Okolona Male and Female Institute
aka: Okolona Academy
The Okolona Male and Female Institute was a school that operated for over seven decades in Okolona (Clark County) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Originally known as the Okolona Academy, it was the first formal school to operate in the town.
The first families to settle in the Okolona area arrived in the early 1830s. A post office was established in 1858, and the population slowly grew over the next several decades. The first permanent school to open in the community began operations in 1857. Constructed on the site of an early school housed in a log cabin, this school was the first in the area to meet regularly. It was housed in a two-story wood building and was sponsored by the local Masonic lodge. The Masons met on the second floor of the building, while classes were held on the first floor. Known as the Okolona Academy at this time, the school quickly became an important part of the surrounding community, with many gatherings held at the facility. An article published in 1874 described between 400 and 500 attendees at a school talent exhibition. The principal at that time was R. B. Peeples.
Okolona High School, a public school, began operations in 1890, but the academy continued to educate children in the community. An article published in 1895 referenced a new name for the school, the Okolona Male and Female Institute. Swan Williams of Arkadelphia (Clark County) operated the school that year. A catalog of courses from 1902 included information for students in primary, intermediate, and the first two years of high school. Most students were from Okolona and other nearby communities, but some boarded in homes in the town. According to the catalog, the enrollment the previous year was 233. While tuition figures are not available, room and board at this time was typically seven or eight dollars per month.
The school continued to operate alongside the public schools and even housed several grades from the public system in the 1920s when the Okolona High School building began to suffer from structural deficiencies. However, the institute faced competition from other schools in Okolona and other nearby communities. In 1925, several nearby districts consolidated with the Okolona district, boosting the enrollment at the public high school and leading many students from nearby communities who attended the institute to transfer to the free school. The institute closed in 1927, and the building was dismantled. The wood was reused by the Masons to construct a new lodge elsewhere, and a brick elementary school was constructed on the site, followed by a new high school. The Okolona School District was consolidated with nearby districts in 1987.
The academy served students from Clark County and nearby communities for over seventy years. The institution played an important role in both the education and social life of the community during this period.
For additional information:
Nelson, Grace Benton. “History of Okolona.” Clark County Historical Journal 2 (Spring 1978): 1–20.
Newberry, Farrar. Through the Eyes of Farrar Newberry: Clark County, Arkansas. Arkadelphia, AR: Clark County Historical Association, 2002.
Syler, Allen. Happenings in Okolona and Antoine Township: 1869–1930. Arkadelphia, AR: Clark County Historical Association, 1999.
Henderson State University
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