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Dean Depew (D. D.) McBrien was a college professor and academic administrator at Henderson State Teachers College (HSTC)—now Henderson State University (HSU)—in Arkadelphia (Clark County) for eighteen years.
D. D. McBrien was born on November 14, 1892, in Tecumseh, Nebraska, to Jasper Leonidas McBrien and Eva Forbes McBrien. The oldest of five children, McBrien graduated from high school in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1909 and entered the University of Nebraska.
McBrien first worked at the high school level, serving as principal of the high school in Phillips, Nebraska, in the 1912–13 school year. He graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1914 and obtained a position at Arkansas State Teachers College (ASTC)—now the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County). He married Louise Huddleston of Conway in 1917, and the couple had two daughters and a son.
McBrien served in the U.S. Army from 1917 to 1918 and returned to ASTC in 1919, following the conclusion of World War I. He then assumed the chair position of the Department of History. Pursuing a graduate degree while he taught, he earned an MA at Columbia University in 1920 with a thesis titled “Union Sentiment in Arkansas at the Time of the Civil War.” He continued his education at George Washington University, where he earned a PhD in 1929 with a dissertation focusing on Joseph Smith’s influence on the frontier.
HSTC continued to operate during World War II, although with a much reduced enrollment. President Matt Locke Ellis led the college from 1941 until 1945, when he accepted the presidency of Hendrix College in Conway. The board of HSTC actively courted McBrien for the position of president before Ellis’s departure, and he accepted the position, to begin on July 1, 1945. McBrien was an active Methodist and continued the Methodist Church’s influence at the college even after it became a state institution; all three of the previous presidents of HSTC were also Methodists.
During McBrien’s tenure, the enrollment grew from 571 to 1,932. Much of this growth was due to veterans using their GI Bill benefits. The increase in enrollment led to the construction of numerous buildings, including four dormitories, thirteen houses for faculty, a cafeteria, a combination library-auditorium, a student union, and a classroom building. The gymnasium burned in 1952, and a replacement was constructed two years later.
McBrien also expanded the academic offerings of the college, with the addition of departments of art, home economics, and geography. Although HSTC educated students to serve as teachers after graduation, the institution did not offer a degree in education until McBrien pushed for its adoption in 1946. Students previously earned degrees in the arts and sciences while also completing optional coursework to gain a teaching certificate.
McBrien also worked to improve student life at the college. Athletics were suspended during World War II, and HSTC began competition again in the fall of 1945. The president also recognized the need to preserve the unique history of Henderson as the state’s only religiously affiliated public college. In the fall of 1946, he called for the creation of a campus service organization to develop and promote school spirit. Named Heart and Key, this organization continues to serve Henderson and the student body. Under McBrien's leadership, the college integrated, admitting its first black students in 1955.
McBrien retired due to illness in 1963 after eighteen years at Henderson and was replaced as president by Manley Russell. McBrien died on August 7, 1964, and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Arkadelphia. McBrien Hall, located on the Henderson State University campus, is named in his honor and houses the administrative offices of the Matt Locke Ellis College of Arts and Sciences and several departments in the humanities and social sciences.
For additional information:Bledsoe, Bennie Gene. Henderson State University: Education since 1890. Houston, TX: D. Armstrong, 1986.
Sesser, David. The School with a Heart: Henderson State University at 125. Covington, GA: Bookhouse Group, 2015.
David Sesser Henderson State University
Last Updated 6/28/2018
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