Oscar Henry Cooper

5th HSU President 1902-1909

Oscar Henry Cooper, Sr. was born November 22, 1852, in Panola County, Texas. Following completion of work at Marshall University at the age of 15, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in 1872. He did graduate work at Yale in 1880-81, and in Berlin from 1884 to 1885.

On November 24, 1886, he married Mary Bryan Stewart in Marshall, Texas. They had four children: Oscar Henry Cooper, Jr., Jackson Stewart Cooper, Hubert Newton Cooper, and Mary Theodosia Cooper (Mrs. Dan Gallagher).

After graduating from Yale, Cooper served as president of Henderson Male and Female College in Henderson, Texas, from 1873 to 1879. From 1879 through 1881, Cooper worked toward creating a framework for a Texas state university. At the Texas Legislature’s request, Cooper wrote the historic University Bill that established the University of Texas. Then Texas Governor O.M. Roberts commended Cooper as the most active person in the matter of establishing the state university.

Cooper was state superintendent of public instruction for Texas from 1886 to 1890, and president of Baylor University from 1899 to 1902. Peabody College, Baylor University, the University of Nashville, and Simmons University (now HSU) all conferred honorary doctorates upon Cooper.

Among his service in many national organizations for the advancement of education he served as Vice President for one year for the National Education Association. From the idea advanced by Cooper while at the NEA came the birth of schools of education throughout the college and university system of the nation.

In 1902, he was elected the fifth president of Simmons College (now Hardin-Simmons University). During his tenure as president of Simmons College, scholars of high rank were added to the faculty and Simmons elevated its status in Texas education.

Upon his resignation from the presidency of Simmons College in 1909, he opened the Cooper Training School for Boys in Abilene. Cooper returned to Simmons College in 1916 as Chairman of the Faculty and Professor of Philosophy and Education, a position he held until his death in 1932.

In his eulogy to Cooper, Dr. Frederick Eby, renowned professor of history and philosophy of education at the University of Texas said, “The greatest native born educator that Texas has ever produced was Oscar Henry Cooper. He did more to establish state and Christian education in Texas than any other single man.”