This view of the Institute is from a colorized postcard c1905.Courtesy of Eddie Best

Searcy Female Institute(1891-1907)

From the White County Historical Society


earcy Female Academy had existed before the Civil War but was gone and almost forgotten when the Searcy Female Institute was founded in 1891. A 100-year-old yearbook from the Searcy Female Institute made its way to the White County Historical Society in the summer of 2002, providing a rare glimpse at this sophisticated institution that failed to complete its second decade of existence. The publication is owned by Libby Bassham of Royse City, Texas, whose great grandmother Kate (Russell) Sears was a senior in the Class of 1903.

According to the book, the term began September 18, 1902, ended with graduation June 8, 1903, and was not under the control of any religious denomination, “but we do insist that every pupil shall regularly attend all these services in some one of the churches here – Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Cumberland Presbyterian and Episcopalian.” Tuition for the day pupils that year was $60; tuition and board “including heating, servant’s attention and access to bath-room with hot and cold water” was $200. Other fees included: German, French or Greek $10; Elocution $20 or $50 for “special lessons’; Vocal Training, Piano, Harmony or Typewriting $50; Use of Library $1, and Laboratory $5. “When any young lady expects a visit from friends or relatives … she must consult the head of the boarding department, who will, if convenient, entertain them at a reasonable charge per day.”

Searcy Female Institute was founded by Mary Jasper Willis, wife of Presbyterian minister Richard B. Willis, and Miss Cora Tapscott, daughter of Dr. S.T. Tapscott.

Mrs. Willis was principal and proprietor of the institution that was often called by her name. The daughter of John Holmes Bocock, a scholarly and eloquent Presbyterian minister in Virginia, was fired with cultural ambition. Her brother, John Paul Bocock, was a famous contributor to Harper’s Monthly, the North American Review, Cosmopolitan and other periodicals of note. Another brother, Kemper, was editor of the Philadelphia Standard, and her youngest brother, Willis H., a graduate of the University of Berlin, was a Greek professor at the University of Georgia. It is little wonder that Mrs. Willis wished to train the minds of Searcy’s young women. According to historian Ray Muncy, she was thorough and possessed a luminous gift of expression and enthusiasm that she was able to pass along to her students. The late Mrs. Bertie K. Benson and Mrs. S.K. Davis, women of unusual grace and charm, remembered her fondly. The newest wrinkle in education then was “unpretentious teaching,” in which the students were actively involved, rather than passive auditors. Heavy emphasis was placed also on balanced instruction in both the liberal and fine arts. The curriculum of the Searcy Female Institute consisted of English, French, history, Bible, piano, voice, violin, psychology and expression. There was no emphasis on technical studies of mathematics and science, which were regarded generally as more masculine pursuits. The school was located on the north end of Second Street (now known as Apple Street) on the hill south of where the Searcy Junior High School gymnasium would be built.

            Miss Tapscott resigned in 1901 and married William Watkins. Her sister Winnie returned to teach there after her graduation from Ole Miss in 1904. Three years later the school ceased operation and the building was sold to Doctors J.M. Jelks, L.E. Moore and J.B. Grammer for the purpose of opening a sanitarium.   

The White County Historical Society has placed a photocopy of the 1902-03 publication in the Arkansas Room of the Searcy Public Library. The Historical Society may be contacted at P.O. Box 537, Searcy, AR 72145.


(The yearbook contains several group photographs of the students but none is identified.)

Senior Class

Munroe, Helen

Russell, Kate

Junior Class

Black, Bennie

Green, Ruth

Hall, Leslie

Hutchinson, Carolyn

Lynn, Mary

Maxwell, Selma

Roberts, Grace

Thomas, Mabel

Tucker, Bessie

Junior Middle Class

Allen, Kate

Branch, Eula

Branch, Runie

Brooks, Louise

Brown, Jean

Crawford, Mattie

Elder, Gladys

Ford, Pallie

Fowlkes, Ruby

Gibson, Maggie

Henderson, Minnie

Manning, Irene

Martin, Cora

McCain, Merle

McRae, Carrie

Paisley, Lula

Pilkington, Fannie S.

Wilson, Nettie

Sophomore Class

Condray, Lois

Fields, Bliss

Figures, Hattie

Jones, Jennie

Penn, Frances

Price, Katie

Purcell, Annene

Rottman, Ari

Whitmore, Pearl

Freshman Class

Brundidge, Minnie

Crawford, Myra

Harkey, Aris

Harkey, Ruby

Linscott, Pearl

Morton, Lucy

Neaville, Eura

Prewett, Tommie

Sub-Freshman Class

Whitney, Mary

Wilburn, Margaret

Primary and Preparatory Class

Adams, Margaret

Blakemore, Annie Lena

Bogard, Lela

Brundidge, Lois

Carter, Myrtle

Carter, Nina

Gentry, Ruby

Grammer, Clarice

Hall, Blanche

Love, Joe

Martin, Frank

McClendon, Cusseta

Mitchell, Inez

Patterson, Orrell

Rachels, Nettie Kate

Rachels, Rora

Roberts, Lu Lynn

Willis, Margaret

Wilson, Georgia

Woodson, Jennie


Class of 1894

Krider, Alberta (Mrs. J.B. Benson) – Searcy

Moore, Lula (Mrs. Yale Hicks) – San Antonio

Tapscott, Winifred – Searcy

Class of 1895

Roddy, Elmond (Mrs. Hamlet Dale) – Augusta

Class of 1896

Cousar, Ada (Mrs. Guntharp) – Atway, Miss.

Hutcherson, Margaret – Fayetteville

Lightle, Virginia – Searcy

Tapscott, Mary – Searcy

Waring, Lila (Mrs. Omohundro) – Little Rock

Class of 1897

Scientific Course

Pugh, Elizabeth – Newport


Branch, Bessie (Mrs. Moore) – Clarendon

Hastings, Chloe P. – Little Rock

Slocum, Marguerita (Mrs. Wm. Anderson) – Helena

Class of 1898

Walker, Winnie – Searcy

Class of 1899

Alexander, Will Lynn – Searcy

Chunn, Mamie Wallace – Searcy

Russell, Laura – Searcy

Class of 1900

Brundidge, Mary (Mrs. W.W. Jones) – Clarendon

Jones, Irene – Centre Hill

Lightle, Bettie – Searcy

Class of 1901

English Course

Johnson, Claire E. – Newport

Longley, Anne Taylor – Marianna

McRae, Jeannette – Hope

Skillern, Gertrude – Searcy


Johnson, Claire E. – Newport

Class of 1902

English Course

Russell, Katharine – Searcy


Skillern, Gertrude – Searcy

Medalists for 1902

Best Literary Essay – Kate Russell

Improvement in Music – Bessie Tucker