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True Story: Hugh Critz

October 7, 2012

For Starkville Daily News

Jean Critz Lindsey of Starkville is the granddaughter of Hugh Critz, the eighth president of Mississippi State University. She loaned me the personal story of his life written by him to Dr. John W. Bailey in Richmond, Va. who had requested it for a historical book. Critz is a descendant of a pioneer family of Oktibbeha County where he was born and raised.

Hugh Critz became the President of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of the State of Mississippi in 1930 that, in 1932, became Mississippi State College. Hugh remained its President until 1934. Critz Residence Hall built in 1957 to house 236 students was named for him. It is located on Barr Avenue and was renovated in 2001 to accommodate male and female residents. His term as president followed Buz M. Walker, another native of Oktibbeha County. Critz served as president during what has been called the “darkest days” of the college: 1930-1934, the Depression Years. According to Wikipedia, in 1930, Governor Theodore Bilbo convened a meeting of the State Board of Universities and Colleges to approve his plans to dismiss 179 faculty members. Appearing before reporters after the meeting, he announced, "Boys, we've just hung up a new record. We've bounced three college presidents and made three new ones in the record time of two hours. And that's just the beginning of what's going to happen". The presidents of the University of Mississippi, A and M (later Mississippi State University) and the Mississippi State College for Women were all fired and replaced, respectively, by a realtor, a press agent, and a recent B.A. degree-recipient. The Dean of the Medical School at Ole Miss was replaced by "a man who once had a course in dentistry.”

The true story as written by Hugh Critz on Feb. 3, 1937:

“About four and a half miles west of Starkville, Wiley Haman and America Moon Critz lived in the 1800s. His hearing was impaired as a result of Scarlet Fever when he was four years of age, and grew worse until he was almost totally deaf at the time of his death. Thus, he had little schooling but could read and write. My mother had a good education for that day but she died when I was 14 years of age. Her mother kept house for my father and she lived to rear his family of seven children to maturity. I was the oldest child; and if I accomplished anything worthwhile I get its inspiration first from my mother and later from this grandmother. She was one of the finest spirits that ever lived in Starkville. I lived there until I was four years of age when my family moved to Starkville because of my mother’s health on the advice of our family physician.

My father operated a livery stable and did some farming as a sideline. I attended the public school of Starkville that was operated by Professor and Mrs. W.R. Saunders from the time I was seven years of age until the fall of 1891 when I entered the freshman class of Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College. Messrs. W.F. Ames and John W. Critz (a cousin) loaned me the necessary money to complete my college education. This was a splendid tribute to the character of my maternal grandmother, as they had no assurance that their money would ever be returned.

At the beginning of my sophomore year, the first engineering course was offered. I decided to take that course but I could never learn to saw a plank or drive a nail properly. I was good, however, on the turning lathe. The next year, I took the course in agriculture and spent the entire year in said sophomore class, never being “irregular” for even as much as a day. It thus really required five years for me to complete a four-year course.

I participated in athletics such, as it was, being captain of the college baseball team in my senior year. I played second base.

In the fall of 1895, we secured money from some source and bought the first football uniforms, maroon and white. There were only two men in school that had ever seen a football game. N. M. Matthews, a classmate and Homer Brett. We knew nothing about the game. During the first few minutes of play, I was tackled so hard that I lost all personal interest in playing football. I love to read it, to talk it and to hear it broadcast over the radio, but I have never seen a down that I did not expect to see a corpse when they untangled. For all that, however, I am still convinced that college attendance in an institution for men can’t be built up without an outstanding football team.

I graduated from college with a B.S. degree in agriculture on June 17, 1896.

I began teaching in the public schools of Starkville that fall, having charge of the sixth grade. I was given a promotion and did a part of the teaching in the seventh and eighth grades for the next two sessions. I was thus a grade teacher in Starkville for three years.

In the fall of 1899, I was married to Julia Gillespie and also took charge of agricultural work in the District Agricultural School of Abbeville, Ala. where I stayed only one year, going to a similar school at Sylacauga, Ala. for better pay. After staying there two sessions, I spent a year as bookkeeper and head clerk for the M.L. Smith Mercantile Company. I did not like this work and, accordingly, I refused a salary of $1,500 to return to Starkville as Superintendent of the City Schools at $800 in 1903.

For the next three years, I served in this capacity and my salary was increased until I, again, gave up an offer of $1500 to accept a place as teacher of freshman mathematics at Mississippi A and M at a salary of $800. They paid me, however, $1,000. I continued in this work for four years having, in the meantime, been advanced to $1,200 per year.

I then transferred to the Department of Agronomy at the same salary. I stayed with this department four years and received a salary of $2,000 as director of the two-year course in agriculture and associate professor of agronomy my last year.

A vacancy having occurred by the sudden death of Prof. N.F. Hughes, I was made Dean of the School of Education and College Registrar. I served two years in this capacity at a salary of $2,500.

