Texas Christian University was founded by East Texas brothers Addison & Randolph Clark, together with the support of their father Joseph A. Clark. The Clarks were preachers and educators associated with the American Restoration Movement–the spiritual ancestor of the modern Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Following their return from service in the Civil War, brothers Addison and Randolph established a children’s preparatory school in Fort Worth. This school, known as the Male & Female Seminary of Fort Worth, operated from 1869 to 1874. Both Clarks nourished a vision for an institution of higher education that would be Christian in character, but non-sectarian in spirit and intellectually open-minded. They purchased five blocks of land in downtown Fort Worth in 1869 for that purpose.
But over the next five years, the character of Fort Worth changed substantially due to the commercial influence of the Chisholm Trail, the principal route for moving Texas cattle to the Kansas railheads. A huge influx of cattle, men, and money transformed the sleepy frontier village into a booming, brawling cowtown. The area around the property purchased by the Clarks for their college soon became the town’s vice district, an unrelieved stretch of saloons, gambling halls, dance parlors, and bawdy houses catering to the rough tastes of the Chisholm Trail cowboys. Its rough and rowdy reputation had, by 1872, acquired it the nickname of “Hell’s Half Acre.”
The Clarks feared that this negative environment undermined the fledgling university’s mission so they began to look for an alternative site to establish their college. They found it at Thorp Spring, a small community and stagecoach stop 40 miles to the southwest, near the frontier of Comanche and Kiowa territory.
In 1873 the Clark brothers moved South and founded AddRan Male & Female College. TCU recognizes 1873 as its founding year, as it continues to preserve the original college through the AddRan College of Liberal Arts.
AddRan College (TCU) was one of the first coeducational institutions of higher education west of the Mississippi River, and the very first in Texas. That fact becomes even more remarkable if you consider that only 15% of the national college enrollment was female and almost all of them were enrolled at women’s colleges.
At Thorp Spring the fledgling university expanded quickly. The inaugural enrollment in Fall 1873 was 13 students, though this number rose to 123 by the end of the first term. Shortly thereafter, annual enrollment ranged from 200 to 400. At one time more than 100 counties of Texas were represented in the student body. The Clark brothers also recruited prestigious professors from all over the South to join them at Thorp Spring. The standards of the school and the efficiency of its work came to be recognized throughout the United States.
In 1889 AddRan College formed an official partnership with what would become the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). This relationship with the church was a partnership of heritage and values, though the church never enjoyed any administrative role at TCU. Later that year the Clark brothers handed over all land, buildings, and assets and allowed the growing university to continue as a private institution; their only compensation was a request that their descendants should have free tuition (though this stipulation was never enforced).
In keeping with the transition, in 1889 the school was renamed AddRan Christian University, though by this time it had quite outgrown itself.
The need for a larger population and transportation base prompted the university to relocate to Waco from 1895 to 1910. The institution was renamed Texas Christian University in 1902. It was during this brief 15-year stint in Waco that TCU fielded its first football team (1896) and adopted its school colors of purple and white, as well as its school mascot (Horned Frog).
Although at the time Waco was seen as the new permanent home of TCU, in 1910 a fire of unknown origin destroyed the university’s Main Administration building. A rebuilding project was planned, but before reconstruction could begin a group of enterprising Fort Worth businessmen offered the university $200,000 in rebuilding money and a 50-acre campus as an inducement to return to Fort Worth. This move brought TCU home to the source of its institutional roots and completed its 40-year transition from a frontier college to an urban university.
In 1911, the TCU campus in Fort Worth consisted of four buildings: Clark Hall and Goode Hall, the men’s dormitories; Jarvis Hall, the women’s dormitory; and the Main Administration building (now Reed Hall). Two of these four original buildings remain today.