eventually razed, and all that remains today is a Texas Centennial historical marker.

Frederick Eby, The Development of Education in Texas (New York: Macmillan, 1925). John O. Gross, Martin Ruter: Pioneer in Methodist Education (Nashville: Board of Education of the Methodist Church, 1956). Ralph W. Jones, A History of Southwestern University, 1873–1949 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1960). Ralph W. Jones, Southwestern University, 1840–1861 (Austin: Jenkins, 1973). William Franklin Ledlow, History of Protestant Education in Texas (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1926). Julia Lee Sinks, "Rutersville College," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 2 (October 1898). Homer S. Thrall, A Brief History of Methodism in Texas (Nashville: Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1889; rpt., Greenwood, South Carolina: Attic, 1977).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Judson S. Custer, "RUTERSVILLE COLLEGE," accessed May 27, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/kbr17.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...