SMU broadened Dallas' world by pushing residents to expand outlook

SMU Professor Emeritus Marshall Terry writies about SMU's role in making Dallas a great city.

Special Contributor

From the beginning, Southern Methodist University has been — and, to many, still is — "Dallas' university."

The founding of SMU in 1911 and its beginning of operation in 1915 established an authority in matters philosophical, cultural and civic in the still young city. SMU, by the very nature of a university, with its sine qua non of free inquiry and its devotion to research and new ideas, made the university school more "liberal" than the newspaper that covered it with its rooted conservatism.

Nevertheless, The Dallas Morning News and the business interests it mirrored were highly supportive of the new university, and certainly the backing of The News was vital at the birth of SMU.

When Vanderbilt University severed its connection to the Methodist denomination church, there was steady interest in establishing an institution west of the Mississippi with a theology school for training in which to train ministers.

Wallace Buttrick, executive secretary of the General Education Board of New York, organized by John D. Rockefeller to aid Southern education, said in 1905, "Dallas is the best unrecognized territory in the South. Some day some one will build a university in Dallas, and you Methodists are the ones who should do it."

Strategic land was donated by Dallas families, and $300,000 in cash and pledges came from Dallas residents citizens. The founding president, Robert Stewart Hyer, built a noble building, which was named "Dallas Hall" after the people citizens who funded it.

On Oct. 16, 1912, the day the cornerstone was laid for Dallas Hall, The News proclaimed that it was "the first great step in the actual realization of the plan for the development of a university of the first class in Dallas."

Morning News' publisher, George Bannerman Dealey, was one of a group of civic leaders who spoke at the grand event. Others included H. H. Adams, Alex Sanger, S. J. Hay, Edwin J. Kiest, and W.W. Caruth.

From the 1920s to the 1950s, the slogan of SMU's annual fund drive was "A Great City Deserves a Great University."

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