The Founding of Cottey College

Alice's Dream

In 1883, Virginia Alice Cottey was teaching at the Central College for Women in Lexington, Missouri.1 She had dreamt of being a teacher since she was young, and had always had a passion for learning. Alice had another dream, though ― to start her own school, where she could choose the subjects and methods without interference. By 1883, her sisters Dora and Mary knew the time was right for Alice to begin setting up her school.

They offered Alice their savings and support, and the three of them began searching for a suitable town. They wrote letters to anyone they could think of, especially to Southern Methodist ministers, inquiring about the need for a girls’ school. The amount of money or land a town could offer them was very important, since they had only about $6,000 of their own. Fort Worth, Texas was one of the first towns to express interest, but building costs were high there. Alice was also dubious about placing a school in a large city, where there were so many distractions and poor influences. Offers came next from Rolla and Appleton City, Missouri. Although these towns were closer to home, neither seemed a good fit.

Virginia Alice Cottey, 1885
Virginia Alice Cottey, 1885.3
Dora Cottey, 1888
V.A.C.'s sister Dora Cottey, 1888.4
Mary Cottey
V.A.C.'s other sister Mary Cottey.4

Choosing Nevada

Strangely enough, the suggestion to establish the school in Nevada, Missouri came from the president of Central College. When Alice told him of her plans to leave Central and open her own school, he suggested she write to Reverend William McClure about the town. Alice did so, and quickly received Rev. McClure’s enthusiastic reply. He wrote that he had found several interested businessmen, and that Nevada was small but growing rapidly.

As Alice’s interest in the town grew, so did Nevada’s interest in the school. On November 12th, the Nevada Daily Mail reported:

Nevada now has an opportunity to secure a splendidly equipped female college – All that is asked to secure this magnificent addition to our prosperous, young city is the donation of five acres of land lying adjacent to Nevada, a generous offer – a modest request. Who of our land owners will donate one quarter or one half of this land? Or, who will offer a desirable site at a reasonable figure, speak out. Now is the time to keep the ball moving.1

A week later, Alice and Dora Cottey traveled by train to Nevada. They hoped to convince some of its most influential citizens to invest in the school. Rev. McClure and Colonel Harry C. Moore, who owned a general store and an opera house in Nevada, met the Cottey sisters at the train station. Col. Moore drove them in his carriage to Hotel Rockwood, a building which still stands on the north side of Nevada’s town square today. (Interestingly, Dr. Rockwood’s home would later become Cottey’s Missouri Hall.) That afternoon, Col. Moore took Alice and Dora to possible locations for the school, as did Major Prewitt the following day.

Rockwood Hotel, c. 1900
The Rockwood Hotel, where the first meeting concerning Cottey College was held.2
Nevada Courthouse, c. 1890
The Vernon County Courthouse, where the second Cottey College meeting took place.2

Convincing the Town

On the third day, the sisters met with the businessmen of Nevada. The gathering was held in the parlor of Hotel Rockwood, with about 20 men in attendance. The Nevada Daily Mail reported:

A meeting was held this afternoon in the parlor of Rockwood House, for the purpose of conferring with the Misses Cottey in regard to the proposed college. Dr. E. Warth was elected chairman and Reverend W. T. McClure, secretary of the meeting — Three sites have been designated by the Misses Cottey either of which will be acceptable to them.1

Alice spoke to them of the value her school would bring to the town, and asked for a donation of five acres of land. After the meeting was adjourned, Alice and Dora took the train back to Lexington.

On November 23rd, another meeting was held to discuss the proposed school. This one was in the Vernon County Courthouse, and an editorial in the Nevada Daily Mail urged every citizen with a daughter to attend. Although some feared that establishing a small school would discourage a large college later, the majority supported Alice Cottey’s plan. Within a week, the town had secured a site ― six acres of Major Prewitt’s land on the west side of town. Finally Alice had the support of a town and land for her school. Now all she needed was a building.

Works Cited:

  1. Troesch, Helen DeRusha. Life of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Wayside Press, Inc., 1955. Print.
  2. Sterett, Betty. Scenes From the Past (of Nevada, Missouri). Ed. Donna Logan. DGL InfoWrite: Boulder, CO, 1985. Print.
  3. Stockard, Orpha. Cottey College: The First 75 Years. Joplin, MO: Joplin Printing Co., 1961. Print.
  4. "Virginia Alice Cottey's Family." Web.
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