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The Presidency of Frank M. Martin

By Frank Chamberlain

Frank M. Martin was the youngest man to be appointed president of Tarleton. He assumed the role in 1906 at the age of 27 and held the position for two years. The college experienced very little change during this time period and faced serious enrollment and financial problems during the Martin administration.

Martin received his undergraduate degree from Washington and Lee University. His postgraduate work was done at the University of Tennessee and the University of Chicago. Prior to coming to Tarleton, Martin served as superintendent of schools in Lovelady, Texas; Warren, Arkansas; and Huntsville, Texas.

Student enrollment hit a record low during these years, as only 141 people signed up for classes in the 1907-08 semester. This low number could be partly attributed to the restrictive stipulations of John Tarleton’s will. According to these provisos, only Erath county residents between ages six and eighteen were eligible to receive financial aid. Therefore, potential students who lived outside Erath county or happened to be above the age of eighteen were probably discouraged from attending. In addition, there were three more colleges within the county who competed for the young minds of Erath. McIlhaney Academy of Stephenville (closed in 1916), Huckabay Academy (closed in 1910), and Lingleville Academy (closed in 1910) undoubtedly attracted a number of potential students during their years of operation.

Students were further discouraged from attending Tarleton during this first decade by the relatively high tuition cost. Administrators were forced to raise student rates in order to cope with an increasingly dire financial outlook for the university. Merely paying the salaries of the faculty required dipping into the principal of Tarleton’s endowment. Needless to say, the quality of the physical facilities and equipment suffered a great deal. The entire future of Tarleton as an institute of higher learning was indeed in jeopardy.

Despite the financial limitations, Martin hoped to oversee the construction of a new college building and dormitories. Despite active campaigning, he was not successful in arousing support for his campus vision. Martin blamed the “lethargy of the people” for the failure and claimed in effect that Tarleton would never reach it’s potential until the town started to support the school. Apparently, Martin was so disgusted at the town (or overwhelmed by the problems facing the school) that he withdrew from the presidency in the middle of the 1907-08 semester. A committee of faculty members carried on the day-to-day administrative duties for the rest of the term. Ironically, five months after Martin left Tarleton, a wealthy widow named Mary Corn Wilkerson donated 370 acres of land to the college. She requested that the lands be sold in order to finance a new girls dormitory that would bear her name. Had Martin finished out this first year, he would have realized his goal of acquiring additional housing.

After leaving Tarleton, Martin served as chief clerk in the state superintendent’s office. Later he became the superintendent of the El Paso school district. Martin finished out his educational career by assuming the superintendence of two schools in Virginia.