• Texas' first university
    Texas' first university
    Southwestern University

Today is Charter Day for Southwestern University, the day we recognize and celebrate the 178th anniversary of our beloved institution’s original founding. On February 5, 1840, the charter of Rutersville College, the vision of Methodist missionary Martin Ruter and first of the four root colleges that later became Southwestern, was signed by the President of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau B. Lamar.

At 178 years old, Southwestern was the first institute of higher education in the state of Texas, a claim that was confirmed by an official proclamation by the Senate of the State of Texas in 2016. Proclamation No. 15 states, in part, that “Southwestern University is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas” and the “mother of higher education in Texas.”

Senate Proclamation No. 15

A Proud History of Firsts

In addition to being the first institute of higher education in the state, Southwestern also held the very first homecoming on record, and three of the first five Rhodes Scholars in Texas were Southwestern graduates.

Another proud “first” moment in Southwestern’s history was when we defeated UT-Austin in the first college baseball game played in the state. Go Pirates!

1840 - A Year to Remember

While our founders were busy laying the strong foundation for Southwestern, there were some pretty interesting things happening elsewhere in 1840 - which happened to be a leap year - including:

  • Captain Charles Wilkes circumnavigated Antarctica, claiming it for the United States and providing evidence that Antarctica is a complete continent.
  • The world’s first postage stamp, known as the Penny Black, was issued in Great Britain (prior to this, the person who received the letter paid the postage cost depending on weight and distance).  
  • The first recorded bowling match in the United States took place in Knickerbocker Alleys, NYC. Strike!
  • Englishman John William Draper took the first successful photo of the full moon (particularly interesting to compare how far the world has come – Southwestern students can now get a phenomenal view of the moon and other astronomical elements at our Fountainwood Observatory).

As we reflect on 178 years, Southwestern has much to celebrate. Our community of alumni, faculty, staff, students and parents is strong, and our graduates go on to become leaders and innovators in a variety of fields. We are proud of our past and place a high importance on our core values, but we continuously remain focused on our future. Together, we look forward to continuing to create positive change in our communities.

For a complete history of Southwestern, you can download To Survive and Excel, a fascinating 627-page history of Southwestern University published by William Burwell Jones, Former Professor Emeritus of History, in 2006.

Or you can also watch A Tree Grows in Georgetown, a video about the history of the Root Colleges of Southwestern.