Civil War Set the Stage for What Became William Woods University

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War—and, in many ways, the beginning of William Woods University.


William Woods University traces its roots to a school that was founded to provide educational opportunities for young women orphaned or destitute after the four-year War Between the States.


With so many girls left without family or financial support, delegates from Christian (Disciples of Christ) churches across Missouri met in Columbia in 1868 and voiced a unanimous decision to establish a school for orphan girls in Missouri.


Because of the relative success of the Female Academy, founded in Camden Point, Mo., 20 years earlier, that location seemed promising. An eight-acre plot was purchased in 1869, and the Female Orphan School of the Christian Church of Missouri opened in 1870.


Camden Point is about halfway between Kansas City and St. Joseph. A few years earlier, The Battle of Camden Point had left much of the town destroyed.


The Battle of Camden Point took place on July 13, 1864. Detachments of Federal troops had crossed the Missouri River and occupied Platte County, Mo., while a Confederate cavalry force of 200-300 was organizing around Camden Point. While the Confederates held a picnic in an open pasture near the town, detachments of the 2nd Colorado Cavalry and 15th Kansas Cavalry, totaling 700-1,000 soldiers, ambushed them.


In 1871, a memorial to the Confederates killed in the engagement was erected at the Pleasant Grove Cemetery near Camden Point where the Confederate slain are buried. It is the third oldest Confederate memorial west of the Mississippi River.


The Female Orphan School burned down in 1889, and the decision was made to relocate it to an area more likely to generate growth. Fulton’s $56,000 bid was accepted to have the new Female Orphan School constructed there. Classes began Sept. 10, 1890, with 52 students.


After the move to Fulton, the school, which had been primarily a school for elementary and high school education, expanded its programs to accommodate young women aspiring to become teachers.


The school took students who were willing to pay all or a portion of the expense. The following conditions of admissions were established:

·     First Class – Destitute orphans who have no relatives or friends to aid them.

·     Second Class – Orphans destitute of means, who have relatives, churches or benevolent societies to aid them and willing to sustain them at school.

·    Third Class – Orphans who have some means but not enough to support them.

·    Fourth Class – Young ladies who have parents that desire to assist in benevolent work.


Full-pay students paid $175 for 38 weeks and $1.25 per week for washing. Orphans were charged $140 a session with washing included. Students were admitted under criteria that included being at least 14 years of age and having a physician certify the “soundness of her constitution and her freedom from hereditary disease.”


When the need for orphan homes diminished and more students were able to pay all or part of the cost of their education, it was determined that the name of the school should be changed to reflect its true student composition. In 1899, the Convention of the Christian Church changed the name to Daughters College.


The school’s growing debt threatened to close the school down, but thanks to the financial contributions of Dr. William S. Woods, it was able to remain in operation. The school was renamed in his honor in 1900.


Over the next century, the college continued to grow and develop. It was accredited as a junior college in 1914, a four-year college in 1962 and a university in 1993. William Woods also offers Graduate and Professional Studies programs in more than 150 locations throughout Missouri and in Arkansas—quite an accomplishment for a school originally established to care for orphans of the Civil War.