John William Provine
Mississippi College’s oldest building, Provine Chapel, is named for one of the university’s most prominent presidents. The historic chapel opened to serve students, faculty and the Clinton community in 1860. Six years later, John William Provine was born in 1866 on a 4,500-acre family farm in Calhoun County, Mississippi. He was a brilliant scientist and natural science professor at Mississippi College in the early 1890s before being elevated to serve as the institution’s president in 1895. Dr. Provine served as the school’s leader for two periods, from 1895 through 1898 and from 1911 through 1932. After a series of campus improvements, including expansion of the science building, the installation of running water, repairs to the chapel and a campus bath house, hard times hit MC and much of the state prior to the Fall 1897 term. It was the outbreak of a deadly Yellow Fever epidemic. While no students at MC caught the fever, enrollment plunged to a little more than 115 students. And that caused a major budget shortfall. Due in large part to the epidemic, Provine resigned as president and June 1898. He returned to teach science at Mississippi College. During John William Provine’s second administration as president, Mississippi College received national accreditation, enjoyed a construction renaissance and struggled with big debts during America’s Great Depression. Dr. Provine’s effective leadership from 1911 through 1932 transformed MC into the modern era. With Dr. Provine returning from academic ranks once again to become president, friends of the college believed the future looked bright. Winning the accreditation endorsement of the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1922 was key to the argument that Mississippi College’s academic programs remained on the rise nationally. The political life of the Magnolia State during the early stages of the 20th Century was dominated by two Mississippi College graduates, Govs. James K. Vardaman and Theodore G. Bilbo. In many ways, Provine was just as powerful a player in the life of Mississippi College. In 1916, he established a Department of Physical Culture in 1916 and made participation in daily exercise a requirement for every student on the Clinton campus. Building projects during the Provine era turned the Clinton campus into a modern institution that could compete for students with sister colleges across the South. In 1926, Mississippi College’s centennial year, the Ratliff Hall dormitory for men, the Hall-Farr Infirmary, Alumni Hall (with its modern indoor swimming pool and basketball courts), and Chrestman Hall, were all constructed. Created that same year, the Mississippi College Band was led by George H. Mackie, the composer of the school’s alma mater. During America’s Roaring Twenties, there was much to roar about at Mississippi College! Also happening during the Provine era, in 1920, MC Choctaws intercollegiate athletics received a big boost with the hiring of extraordinary head football coach Stanley Robinson. Coach Robinson’s teams racked up 156 football wins through the 1950s and achieved many more baseball triumphs. Robinson-Hale football stadium today salutes Coach Robinson as well as MC Choctaws football legend Edwin “Goat” Hale. The string of major accomplishments for Mississippi College grinded to a sudden halt because of the devastating financial panic sweeping the United States and the rest of the world. The economic skid resulted from the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange in October 1929, and triggered a swift downward spiral for millions of Americans that lingered for years. Bread lines in major cities, widespread poverty, unemployment and a sense of despair impacted cities from New York to San Francisco. It brought hopelessness to communities in small-town America, and towns in Mississippi were no exception. MC enrollment plunged, contributions to the school stopped and the school’s deficit bloated to more than $63,000 in 1930. In the midst of this financial emergency on the Clinton campus, Dr. Provine felt it was in the best interest of the struggling college for him to resign in May 1930. He stayed on until President Dotson McGinnis Nelson succeeded him in June 1932.