Tulsa Commerical Club ‘had a hunch and bet a bunch’

"Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them,” observed Robert Jarvik, inventor of the artificial heart.

The odds against sustaining a fledgling college in early 20th century America might have given some civic leaders sufficient reason to ignore an intriguing opportunity. After all, birthing a college is a bit like deciding to have a first child. Filled with hopes and dreams for a bright future, a couple has little idea of the sacrifice, courage, tenacity, generosity and wisdom required to foster a new being from infancy to adulthood.

Presbyterian School for Indian Girls, faculty and students, 1887Presbyterian School for Indian Girls, faculty and studentst, 1887

 Although Henry Kendall College sounded like a good idea to New York’s Presbyterian Mission Board, converting a school for Native American girls in Indian Territory into a sustainable college posed an enormous challenge. In spite of stalwart leadership and genuine care for its students, the struggling boarding-school-turned-college in Muskogee ended up on the auction block in 1906. In its 13 years as a college, only 27 young people had graduated.

Predecessor to the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, the Tulsa Commercial Club “had a hunch and bet a bunch.” They packaged the winning bid to move Henry Kendall College to Tulsa in 1907. Tulsa “fathers” knew their town needed a college if it were to attract the commerce and respect required to become a first-class city. Courageous and confident, these first leaders believed they could raise the funds to create a fine college for Tulsa.

Street car stops at the TU campusTheir winning bid included 20 acres of land north of downtown and $100,000 they anticipated securing through the sale of real estate lots near the campus. They also guaranteed streetcar service, water and natural gas.

While the sale of lots did not proceed as expected and the Creek Nation was unhappy and filed suit to stop the move, 1907 was a red-letter year for the city and the state. Henry Kendall College opened its doors to 35 brave students who took classes at the First Presbyterian Church. Just two months later, Oklahoma became the 47th state. Legend has it that the first bell in Tulsa to chime statehood now lives on campus in front of Oliphant Hall.

Tulsa Commercial Club 1907 members

  • B. Betters   
  • H.O. McClure  
  • L.N. Butts    
  • W.L. North
  • James H. Hall           
  • Grant C. Stebbins
  • The Rev. Charles W. Kerr   
  • C.H. Nicholson