Dotson McGinnis Nelson
Nelson Hall, the Christian university’s prominent three-story administration building with its landmark clock tower on top celebrates the Mississippi College presidency of Dotson McGinnis Nelson. Succeeding an MC icon like John William Provine, Dr. D.M. Nelson managed to add to Provine’s legacy and led the way to positive developments through the 1950s. During the Nelson era, MC merged with all-female Hillman College in Clinton, served as the training ground for Navy officers during the World War II era, saw faculty ranks grow dramatically and helped boost enrollment to record numbers. A 1907 Mississippi College honors graduate, Nelson guided his alma mater through America’s Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War. The former MC physics professor helped the school overcome major obstacles to open doors to a bright future. A construction renaissance sought to keep pace with skyrocketing MC enrollment during the Nelson years. Since Jennings Hall couldn’t contain the expanding enrollment of women students, twin dormitories, Hederman-Gunter Hall, featuring a common lobby, were added in 1948. That was the year that Nelson Hall, with Swor Auditorium, administrative and faculty offices and classrooms, opened on the Clinton campus. The Navy V-12 program contributed a great deal to MC’s rising enrollment during the 1940s. MC was among 131 colleges offering this training to future Navy leaders from 1943 through 1945. V-12 enrollment averaged 319 men during the school’s growth years. With World War II ending, enrollment in 1946 stood at 845 students. Many soldiers pursued higher education at schools like Mississippi College around the nation under the G.I. Bill. Ten years later, that number climbed to 1,581 MC students, including 115 in Graduate School. Fast forward to 1954, and Mary Nelson Hall was completed that year with wings were added to Ratliff Hall for the male students. A band hall, enlarged library space at the Lowrey building and temporary space for married students were other legacies of the Nelson years. The building boom plus student growth spelled a fairly robust financial situation for the college. MC operated at a profit and all college debts were retired. That’s a remarkable turnaround for an institution struggling with debts of more than $228,000 during Nelson’s first year in office when America battled the Great Depression. Concluding an extraordinary 25 years of service as president, Dr. Nelson served as the school’s leader through early September 1957. After delivering the keynote speech at his final commencement in Swor Auditorium, faculty, student body leaders and MC trustees hailed Dr. Nelson’s many contributions to the Clinton campus and community. Some of the president’s classmates from the MC Class of 1907 joined the salute to Dotson McGinnis Nelson.