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Welcome to the Macon, MO Sesquicentennial Celebration!
The City of Maples Celebrates Its 150th Anniversary!

Black College Located Here at Turn of Century

Taken from an article in a 1976 Edition of the Macon Chronicle-Herald
Historical Background by Irma Miller - Text by Sandy Coons

An unusual educational facility existed in Macon around the turn of the century which was sponsored statewide by the Baptist Church with the goal of educating young black people in the Midwest. Western College was organized in January 1890, originating in Independence, Mo., moved to Macon in 1892 and remained until 1921 when it moved to Kansas City. It began as a seminary, but the need for higher education for blacks was so great that other departments of education were added.

After 1812 the college was located at Jackson and Weller Streets on 12 acres of land which originally cost $5,000. By 1913 the property, including equipment and library, was valued at $25,000.

According to James H. Major, a Macon resident who attended Western College, the college offered English Preparatory for fifth, sixth graders and junior high students. Academical for high school students, College, Theological and Industrial courses.

The stated purpose of the school was "to train black students to become useful, industrious and intelligent citizens, and energetic, inspiring school teachers, missionaries, preachers and laborers in general."


Dormitories were available for out-of-town students. According to Mrs. Joe Ancell, another Western College student, the college attracted students from Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Illinois, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Wisconsin, thus extending its influence over the entire Midwest. The college served a large number of area and state students as well. In many Missouri towns education for older black students was not available past elementary school so they came to Macon to Western College. It is recorded that great stress was laid upon Christian culture and education at the college. Mrs. Ancell recalled that the college was very strict; students who didn't obey the rules didn't stay there.

The institution while in Macon was mainly supported by donations. Although tuition and board were charged, they were kept very low so that more black youth would be able to receive an education. As a resident student, Mrs. Ancell paid the college $2 per month.

Mrs. Ancell attended the college from 1914 to 1918, taking the academic courses equivalent to high school. "I couldn't afford to go away to school at that time. Later my parents could afford to send me away," she explained. If Western College had not been available, the nearest alternative for Mrs. Ancell would have been Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City. Dumas School in Macon offered education for blacks to the tenth grade and to the eleventh grade for a while during this period.

Mrs. Ancell was born in Shelbina and raised in Macon. Her husband also attended Western College and both of them went on to further their education after leaving the college. Mrs. Ancell attended Western University in Kansas City and took summer courses at Drake University in Des Moines where she stayed with her aunt and uncle. Her husband went into the army and then attended Western University, graduating in 1933.


"It (Western College) was a nice, small school for the times with good moral training. The low costs made it possible for people with small means to further their education," Mrs. Ancell reminisced. She remembers walking to the college each day, which was quite a distance, remembers the fine music department and the cantatas performed as well as a presentation of "The Mikado." She revealed that the college was quite an asset to the local Baptist Church because the teachers and students attended along with the townspeople.

Listed in a Western College yearbook is a diversity of subjects that would amaze junior and senior high school educators of today. The college offered astronomy, Latin, Greek, ethics, rhetoric, pedagogy, trigonometry, penmanship, reading, spelling, grammar, geometry, physics, domestic sciences, industrial sciences, business courses, theological courses and many more. Mrs. Ancell recalls that medals were awarded for outstanding achievement in sewing, literary, conduct and oratory.

The result of Mrs. Ancell's education was a teaching career which lasted 12 years. She taught first and second grade at Dumas School in Macon. Her husband, now retired, worked 27 years for the Theodore Gary family and also at the Coca Cola Bottling Plant.

Asked if she would encourage youth today to get more education she replied, "Yes, more so now than ever because the opportunities are greater."

By 1911 Western College had produced 234 graduates with more than two thousand students having come under its influence for a portion of their education. The graduates at that time were reported as including ministers, teachers, missionaries, farmers, stenographers and postal clerks. During Mrs. Ancell's college years Dr. James H. Garnett and Dr. Page were the college presidents.


J.H. Major, or Homer as his mother called him, at-tended Western College from 1911 to 1914. Major had been born near Paris, Mo., and raised in Macon. Major's father had taught 15-20 years in the Macon area, but at the time Major was attending Western -College his father was employed in factories in Illinois where the pay was higher. "Having Western College close by was an advantage for me," said Major, "so I could be home with my mother since my father worked away." He felt it was an advantage to many others who lived in this community. If Western College had not been located in Macon Major believes he would have attended Lincoln University, but this would have left his mother at home alone.

At Western College Major indicated he enjoyed his mathematical courses best, especially algebra, geometry and trigonometry. Mrs. Fannie Lewis, he said, was one of his math instructors. He also liked the education courses, Major remarked that there were 13 members in his graduating class of 1914. Major said that many Western College graduates went immediately into teaching positions without having to take a teaching examination. He had earned some college credits at Western College which transferred to Wilberforce University. He was salutatorian of his Western College class as well as salutatorian later when he attended Wilberforce University where he continued his college education. At Wilberforce Major studied classical languages: German, Latin and Greek.

Earning his A.B. degree at Wilberforce, Major began a teaching career that spanned 40 years from 1920 to 1960. He said his mother urged him not to come back to his hometown to teach. He agreed with her idea that it would be to his advantage to broaden his experience and mix with other people. He taught various subjects in schools in four different states.

For three years Major taught at the Presbyterian Academy in Bowling Green, Ky. He then spent 15 years in Parkersburg, W. Va., where he also served as assistant principal. In the summers Major took graduates courses at the University of Cincinnati. After leaving West Virginia, Major traveled to Little Rock, Ark., where he taught at Arkansas Baptist College. The remainder of his career was spent in Monroe City, 17 years, where he served as principal of the Washington School.

Major has been retired 15 years now. Smiling from a seat in his Jefferson Street home, Major proudly ex-plains that in all those years of teaching he never missed a day.


Asked why the college moved to Kansas City in 1921, Major replied that the directors of the college thought they could increase enrollment by being located in a large population center. He said, however, that after moving from Macon the college did not prosper as expected.

The Reverend Ray Mallory agreed that hopes of improved enrollment was the reason for the college moving. His great-great-aunt, Rosa L. Johnson, originally of Palmyra, was an educator for more than 50 years with Western College at its various locations. She served as dean of women, interim president, instructor in Latin, English and history. In recognition of her contribution to the college during its history a women's dormitory at the college at its Kansas City location has been named in her honor.

Reverend Mallory says the move to Kansas City was financially disastrous for the college because the rural churches would no longer support it. When the college seemed doomed to fail, Rosa L. Johnson sank all of her savings into the college on the condition that the Mo. State Missionary Baptist Convention commit itself to the future support of the college. The college survived with the Missouri State Missionary Baptist Convention paying part of the expenses and the state district organizations of the Baptist Church paying yearly allotment.

The Reverend Mallory, who attended the college in Kansas City, explained that the college has come full cycle in that it is now strictly a theological institution as it was in its earliest history. Its current name is Western Baptist Bible College. Rosa L. Johnson was the impetus to Reverend Mallory choosing the college for his training. Speaking of his great-great aunt, who died in 1954, Reverend Mallory comments "She supported Western College with everything she had."

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Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Macon, Missouri at the Macon, MO Sesquicentennial Celebration!