How Mississippi Woman’s College became William Carey College
Copyright by Robert C. Rogers and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.
In the 1950s, the Mississippi Baptist Convention had to make a decision about what to do with Mississippi Woman’s College in Hattiesburg. Since reopening in 1947 under the leadership of Dr. Irving E. Rouse, the college enrollment grew steadily from 76 students to 149 by 1951. However, many felt that the all-female status of the college hindered its potential to grow. During debate over the issue, Sue Bell Johnson, wife of former president Johnson, prayed, “Lord, if Woman’s College can help bring in the Kingdom, save it.” In 1953, the Mississippi Baptist Education Commission presented the State Convention with two choices regarding the college: either close it, or make it co-educational. Messengers voted overwhelmingly to keep it open and make it co-educational. Then messengers took another vote on whether the college should be a junior college or a senior college, and by a vote of 304 to 291, they voted to make it a senior college. Knowing it could no longer be called “Woman’s College,” President Rouse suggested the name William Carey College, in honor of the 18th century English Baptist missionary to India who became the father of modern missions, and the new name was approved by the faculty and trustees. According to tradition, Rouse meditated in the forest adjacent to the college, and there felt inspired to name the school after the missionary. Thus, the college inherited the famous motto of William Carey, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”1
Even before Mississippi Woman’s College adopted its new name, the school began immediately to prepare for male students, erecting a male dormitory that opened in the fall of 1954. The administration knew that a quick way to bring in male students was by creating football, baseball, basketball and track teams. Les De Vall, head coach of Hinds Junior College in Raymond, was hired as the football coach. Billy Crosby, a member of the football and baseball teams, said that one day President Rouse asked if he would be interested in playing for Mississippi Woman’s College. Crosby thought, “I could just see the headlines: ‘The Skirts Lose Again.’” Nevertheless, Billy and 35 other players showed up that fall at the then-renamed William Carey College. With the addition of male students, the total enrollment in the fall of 1954 was 315 students. The football team posted winning seasons in its two years of competition, 1954 and 1955. An even greater spiritual victory occurred when Dr. Andy Tate, dean of men, led several of the football players to faith in Christ. These conversions sparked a revival in the men’s dormitory, and over 100 male students made professions of faith. Some of the athletes became ministers. The prayers of Sue Bell Johnson were already being answered.2
1 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1951, 114; 1953, 45; Donna Duck Wheeler, William Carey College: The First 100 Years (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006), 43, 48, 49; The Baptist Record, May 13, 1954, 1; October 14, 2004, Special Supplement Celebrating the Jubilee of William Carey College.
2 Minutes, Mississippi Baptist Convention, 1954, 113; Wheeler, 51, 53.