Hinds Junior College: The Early Years, 1917-1930
Part 2 of 10
Hinds County Agricultural High School opened in September, 1917, amid great fanfare. Among its purposes, it was to serve as a "Poor Man's College" for farm girls and boys who had been deprived of a high school education by lack of access to schools and by the inability to pay boarding costs. The AHS was to provide academic and industrial subjects "in proper proportion." In addition to a traditional high school academic curriculum, boys were to take a four-year course in agriculture and girls a four-year course in home economics. Costs were to be minimal. Students could earn money by working on the farm or campus at the rate of 10 cents an hour.
W. N. Taylor's tenure as school superintendent was brief. He resigned in the spring of 1918 due to illness in his family. Agriculture instructor Robert E. Lee Sutherland replaced him. Sutherland was a native of Prentiss County in northeast Mississippi, where he served two terms as county superintendent of education. He was also elected to the state Legislature in 1915 and served one term. Sutherland was to lead Hinds Agricultural High School in its first years and through its transition to becoming a junior college.
Although the state's agricultural high schools performed yeoman duty in educating rural boys and girls, by the early 1920s they faced a serious problem. Legislation passed in 1915 allowed two or more public school districts to merge. Key to this approach was that the new "consolidated" schools had to provide free transportation. School districts statewide leapt at the opportunity, and by 1923 there were 751 consolidated schools. Boarding agricultural high schools faced shrinking enrollments as students took advantage of the now-convenient consolidated schools.
Visionary agricultural high school leaders saw a solution: let them offer one or two years of college courses. This would provide the double benefits of offering affordable access to college for rural students and of increasing enrollments. Subsequently, in the spring of 1922 the Mississippi legislature passed enabling laws allowing agricultural high schools to extend their curricula and offer college level work.
Hinds AHS responded immediately, adding the freshman year of college in September, 1922. Thirty young men and women, mostly Hinds County AHS graduates, enrolled in the first freshman class. Pearl River AHS in Poplarville had actually offered freshman courses in 1921, the year before the enabling legislation. This led to some good-natured (and not) discussion as to whether Pearl River was the first public junior college in the state in 1921, or was tied with Hinds in 1922. This writer's analysis is that Hinds and Pearl River were Mississippi's first legal public junior colleges in 1922, and that any action before that date hints at the scofflaw. Other agricultural high schools followed: Holmes County and Harrison-Jackson County (now Mississippi Gulf Coast CC) joined the fray in 1925; Sunflower County (now Mississippi Delta CC), Tate County (Northwest CC) followed in 1927; and Copiah-Lincoln County and Newton County (East Central CC) in 1928.
Hinds Junior College added the sophomore year of college in September, 1926, and in May, 1927, granted diplomas to its first true graduating class. (Among the graduates was Marie Keith, grandmother of current Hinds music instructor Tracy Crosby). Also in September, 1926, students and staff were greeted by a grand new structure, built in Greek Revival style between the original three buildings and the Jackson highway. It included a 1,200 seat auditorium, administrative offices, instructor's offices, classrooms, and the library. Known first as the "Auditorium Building," it was rechristened as Cain Hall in 1982. The campus' "signature" building, Cain Hall burned to the ground after being struck by lightning in 1998 and was replaced by current Cain-Cochran Hall.
The stringent rules governing students in that bygone era would make a 21st century administrator (or instructor) green with envy and a student cringe in disbelief. Dorm rooms were spartanly furnished and had one 50-watt light bulb. Boarding students could make one weekend visit home per month only if their parents made a written request approved by the president. All boys worked on the farm or campus grounds, while girls served meals in the cafeteria and performed other domestic tasks. (Pay increased to 15 cents an hour.) "Street loafing" in town was strictly prohibited, as was smoking, and church attendance was mandatory. School sponsored (and chaperoned) mixing of the sexes occurred only on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons when boys could visit girls in the parlor of the dorm. Oh, for the good old days.
Administrative change loomed at the end of the 1920s. Sutherland took a leave of absence in 1928-29 to continue his education at Peabody College in Nashville. George Judson Cain served as acting president. Sutherland returned to Hinds for the fall semester of 1929, but left in the spring of 1930 when Gov. Theodore Bilbo appointed him president of Mississippi State College for Women. At that time "Jud" Cain assumed the Hinds presidency, a post he held until 1938.