A book recently published by Cornell University Press (“Nothing Succeeds Like Failure,” by Steven Conn) accuses business schools of being the greatest farce in the history of American education. In terms of professional training, they are long to promise and short of results, according to Conn, who indeed offers a severe indictment against an American institution.
Fort Worth has a long history of hosting business schools since 1872, when “professor” FP Pruitt opened the first college in Fort Worth, offering “hands-on instruction day and night.” Over the next two decades, Fort Worth Business College flourished, the largest of at least 10 similar establishments. Its annual launching exercises beginning in 1879 were held at the Opera House and addressed by distinguished city fathers such as Mayor HS Broiles in 1886.
The education program offered training in typing, shorthand, calligraphy, telegraphy and English to “young men and boys” for a modest tuition fee. Professor Pruitt’s schools in Fort Worth and Dallas were said to have been the most successful in the state, “approved by all businessmen” in both cities.
Pruitt’s virtual monopoly on the local scene ended 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 towns in the South, including Galveston. He opened Fort Worth’s Practical Business College in Fort Worth before obtaining a state charter under the name of Nelson-Draughon Business College. “Nelson” was his wife’s maiden name, which was used to distinguish the school from other schools “of the same name” in Texas. Draughon hired James T. Brantley to run the school.
Draughon may not have known at the time that his superintendent had come with questionable “baggage”. He told the Fort Worth Register in 1897 that he had graduated from the University of Tennessee, Nashville, and had come to town to take over as “principal” of Fort Worth Business College. Professor Pruitt refuted this claim, claiming that Brantley came to town without recommendations from his alma mater and that his only connection to Fort Worth Business College was that he had enrolled as a student, paying his fees. education by “distributing flyers” and recruiting students throughout the city. Brantley survived the outrageous allegations to become a fixture in Nelson-Draughon, eventually becoming vice president and superintendent.
By 1909, Nelson-Draughon had left Fort Worth Business College in the dust. He claimed to be “equal to Harvard or Yale business schools” in terms of the quality of his program and faculty, citing the endorsement of Texas bankers statewide, including WS Eddelman, president of the Western National Bank of Fort Worth. The school was so successful that it moved from its location at 14th and Main uptown to “the heart of town” at 603½ Main. He boasted that, unlike other private institutions of higher education, he had never asked for or received “a single dollar” from the city of Fort Worth. It owes its success to “conservative methods, sound business principles and the best teachers.” Enrollment reached 500 students per year who were assured that the school was “fully accredited” (by which was never explained). The school was so part of the Fort Worth business community that it was a member of the Chamber of Commerce.
Among the remarkable changes in the field, besides the number of enrollments, was the fact that business schools were now enrolling women in slightly lower numbers than men. Nelson-Draughon boasted of having trained both “young men and young women”. (He no longer accepted “boys” as students.) The open gender policy reflected a tectonic shift in the labor market from men to women office workers.
Professor Brantley was so successful in leading the operation that in 1909 the school changed its name to Brantley-Draughon Business College. The increase in registrations and profits led the board of directors two years later to award him a “latest model” five-passenger Buick for his personal use.
Years later, the school went through tough times moving from owner to owner and address to address. Texas Wesleyan operated it for a while, then LTV Education Systems, which called itself “the largest operator of business and vocational schools in the country.” In 1953 the school moved to the second floor of the new Continental Trailways Bus Center (Eighth and Commerce) before finding a final home in 1967 in the former Dr. Pepper bottling plant at 1401 Henderson.
The school was accredited by both a national accrediting agency and the Veterans Administration, which meant that veterans could use their benefits to attend. However, attendance has steadily declined. In 1972 it celebrated its 75th anniversary by claiming (wrongly) to have opened on July 4, 1897. Three years later, Brantley-Draughon Busines College closed, the quietest and least noticed closure of a historic business in Fort Worth.
Author-historian Richard Selcer is from Fort Worth and a proud graduate of Paschal High and TCU.