Isaac Newton Urner
Mississippi College battled a financial crisis, but never closed its doors during the turbulent Civil War years. In the early 1860s, the War Between the States provided the biggest challenge facing the administration of President Isaac N. Urner. The Pennsylvania native led Mississippi College from 1850 through 1867. An 1845 Dickinson College graduate, Urner relocated to Southern soil as a South Carolina teacher. He gained admission to the Law and Equity Courts of South Carolina when he was chosen principal at Mississippi College in August 1851. Urner guided the school during its first session under new Baptist leadership. Mr. Urner prioritized repairs to buildings and equipment, mostly with borrowed money. Enrollment gains were priorities, too. Mississippi College’s 1851 session began with 17 students, but numbers climbed to 84 by year’s end. Raising money was another skill, and in 1852, the president launched an endowment campaign to raise $100,000. By 1861, enrollment grew to 230 students to make Mississippi College the largest college in the Magnolia State. Mississippi College student numbers topped levels at all but two of 21 Baptist colleges nationwide. Construction of a new chapel (now Provine Chapel) remained a cornerstone of Ulmer’s presidency when it opened in 1860 at a cost of $25,000. During the Civil War, Confederate and Union armies moved throughout the Clinton area and onto bloody battlefields in nearby Vicksburg. There was even a report of one small skirmish on campus during Urner’s presidency. MC’s involvement in Civil War campaigns was more than an historical footnote. At Mississippi College, the Mississippi Rifles was the name of the fearless college students, faculty and citizens marching off to battles in Northern Virginia. Few returned home. On the Clinton campus, buildings became hospitals for wounded troops, including those of Northern Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. In 1865, the war ended, but the region’s hardships remained. Southern schools like MC stood on the brink of financial ruin. Deteriorating campus buildings badly needed repairs. President Urner felt the impact and received no salary during the war years. But a drive collected $6,000 to pay the president as he retired. In appreciation of this scholar and “high-toned Christian gentleman,” the college awarded him an honorary degree of doctor of laws. Urner returned to his native Pennsylvania where he died in 1904.