Mary Allen: Woman of Influence

March is Women’s History Month, and women have been making history in religious circles perhaps longer than any other area. Some of those outstanding women will be highlighted in Spirit of Abilene during March.
Special thanks goes to Tiffany Fink, a Hardin-Simmons University history professor who is a highlight herself, for making some suggestions. This entry on the Mary Allen Seminary that opened in East Texas in 1886 and was named for Mary Allen. The school was started by the Board of Missions for Freedmen of the Presbyterian Church. Board secretary Richard Allen of Pittsburgh and his wife, Mary Esther Allen, led efforts to support the school. Mary Allen died before the school opened, and it was named in her honor. The complete entry from the Women in Texas History website,, follows. For an extended history, click on this link to RootsWeb

Written by Cynthia J. Beeman, Women in Texas History

Hundreds of African American women in East Texas received educational opportunities thanks to the Board of Missions for Freedmen of the Presbyterian Church, which established Mary Allen Seminary in Crockett, Texas, in 1886. Board secretary Richard Allen of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his wife, Mary Esther Allen, led efforts to provide support for the school, and when Mary Allen died suddenly just before it opened, it was named in her honor.

Initially operated by an all-white staff as a boarding and day school, Mary Allen Seminary was located about a mile north of the Crockett town square on a prominent hill, its campus anchored by an impressive four-story French Second Empire-style brick administration building. By 1890, the school included ten teachers and 211 students, and offered elementary and secondary classes, as well as teacher training that enabled students to earn state teaching certification. Burt Randall Smith became the first African American administrator in 1924. Under his leadership, enrollment increased, an all-black faculty took over teaching duties, the campus grew in size and facilities, and the school achieved full state accreditation. By the early 1930s it became a coeducational junior college.

Texas historical marker for Mary Allen Seminary

After enrollment decreased during World War II, the school was sold, and eventually it reopened as a Baptist institution in 1944. A series of problems, including loss of state accreditation in 1953 and severe damage from Hurricane Carla in 1961, led to its final closure in 1972.

Hendrick, John R. “Pete,” “MARY ALLEN JUNIOR COLLEGE,” Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed January 08, 2016. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Official Texas Historical Marker and National Register of Historic Places files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin.

Audio Source Information
Our project, “Texas Women’s History Moments,” received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.

One comment

  • Thank you once again for highlighting another Texas institution I did not know about. I wish my brain were more expansive so I could learn more about these people in our history who have made the world a better place.


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