1892 - 1912
The institution that is now William Carey University had its earliest origins in Poplarville, Mississippi, when the noted educator W. I. Thames opened Pearl River Boarding School in 1892. As did many institutions of its day, Pearl River Boarding School offered "elementary, preparatory, and some college work." A disastrous fire destroyed the school in 1905, and an effort was made to obtain backing for a new school in Poplarville to be called South Mississippi College. The efforts were not successful, and Professor Thames moved to Hattiesburg where, with the backing of a group of New Orleans businessmen, he opened South Mississippi College in 1906. Little is known of Pearl River Boarding School, but South Mississippi College, under the leadership of Professor Thames as its president, quickly gained a reputation for having a strong faculty, especially in art, music, history, and home economics. After a fire destroyed the immense administration building, including classrooms, library and a 1500-seat auditorium, the young institution was forced to close.
In 1911, W. S. F. Tatum, wealthy lumberman and Methodist layman, acquired the property and offered it as a gift to the Baptists. He set two conditions: successful operation of a Christian school for girls for five years and an enrollment of at least one hundred students the first year. The property consisted of two surviving frame buildings and ten acres of cut-over land. A corporation was organized to own and control the college with nine trustees chosen from Baptist churches in Hattiesburg. In September, 1911, the school opened again with a new name, Mississippi Woman's College, under the leadership of President W. W. Rivers. In November, 1911, the debt-free college was offered to the Mississippi Baptist Convention and was accepted.