Lyon College, 1872—2002


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Isaac Long founded an academy for classical study in the eastern Ozarks during the period of intense educational development across the United States in the nineteenth century. Over the next one hundred and thirty years, the Presbyterian school changed its name from Arkansas College to Lyon College; its location within Batesville; and its mission from instruction in the classics to career development to liberal arts education. These changes were fueled by a consistent set of dynamics, argues this remarkable institutional history. The ongoing challenges of slim enrollments and institutional poverty-a fight for survival-bred a culture of experimentation. Unlike the elite institutions of the northeast, this college offered a pool of sometimes woefully prepared students both heartland egalitarianism and pragmatism. Its directors kept trying to bridge the divide between the ideal of the liberal arts and the utility of career-focused, even technical programs of study. Even at the beginning, Isaac Long had included a “common school course” for students looking to teach in the public schools.


Later administrators tried to build enrollment and respond to regional concerns in a variety of ways: they incorporated music and art as disciplines on an equal plane with languages and mathematics, tried out courses in home economics and business, asked students to earn their keep and their education according to a Christian model, and recruited students from as far away as New Jersey. In 1981, an enormous and unexpected bequest gave the college basic financial security for the first time, giving the institution the luxury of undertaking fundamental change because of idealism, not practicality. This time, the college embraced a liberal arts curriculum and has succeeded in increasing enrollment and gaining national recognition.


This is a history in microcosm of the American small college. It is a story of the power of persistence of the educational ideal, of the communal will to survive, and of the idea of the promise of a better day to come.


Illustrated with wonderful photographs from every period in the school’s history, this book also contains useful appendices: a timeline of key events and listings of all the presidents, deans, board chairs, and award winners.

Brooks Blevins is the director of regional studies at Lyon College. He is also the author of Hill Folks: A History of Arkansas Ozarkers and Their Image and Cattle in the Cotton Fields: A History of Cattle Raising in Alabama.

“Blevins writes with force, clarity, color and irony. . . . Because of its engaging presentation, this book will appeal not only to the Lyon College family, but also to students and general readers of Arkansas history, southern history, and the history of education.”

—Elizabeth Jacoway, historian, Lyon College trustee


“Town and gown, Presbyterian Church and Board of Trustees, students and faculty: all take the stage in this history that chronicles the interplay of individual vision and courage while documenting at the institutional level the broader patterns of the development of American higher education. Dr. Brooks Blevins displays in this engaging volume the insight and perspective of a mature historian who has a careful regard for the facts of daily life and a broad grasp of his material.”

—Walter B. Roettger, president, Lyon College and professor of political science