HBCU History · HBCU News

Remembering HBCU: Western University

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The only HBCU to operate to in the state of Kansas….

Western University began its first classes which were started by Eben Blachley, a Presbyterian minister, in his home in Kansas in 1862, who taught the children of freedmen. Most of the homesities of Quindaro were on the bluff. The are of the Quindaro settlement was annexed by Kansas City in the early 20th century.

The town was started in 1865 by abolitionists, Wyandot, free blacks and settlers from the New England Emigrant Aid Company. The latter had come from Massachusetts and other northeast states to help Kansas become a free rather than slave state. They started constructions of buildings in January 1857 and a hundred were built in the first year. As a stop on the Underground Railroad, Quindaro absorbed escaped slaves before the Civil War.

After the war, a committee of white men in the community, former abolitionists, organized a school to educate freedmen who had resettled in Quindaro and the Kansas City area. In 1865, the committee registered their county charter for what they called Quindaro Freedman’s School. In 1867 the state legislature approved funds for the school.

In 1872, the state increased funding to establish a four-year normal school curriculum for the training of teachers. Charles Henry Langston, a prominent activist and politician,  was named principal of the normal school. Freedmen and blacks are free before the war believed that education was key for advancement of their race.

Eben Blachley, Freedman’s struggled to find funds to survive. State financial difficulties caused it to reduce support following the Panic of 1873, and the school had to reduce its enrollment. Blachley died in 1877, the university closed. In 1880, Exodusters and other migrants added significantly to the African-American population in Kansas. The college began to be active again under the name Western University.

In the late 19th century, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Conference began to help provide financial support for the school. The AME Church jointly operated Wilberforce University in Ohio for black students, among 13 others. Choosing the name Western based on its proximity to Wilberforce, the church followed Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute model with a curriculum of vocational training.

All member on the university’s board were African-American. Quindaro added a theological course and constructed Ward Hall in 1891 to accommodate it; the hall was named after a bishop of the AME Church. In 1890 the expanded college’s first African-American president,  Bishop William Tecumseh Vernon was appointed. Vernon helped grow the university with the philosophy “to educate the head-hand-heart for the home.”

The Kansas Legislature agreed to fund a $10,000 building in 1899 to house the new industrial department. Western received funding in 1905 for the Girls’ Trades Building, in 1907 for the Boys’ Trades Building, and in 1909 for the Girls’ dormitory.

As a result of the state funding, Kansas students received tuition discounts. Western’s 1916-1917 catalog listed enrollment at $8.50 per month for room and board; $1.50 in trade fees, Kansas students were exempt; $1 one-time entrance fee, and $1 gymnasium fee per semester. Laundry, textbooks, and uniforms were not included.

Western University’s renown grew after hiring Robert G. Jackson. After joining the university in 1902, Jackson created vocal, orchestra and band programs. He formed the Jubilee Singers. They gained national acclaim, performed in every state, at Chautauguas, and event traveled to African for a series of programs.

A fire in 1924 severely damaged Ward Hall and the admissions began to decline. The Great Depression reduced available financial support, and the university faced increasing competition to attract students. Further drops of state appropriations and private funding led to Western University’s closure in 1943.

 

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