A historically black two-year institution of higher education operated by the Presbyterian Church, Mary Holmes School was founded in 1892 in Jackson by the church’s Board of Missions for Freedmen. Originally known as Mary Holmes Seminary, the institution was named by the school’s principal founders, Rev. Mead Holmes and his daughter, Mary, in honor of his wife and her mother, also named Mary, who dedicated her life to helping former slaves.
The school originally sought to educate young women in the domestic arts and Christianity, offering classes in home economics, cooking, sewing, and biblical studies. It opened in Jackson on 28 September 1892 and continued its work there until 30 January 1895, when the buildings burned to the ground. The Board of Missions for Freedmen chose to rebuild the school in West Point, which had a population of thirty-five hundred and was the center of a large black community. In addition, the town had three railroads—the Mobile and Ohio, the Southern, and the Illinois Central—and was the site of the Southern Female College, an institution that ranked among the best in the South for the education of white women. Mary Holmes was constructed on approximately 192 acres in what became Clay County and opened in West Point on 1 January 1897, becoming Mississippi’s only single-sex educational institution for African American women.
In 1932 Mary Holmes School became coeducational, created its first college department, and changed its mission to training teachers. It and other private schools became the primary producers of black teachers in the South. In 1959 Mary Holmes dropped its high school program and became Mary Holmes Junior College. It sought to guide students in the pursuit of knowledge, academic achievement, cultivation of religious conviction, and dedication to community service.
Mary Holmes College served many first-generation students as well as its surrounding community. In the 1960s the school was the site of a pilot project to develop catfish farming and legal services for the poor. In 1965 the college trained Head Start volunteers. However, integration brought difficulties for many historically black colleges and universities, and in December 2002 the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges removed Mary Holmes College from its list of accredited institutions. The school suspended classes in the fall of 2003, and on 3 March 2005 the Presbyterian Church (USA), through its Office of Racial Ethnic Schools and Colleges, announced the official closing of the institution. For more than a century, Mary Holmes College had provided hope and possibility to young men and women who otherwise might not have had a path to higher education.
- Evelyn Kelsaw Bonner, Speech Delivered to Rotary Club, West Point, Mississippi (13 February 2003)
- Evan Silversteen, Presbyterian News Service (7 March 2005)
- Eva Stinson, Presbyterians Today (January–February 2006)
- The Voice, Synod of Living Water (April 2005)