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Sulphur Rock Male and Female Academy

The Sulphur Rock Male and Female Academy was a leading educational institution in northeast Arkansas. Founded in 1872 in the town of Sulphur Rock (Independence County), the one-building school operated until 1906, when it was incorporated into the local public school system.

Sulphur Rock was an early settlement in northeastern Arkansas, located near Batesville (Independence County). In June 1872, a group of townspeople met to discuss the creation of a local academy; forty-four signatories to the founding document pledged a total of $2,261 for the school’s creation. The board of trustees purchased a two-and-one-half-acre plot of land upon which was built a two-story, four-room, white frame building. However, the school was closed by 1875 after John G. Martin, who alleged he had not yet collected on lumber used in the building of the academy, was successful in a lawsuit against the school. Finally, in June 1875, Martin and the stockholders of the academy reached an agreement whereby the former could use the second story of the building for the following six years, for “Lodge purposes” only, as payment.

As a private school, the academy was restricted to white students only. The head of the academy, Sam Rayburn, was known as a competent educator throughout Arkansas and thus proved a big draw. Students came not only from Independence County but also from other counties and even other states. Local citizens boarded the out-of-town students, who numbered approximately 100 at the turn of the century. Subjects taught at the school included everything needed to obtain a teaching certificate in Arkansas, as well as law, medicine, Greek, and Latin.

Rayburn’s successor, John William Decker, who took over in 1898, proved skilled at attracting students, though some of his promotional programs bordered upon the unethical. Tuition at this time was three dollars a month. Because this was more than local farmers could pay, Decker also provided odd jobs so students could pay their expenses. Decker succeeded in raising the number of students to 300, partly by sending out circulars advertising the academy’s “medical school,” which then consisted only of two rooms on the top floor, with medical classes being taught at night after all the other classes were finished. Many students signed up for medical classes, and Decker moved all the related equipment in June 1902 to Texarkana (Miller County), where he opened Gate City Medical College and School of Pharmacy. The Arkansas Medical Society condemned this school for its lax standards and poor training in 1904, by which time Decker had already moved it to Texas, where he was later indicted for fraud.

In 1906, the academy was transferred to the public school system. The building served as a public school until 1935, when it burned down.

For additional information:
Holcombe, Edgar, ed. “Document: A True Copy of Agreement and Subscription to the Sulphur Rock Male and Female Academy.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 5 (Spring 1946): 87–93.

Matthews, Linda. “The Sulphur Rock Male and Female Academy.” Independence County Chronicle 7 (October 1965): 21–33.

Guy Lancaster
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 4/21/2010

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