Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri, was chartered in 1887. It is the only nonsectarian college owned by women for women and it began as the dream of one woman, Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Her inspiration was Mary Lyon, founder of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Mrs. Stockard’s dream was that women have the same quality educational as men.In 1875, Cottey began teaching at Central College for Women in Lexington, Missouri. She saved $3,000 during her nine years of teaching there. Her sisters, Dora and Mary, promised to financially help her achieve her dream of starting a college for women.
The sisters sought out a suitable site for the school . They wrote many letters, including a number to Southern Methodist ministers, discussing their plans for a girl’s school and seeking support. They knew they needed a donation of land or funds on the part of the city or town where the school would be located. Possible locales included Fort Worth, Texas, and Appleton City and Rolla, Missouri.
The President of Central College suggested that they contact Reverend William McClure in Nevada, Missouri. In 1883, Cottey and her sister Dora traveled to Nevada, Missouri, in Vernon County about 100 miles south of Kansas City, to meet with city officials to discuss locating the college there. Town businessmen were enthusiastic about the idea. The sisters sought a donation of land on which to locate the school. After several meetings, six acres on the edge of town, land belonging to Major Prewitt, was obtained for the school.
Cottey College opened as Vernon Seminary in 1884. Main Hall was the only building. A West Annex was built on the building in 1886 and a North Annex followed in 1889. Ten years later, the South Annex was added. The school featured an academic program that focused on religious training and discipline of the mind. It was also a family affair. Cottey’s sisters Dora, Mary, and Kate, as well as niece Rose, all dedicated teachers, helped during the early years.
In 1890, Cottey married Samuel Stockard, a widower with three children, in the Main Hall parlor. He died six years later and she reared and educated his children. She remained president of Cottey College until 1921, when she requested that the trustees elect James C. Harmon as president. He remained in that position until 1924, when Virginia Cottey Stockard again took the helm.
In 1926, Stockard was invited to become a member of P.E.O. Chapter DW, Nevada, Missouri and she accepted the invitation. P.E.O., a philanthropic educational organization was founded at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant in 1869. More than 250,000 women have been members of P.E.O. In 1927, Stockard gave Cottey College to the P.E.O. Sisterhood.
Today Cottey College offers two-year degrees in liberal arts and science as well as selected four-year programs. The resident student population represents a wide variety of states and countries. More than 8,200 women are Cottey College alumnae. Meredith Auld Brokaw who attended Cottey College in 1958-59, was this year’s honored speaker at the 128th commencement. She later graduated from the University of South Dakota where she was a member of Pi Beta Phi.
One of the most unique things about Cottey College is that all second-year students spend a week abroad during the spring semester. In March 2013, second-year Cottey students will travel to Italy visiting Rome and Florence. Recent second-year students have visited Italy, England, France and Spain. Most of the costs are covered by tuition and students have the opportunity to spend an additional week abroad at their own expense.
Every Cottey College alumna I have met has been an enthusiastic supporter of the college. How impressive that a women’s organization, P.E.O., has kept alive Virginia Cottey Stockard’s vision of a college where women could learn and thrive. Cottey College is indeed a testament to the strength and earnestness of purpose of P.E.O. members.