The Board of Trustees of Bolton College, Dr. Tait Butler, Chairman, then offered me a three-year contract at $3,500 per year as President of Bolton College and I took charge September 1, 1916. The Board of Trustees of Bolton College got a bill through the legislature of Tennessee authorizing the Shelby County court to appropriate a total of $1,500,000 for the erection of buildings and support for an Agriculture High School. The bill passed without a dissenting vote and Mr. George F. James, then Chairman of the Board of Trustees, sold the bonds in New York for a small premium. An architect was employed who drew up plans and specifications for 17 brick buildings. The bond buyers asked a friendly suit to test the constitutionality of the act. Seven of the best lawyers in Memphis advised the Board of Trustees there was no doubt about the matter. The Board won until the question reached the Supreme Court of Tennessee when they unanimously declared the bill unconstitutional.

I was then asked to become county agricultural agent so as to get thoroughly acquainted as the Board of Trustees expected to make another effort and, if again successful, to submit the matter to a vote of the county electorate. I served as county agent for about six weeks and retired voluntarily as I did not like the work.  This was in the spring of 1918.

I was later elected President of the Second District State Agricultural School at Russellville, Ark. When I visited Russellville in the spring of 1918 there were exactly 57 students in attendance. I was elected for a period of three years at an annual salary of $3,500 with the privilege of employing and discharging at will. I let out two employees during the five years I remained in charge

I employed a combination teacher and athletic coach. I believe this was at the beginning of my second year as president in the fall of 1919. This team made a phenomenal record as a football team and was later invited to play the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. on Armistice Day in 1923. In the meantime, I had added two years of college work to the curriculum and we matriculated 623 students during the session 1922-23.

Dr. D.C. Hull, a former classmate, then President of Mississippi A and M offered me the directorship of the Service Bureau and I gave up my place in Russellville voluntarily to accept $3,500 at A and M. The legislature reduced the appropriation and we were given barely enough money for subsistence. I stayed here two years, from 1923-25,

While in Russellville, I had approached R.C. Couch of Pine Bluff, who operated the light and water plant regarding an electric high line for Mississippi. In 1925, he offered me a three-year contract as Industrial Commissioner with the Mississippi Power and Light Company with headquarters in Jackson. I stayed with them for five years or until the fall of 1930.

The legislature convened in Jackson early in 1930 and very shortly thereafter I was advised that Dr. A.B. Butts or I would be elected as president. The following day, Friday, I received a telephone call to report to the New Capitol building at my earliest convenience. I left at once for that destination. Upon my arrival, I was ushered into the presence of the Board of Trustees, who told me they had elected me president and Dr. A.B. Butts as vice president. I went back to my work to inform my superior that I had been elected president of Mississippi A and M College. Either than afternoon or the next morning, I was given a typewritten list of employees and was assured that no one of them would be elected. The law did not specify that the president should nominate. The Board of Trustees had the legal authority to discharge any or all employees. I did not attempt to hide the fact that I had received such a black list. I was besieged by day and called by telephone at night until 12 o’clock, starting again about 4 a.m. It seemed they all expected to find me at home about midnight and at the early hour in the morning. I walked out on the street and happened to meet the Governor and he gave me an additional list and that upset us greatly as we did not know who would be discharged in addition to those on the list.

I then asked for a conference with the newspaper reporters and I told them about the list and added the statement that I was passing through the Valley of Gethsemane, but I did not give out any names. When the paper came out, I was really besieged but I could not afford to tell anyone about the individual names on the list. I merely told them to see the Governor and to have their friends see him in their behalf. Rumors flew thick and fast and almost everybody was told, “Your name is on that list.” Of course, many, many names were never on the list.

By this time, I was completely exhausted and accordingly, being sick in both mind and body, I turned into Governor Bilbo in person my resignation. This was on Friday and I went to the Willis Walley Hospital the following Monday where my appendix was removed. Soon as possible, I left the hospital and since no action whatever had been taken on my resignation, I reported to the college. 

At the end of the Bilbo administration, all members of his Board of Trustees submitted their resignations and for several months the college operated without such. In order not to embarrass the new Board or the college, I submitted my resignation at the close of the session of 1932, but the new board re-elected me. I really wanted to get away from it all, but was urged not to run away from duty that I "owed it to my Alma Mater."

In 1933, I again presented my resignation but it was not accepted. Later, I submitted another letter of resignation, as I did not want to cause any trouble to State. I was given two months leave of absence — July and August — on my regular salary and on September 1, I became Assistant Dean of the School of Agriculture.

I have merely touched on some high spots in what was probably the darkest days in the entire history of the college, at a time when its academic employees went fifteen consecutive months without as much as a cent of pay and when it was impossible to pay its outstanding bills for approximately two years, when it would have been impossible for the college to continue to operate without the credit that was extended its employees by Reed and Lewis Grocery, amounting to more than $30,000 and more than $25,000 of this credit remaining unpaid to this day.

I had many trials and disappointments. I also enjoyed some of my accomplishments. I have enough of schoolwork to last me many years. I hope it will never again be necessary to return to it. I believe I know when I have enough. I have nothing but best wishes for the college.”

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