Kenneth Bridges | History Columnist
Robert Glover, the man behind the District Agricultural Schools. His 1909 legislation led to the creation of the schools that eventually became ASU, Arkansas Tech, UAM, and SAU.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Arkansas education was still in a very primitive state. One man in particular brought higher education to thousands of Arkansans in an unparalleled effort. With one piece of legislation in 1909, Robert Glover introduced what became four prominent universities in the state and opened limitless opportunities for generations of Arkansas students.
Robert William Glover was born in Grant County in 1866 into a family of businessmen. His grandfather, Delaney Glover, had run a successful sawmill in Little Rock in the mid-1800s before moving to Sheridan. His father, William Harrison Glover, had fought in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and ran his own sawmill in the small settlement of Philadelphia in Grant County after the war. His younger brother, David Glover, later served as a congressman from Malvern from 1929 to 1935.
In 1904, Robert Glover, by now a popular farmer, was elected to the first of three terms as a state representative for the Sheridan area. While he did not have any formal college training, he was an avid reader and understood the importance of education for the individual and for the community. As a legislator, he had considered different ways to help education in the state. In 1909, Glover proposed a law that the state would fund four new agricultural schools across Arkansas. The popular idea caught on with other legislators and Act 100 was signed into law by Gov. George Donaghey, a fellow Democrat, on April 1.
The schools were designed to train future Arkansas farmers in modern farming techniques and to initially serve as college preparatory academies. The schools would be placed in the four corners of the state to give as many Arkansans as possible the opportunity to attend. Eventually, the sites for the four schools were chosen: the First District Agricultural School would be located in Jonesboro, the Second District Agricultural School would be located in Russellville, the home of the Third District Agricultural School would be in Monticello, and the Fourth District Agricultural School would call Magnolia home. The schools struggled initially but gradually grew. They would expand from their agricultural roots to become the modern Arkansas State University, University of Arkansas at Monticello, Arkansas Tech University, and Southern Arkansas University, respectively.
In 1910, Glover was elected state senator. He served for two years before becoming county judge for Grant County. While he was an effective and successful politician, he felt a calling to serve the church. In 1915, Glover was ordained as a Baptist minister. He eventually gave up politics for his higher calling, devoting himself exclusively to the ministry for decades.
His influence was also felt with another educational effort. In 1917, Grant County Baptists pushed to house the new Missionary Baptist College in Sheridan. The college opened in 1919 and was strongly supported by the Glover family. His son, Conrad Glover, was a noted preacher in the area as well as a teacher at the institution. When the college closed in spring 1934, trustees voted to move the institute to Little Rock where it reopened as a seminary that fall with the younger Glover as president.
Glover’s work for the church continued well into his eighties. He continued to preach in Philadelphia until his health forced him to retire in 1952.
He died in 1956 at the age of 89. While his own pivotal role as the father of the district agricultural schools was understated, the schools grew into universities respected across the state and the South. Today, the four universities together enroll more than 30,000 students each year and are leaders in technology as well as the arts and sciences, all from the modest seed that Glover planted.
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Dr. Kenneth Bridges, a History Professor at South Arkansas Community College in El Dorado, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The South Arkansas Historical Foundation is dedicated to educating the public about the state’s rich history. The SAHF can be contacted at PO Box 144, El Dorado, AR, 71730, at 870-862-9890 or at http://soarkhistory.com/.