Sul Ross State University, located in Alpine in Brewster County, was created by an act of the 35th Legislature in 1917 as a state normal college to train teachers.
Named for Lawrence Sullivan Ross, governor of Texas from 1887 to 1891 and president of Texas A&M College from 1891 to 1898, the institution was the successor to Alpine Summer Normal School.
The bill creating the institution provided that the residents of the town would provide land, water and utilities for the college and housing for the students. This condition was met, and following a delay occasioned by World War I, the Legislature in 1919 appropriated $200,000 for buildings and equipment.
Construction proceeded, and under the presidency of Thomas J. Fletcher, Sul Ross State Normal College began operations in the present Dolph Briscoe Jr. Administration Building on June 14, 1920.
Seventy-seven students enrolled in the summer of 1920. They studied education and liberal arts subjects leading to teaching certificates and junior college diplomas. In 1923, the Legislature changed the name of the institution to Sul Ross State Teachers College, and advanced courses leading to baccalaureate degrees were added.
The first baccalaureate degree was awarded in the summer of 1925. In 1930, course work at the graduate level was initiated, and the first master's degrees were awarded in 1933. By 1985, 10,925 bachelor's degrees and 4,862 master's degrees had been conferred.
Under the leadership of President Horace W. Morelock from 1923 to 1945, the curriculum was expanded, additional academic buildings and dormitories were constructed, the college was admitted into membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and enrollment increased to approximately 500 students. A decline in enrollment during World War II threatened the continued operation of the college but was offset by the establishment of a successful U.S. Navy pilot training program and a Women's Army Corps Training School on campus, bringing more than 1,500 military trainees and officers to Sul Ross.
Following the war, the return of veterans increased the annual enrollments and prompted the expansion of the curriculum. Richard M. Hawkins became president in 1945, and the college was reorganized into divisions of Fine Arts, Language Arts, Science, Social Science, Teacher Education and Vocations. Then in 1949, in recognition of the broadened mission of the institution to prepare students for a variety of careers and occupations, the name was changed to Sul Ross State College.
The enrollment grew to more than 1,000 in 1960 and to over 2,000 in 1970. During the presidencies of Bryan Wildenthal and Norman L. McNeil between 1952 and 1974, the academic programs continued to be strengthened; new fine arts, physical education, science and range animal science buildings and a new library were constructed; and several new degree programs were begun.
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