Fannin County Museum of History


‚ÄčOne Main Street, Bonham, Texas

Ten Years in the Courts

Bonham Daily Favorite, April 11, 1993

Nothing in the records of Constantine Lodge reflect any dissatisfaction with Carlton's management of the Seminary for the first three years of his operations. Unfortunately no records from the school exist nor did Carlton leave any correspondence that might shed some light on the struggle for control that festered for the next decade.

It is known that some members of the lodge were disturbed over his change from a female seminary to a co-ed institution, but the references from former students show that those families who entrusted the education of their children to Carlton had little opposition to such an arrangement. From the available evidence it would appear that perhaps the true cause might have been something of a power struggle between some rank and file members of the lodge, the lodge officials, and some of the original stockholders in the original Bonham Masonic Female Institute .

Dr. Kenneth Hay, in his estimable research on the life of Charles Carlton, perhaps put his finger on the precipiting factor which prompted the long, drawn-out lawsuit. In the years immediately following the Civil War, Texas was again attempting to establish a viable system of public education. Soon after Constantine Lodge sold the seminary to the Carlton's, Texas entered into an agreement with Carlton which allowed him to teach public school for three months of the year. Carlton was to be reimbursed according to the number of students taught. He also had the privilege of selecting his own faculty although these teachers were required to take a state mandated exam to establish their qualifications. No such requirements were then in place for the faculty of private institutions.

There is nothing of record to show which of the three months in a year were used by Carlton to conduct this public school. Neither do we know how many students were in attendance, the make-up of the student body, nor the number of faculty.

Newspaper items of the period show that the normal academic term at the seminary was over in the latter part of May and the fall term generally did not begin until the beginning of October. It would seem reasonable that perhaps the public school term was a summertime effort. However, considering that the average public school student might represent a different economic strata than the privately educated student, and considering that children of the 19th century were expected to be producers in an agricultural economy, summer would be a less likely time to attract students to a public school term. Considering these factors, it might not be unrealistic to assume that at least part of the time the public school students were being educated simultaneously with those who were enrolled in the private curriculum. Perhaps the answer can be found in the mass of paperwork and testimony which makes up the voluminous file, of the case against the Carltons, in the District Court annals.

In 1871 a suit was filed with District Clerk Charles Doss against the Carltons. In essence the suit claimed that the then current activities of the school were an infringement on the original agreement, with stockholders and members of Constantine Lodge, under which the original Institute was organized and erected.

Additionally the suit maintained that the school original intent had been for the education of females and under the current system males were allowed to matriculate. It was also averred that under the agreement with the State of Texas, the money being paid to Carlton was to his personal advantage and not in accord with the intentions of those original contributors to the school.

The suit requested the courts to take two actions. The plaintiffs sought to have the Carltons removed as legal owners of the school property and secondly it was sought to have Constantine Lodge removed as trustee. This last demand does seem to indicate the possibility of a power struggle over who had the right and original control to the institution.

Over the next ten years hearings were held, briefs filed, charges and counter-charges were offered. Ultimately, in 1874 the case went to a jury trial. John C. Easten, Judge of the Eighth District, charged the jury to determine whether the original trust had been violated or not. If the jury did arrive at this decision then the verdict must be returned in favor of the plaintiffs. If not, the verdict must be returned in favor of the defendants.

After an unknown period of deliberation, J.C. Bryant, Foreman of the jury, delivered the verdict in Case No. 1355 -Samuel A. Roberts, et al vs. Sarah Carlton - "We the Jury find for the Plaintiffs."

The decision was appealed to the Texas Supreme Court which finally, in April 1881, handed down its decision.

During the ten years of litigation over the Bonham Female Institute another movement, somewhat removed from Bonham, was taking place which had some effect and influence on Charles Carlton. Members of the Disciples of Christ Church in Texas had for some time discussed the need and feasibility of establishing a university under the auspices of that denomination.

In November of 1873, at a denominational meeting, a resolution was passed, and delegates elected to convene at Plano for the purpose of choosing a site for the university. On December 20, 1873 these delegates met in the first session. The first order of business was the re-election of chairman and secretary and the appointment of a committee on credentials.

The North Texas Enterprise, published at Bonham, reported that the committee, consisting of Dr. J. S.

Saunders, Bonham, P.T. Smith, Plano, and Adddison Clark, Fort Worth reported representations from 49 churches with an aggregate membership of 3553.

A motion was made by P. T. Smith that the convention endorse Ad-Ran College at Thorpe Springs as its choice for the location of the university. Other motions were introduced, discussed, and tabled until T. H. Murray of McKinney moved that each city desiring the location of the university be allowed to present their respective claims.

On the first ballot the vote stood Bonham 79 3/4, Plano 46 3/4, McKinney 26 1/2, Dallas 111, Sherman 5, and Paris 4 3/4. On the third ballot Bonham received a majority of 87 1/2 votes over Plano and election of Bonham was made unanimous. Late behind the scenes machinations were evident when the votes was overturned and Ad Ran College selected in place of Bonham.