Some question their quality, but Fort Worth has a long history with business schools

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A book recently published by Cornell University Press (“Nothing Succeeds Like Failure,” by Steven Conn) accuses business schools of being the biggest humbug in American educational history. In terms of professional education, they are long on promise and short on results, according to Conn, who offers a harsh indictment indeed of an American institution.

Fort Worth has a long history of providing a home for business schools dating back to 1872 when “Professor” F.P. Pruitt opened the first college in Fort Worth, offering “practical instruction day and night.” In the next two decades the Fort Worth Business College flourished, the most prominent of at least 10 similar institutions. Its annual commencement exercises starting in 1879 were held in the Opera House and addressed by distinguished city fathers such as Mayor H.S. Broiles in 1886.

The program of instruction offered training in typing, shorthand, penmanship, telegraphy, and English to “young men and boys” for a modest tuition. Professor Pruitt’s schools in Fort Worth and Dallas were reportedly the most successful in the state, “endorsed by every businessman” in both cities.

Pruitt’s virtual monopoly of the local scene came to an end in 1899 when Jordan T. Brantley opened the Fort Worth branch of a Nashville business school owned by James F. Draughton, formerly of Waco. Draughon had branches in several cities of the South, including Galveston. He opened Draughon’s Practical Business College of Fort Worth before securing a charter from the state under the name Nelson-Draughon Business College. “Nelson” was his wife’s maiden name, which was used to distinguish the school from other “similarly named” schools in Texas. Draughon hired James T. Brantley to manage the school.

Draughon may not have known at the time that his superintendent came with some questionable “luggage.” He told the Fort Worth Register in 1897 that he was a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Nashville, and had come to town to take over as “principal” of Fort Worth Business College. Professor Pruitt rebutted this claim, saying Brantley had come to town sans recommendations from his alma mater and that his only connection to Fort Worth Business College was that he had enrolled as a student, paying for his tuition by “distributing circulars” and recruiting students throughout the city. Brantley survived the scandalous allegations to become a fixture at Nelson-Draughon, eventually rising to be vice president and superintendent.

By 1909 Nelson-Draughon had left Fort Worth Business College in the dust. It claimed to be “equal to Harvard or Yale” business colleges in the quality of its curriculum and faculty, citing endorsements by Texas bankers across the state, including W.S. Eddelman, President of Fort Worth’s Western National Bank. The school was so successful it moved from its location at 14th and Main uptown to “the heart of the city” at 603½ Main. It boasted that unlike other private institutions of higher learning, it had never asked for or received “a single dollar” from the city of Fort Worth. It owed its success to “conservative methods, sound business principles, and the very best faculty.” Enrollment reached 500 students a year who were assured that the school was “fully accredited” (by whom was never explained). The school was such a part of Fort Worth’s business community it was a member of the Chamber of Commerce.

Among the remarkable changes in the field besides sheer enrollment numbers was that business schools were now enrolling women in only slightly fewer numbers than men. Nelson-Draughon bragged that it trained both “young men and women.” (It no longer accepted “boys” as students.) The open gender policy reflected a tectonic shift in the job market from male to female office workers.

Professor Brantley proved so successful at running the operation that in 1909 the school changed its name to Brantley-Draughon Business College. The soaring enrollment and profits led the board of directors two years later to reward him with a “late-model,” five-passenger Buick for his personal use.

In later years the school fell on hard times as it passed from one owner to another and one address to another. Texas Wesleyan operated it for a while, then LTV Education Systems, which called itself “the largest operator of business and vocational schools in the nation.” In 1953 the school took up residence on the second floor of the new Continental Trailways Bus Center (Eighth and Commerce) before finding a final home in 1967 in the old Dr. Pepper bottling plant at 1401 Henderson.

The school was accredited by both a national accrediting agency and the Veterans’ Administration, which meant veterans could use their benefits to attend. Still, attendance steadily declined. In 1972 it celebrated its 75th anniversary claiming (incorrectly) to have opened on July 4, 1897. Three years later Brantley-Draughon Busines College closed, the quietest, least-noticed closing of a historic business in Fort Worth ever.

Author-historian Richard Selcer is a Fort Worth native and proud graduate of Paschal High and TCU.

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