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El Dorado Junior College

El Dorado Junior College was a public junior college open from 1928 to 1942 in El Dorado (Union County). Operating on the campus of El Dorado High School, it was established as a preparatory school by the El Dorado School District for students hoping to enter universities.

The high school and El Dorado Junior College often shared equipment, instructors, laboratories, the gymnasium, and other facilities, but the two institutions remained separate in many respects. In particular, the high school mostly used the newer auditorium building for lectures, while the college mostly used the adjacent classroom building. This red brick, three-story classroom building had actually been constructed in 1905 as the high school for El Dorado. Because of its use as the home of the junior college, local residents began referring to the old high school building as the “Junior College Building,” which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.

J. I. McClerkin served as the college’s president throughout the life of the college. The college had five faculty members initially, many teaching multiple subjects or serving in multiple administrative capacities. The college boasted courses in Latin, English, German, mathematics, public speaking, mechanical drawing, economics, and education. These courses were similar to introductory courses being offered at that time at many four-year colleges. The 1935 yearbook, Carcajou (the French word for wolverine, the college mascot), said the college was the “largest unendowed municipal junior college in Arkansas” and the “oldest municipal junior college in Arkansas.” In 1940, a gymnasium was added to the campus, constructed as part of a Works Progress Administration project. The college added an aeronautics course in 1941 that was accredited by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, the predecessor to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Student life remained quite active as El Dorado Junior College began both men’s and women’s basketball teams in 1935, in addition to having a drama club, a student council, and an award-winning debate team. A choral club, an international relations club, and a tennis club were later added. Women played an active role in the college in both administration and student leadership. Women also served as instructors and as librarians.

The college struggled with enrollment as the 1940s began, with enrollment dipping below 100 students in the 1940–41 year in spite of the support the college enjoyed in the community. Enrollment ranged from just over 100 students to less than 250 at various points in the college’s life. With the American entry into World War II in December 1941, most of the male students enlisted in the military, leaving the college with an insufficient number of students. By August 1942, McClerkin reported to the school board that all the equipment used by the college had been returned to the high school. Though still technically open, this effectively closed the institution.

The site, however, continued as a high school until 1964 and some years afterward as Rogers Junior High School. In 1976, the year-old Southern State College–El Dorado Branch (the present-day South Arkansas Community College) moved to the site of the old high school, using the 1905 building for both administrative offices and classrooms, as it has since.

For additional information:
Beauchamp, J. D., II, ed. Carcajou, 1935. El Dorado, AR: El Dorado Printing Co., 1935.

Conklin, E. P. “Higher Education.” In Arkansas and Its People, A History, 1541–1930, edited by David Y. Thomas. New York: American Historical Society, 1930.

Miller, Marjorie Rae, ed. Carcajou, 1941. El Dorado, AR: Bell Printing Co., 1941.

Whitfield, Ben. “El Dorado’s Two-Year Colleges.” South Arkansas Historical Journal 1 (Fall 2001): 4–14. Online at http://www.southark.edu/class-information/dynpage.asp?pageID=1915 (accessed May 2, 2008).

Kenneth Bridges
South Arkansas Community College

Last Updated 10/8/2009

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