378 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI and its recent connection to the Mobile and Ohio Railroad had spurred a boom in its growth. The college opened in the fall of 1880. The Charleston-born former Confederate General Stephen D. Lee, was the school’s first president, serving until 1899. Lee, a member of the Mississippi Grange, advocated various kinds of agricultural improvements and strongly believed that northern capital investment was desperately needed to save the state. A handful of faculty joined him, some of them drawn from the North. The first year, 354 students enrolled. All of them were white men, most of them were from farm families in Oktibbeha County, or from Lowndes, Noxubee, and Monroe, the three prairie counties to the east. Reflecting the interests of the Grange, the college’s early emphasis was more agricultural than mechanical. Under Lee’s leadership, the new college served the state’s farmers well from the start. Aside from educating rural youth, it sponsored various farmers’institutes, founded an agricultural experiment station, and published textbooks for the public schools. In a sign the school was there to stay, construction began on Old Main dormitory the year the school opened. Over time, the brick building grew to become a four-story structure housing 1,500 students, reputedly the nation’s largest college dormitory under a single roof. Not long after the opening of Mississippi A & M, the state legislature also established the Industrial Institute and College for the Education of White Girls in Columbus in 1884 (now Mississippi University for Women). It was the first publicly supported college for women in the United States. Columbus had an established history of supporting women’s education, a rarity in the South, and the Columbus Female Institute, founded in 1847, was the foundation for the new school. Control of the cash-strapped private school was transferred to the state. It reopened as the new public college with its first classes in 1885. The political groundwork for the new institution was laid by Grenada native Sallie Reneau, who envisioned a school not just for elites, but also for white women of humbler economic circumstances. Reneau, who was born in the 1830s, hailed from a middling, non-slaveholding family and became a school teacher. Beginning in the 1850s, she began to lobby lawmakers for the creation of a state female college. Her original target location wasYalobusha County. After the war, it looked as if her wishes would come to fruition as the Reneau Female University, but funds failed to materialize in 1872 and in 1873. After Reneau died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, two other women, Annie Coleman Payton and Olivia Valentine Hastings, took up her cause and made a white female women’s college a reality in Mississippi. With public funding having been made available for the higher education of white and black men in the state, the women argued that white women deserved their due. They got it in the 1880s with a college that offered a unique emphasis on industrial as well as literary education for the state’s women. As the nineteenth century gradually came to a close, the Clay Hills seemed to be going many different directions at once, a pattern reflective of its past. On the one hand, the various peoples of the Clay Hills had survived the Civil War and its many hardships. There were even some signs that they were moving on. Despite the continued obstacles they faced, African Americans were working hard to claim the prerogatives of freedom and citizenship to which they were entitled and had been long denied. And local whites had played instrumental roles in founding and supporting two public institutions of higher education in the region, schools that would pave the way for a better future. On the other hand, there were less admirable legacies too. The region was one of the hotbeds of the postwar Ku Klux Klan, suggesting how willingly some Clay Hills residents resorted to violence to express their anger and resentment about change. The anger and frustration though, was not exclusively based on race. Mississippi’s planters and professionals, known as “Bourbons,” were monopolizing power and pushing the state to diversify through industrialization and railroad construction with little concern for agriculture, especially small farms. From 1875 until 1895, expressions of dissent and dissatisfaction took a political form when farmers, especially in the white majority counties of Calhoun and Webster, flocked to the Farmers’Alliance and then the Populist Party in a bid to challenge Bourbon rule in the state. Frank Burkitt of Chickasaw County, an attorney who also edited the Okolona-based Chickasaw Messenger, was the small farmers’ chief spokesperson. He politicized their plight, arguing that the economic hardships they suffered were the cause of the railroads, banks, and various corporations, all of them upheld by the state’s Democratic leaders. His goal was to unseat what he called the “putrid, putrescent, putrefying political moribund As the nineteenth century gradually came to a close, the Clay Hills seemed to be going many different directions at once, a pattern reflective of its past.