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The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs is famous across the state and country for its paranormal reputation alongside its spa experiences. Not many realize the hotel also has history as a women’s college, where young women came from across the state for education when opportunities were few.
Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
The Crescent Hotel opened in 1886 as a luxurious resort. Guests marveled at the hotel’s exquisite trappings, its elevators and the electricity in every room. The hot springs were nearby, and the hotel proved to be popular in the summer tourist season. However, the hotel was also expensive to build and run. It needed business during the long off-season. The Eureka Springs Investment Company proposed a solution to keep the hotel solvent. They would open a girls’ school for an elite education. The students would spend September through June at the school, and then the hotel would open during the busy summer months.
In 1908, Crescent College and Conservatory opened its doors to its first students, 88 girls from 39 different states. The young women arrived to study English, history, science and math. Other courses were added over the years and included French, home economics, music and even hygiene. The girls were expected to dress in their uniforms, dark blue dresses with white stripes around the collar and sleeves, along with a white scarf knotted around the neck. The girls also wore dark blue coats and woolen underwear during the winter.
A photo from the 1909 Crescent College yearbook shows the type of events and humor the girls brought to Crescent College. Here the students held a Colonial Tea, complete with dressing up as both male and female attendants.
The education offered to the girls was considered elite. Besides a high school education, the college had accredited coursework through the University of Arkansas that allowed their graduates to join universities at the junior level. An advertisement from the college even describes it as a junior college. The college also provided many extracurricular activities. Concerts and theater performances were held, several sororities operated on campus, and it even had a drum corp. Sports were also encouraged, and the girls had the opportunity to ride horses, swim in the private lake, play tennis, and hike around the 27-acre campus. However, the college’s most popular sport was basketball.
A punchbowl painted by Neva Henderson when she was 17 at Crescent College.
The basketball team enjoyed success as long as the school was open. In 1908, the team played a game with a women’s team from the University of Arkansas and won. They played around the state and even across state lines in Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri. Though the basketball team was popular during the school’s early years, it was famous during the college’s last few years of existence. The conservatory had to close in 1924 due to a lack of funding, but it reopened in 1929. In 1930, the college offered scholarships to every member of the Sparkman Sparklers high school girls’ basketball team. This team had already won three high school state championships. The entire team accepted, and the girls all moved to Eureka Springs, where they held the fourth floor of the Crescent as their domain.
The 1931 Crescent Comets basketball team.
For the next few years, the Crescent College Comets played around the area and even won two national championship tournaments in Dallas. One of the team leaders was Quinnie Hamm, who was later inducted into the Dallas County Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 for her high school basketball feats. The entire 1927-1930 Sparkman girls’ team was also inducted into the same hall of fame in 2006.
The school occasionally received pushback against an outside reputation that it was simply a finishing school for affluent families. With a tuition of $375 a year in 1908, it was certainly only for families that could afford a good education, but it was also a place for women to receive a quality education at a time when women didn’t have many options in Arkansas. It was also a bright spot in the lives of so many women who were yet to face the challenges of the Great Depression and World War II. The Crescent College and Conservatory was home to many young women, and it left its mark on their lives for years to come. While the Crescent Hotel today is famous for its ghost tours, it should also be remembered for the years of education it brought to women in Arkansas.
Natachee Scott Momaday is one of the more famous students to attend Crescent College. She became a writer and teacher on a reservation in New Mexico, where she advocated for better education for Native American children. Her son is Pulitzer prize winning novelist Navarre Scott Momaday.
Rebecca Becker created the Crescent College History Project to share the stories of these young women’s lives. A longtime researcher and history professor, when Becker arrived in Eureka Springs, she was surprised that the area didn’t have a college. A little research turned up the existence of Crescent College, and Becker decided to delve into the former college and created the Crescent College History Project. On the Crescent College History Project Facebook page, yearbook entries and other written records attest to the memories the girls made at the college. From Christmas parties to school sports to camping, the girls at Crescent College thrived while they embraced all the school had to offer.
Becker eventually has her eye on creating a book with the stories she’s uncovered, but for now, she’s focused on the research. Becker says, “the stories I’m still finding and the material I’m still gathering just keep getting richer and more exciting. I love the search, I love sharing what I find, and I think it’s actually really important that these stories aren’t lost anymore.”
From 1908 until 1934, girls and young women roamed the grounds of the Crescent Hotel, enjoying classes, extracurriculars and the nature surrounding Crescent College and Conservatory. Photo: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
For more information, photos and stories of the girls and their families who attended Crescent College and Conservatory, follow the Crescent College History Project. Rebecca Becker also writes a monthly column over Crescent College and Conservatory for the Eureka Springs Fun Guide.
Crescent College historical photos are courtesy of Rebecca Becker and used with permission.
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This was just such a great article! Very interesting and the history of this hotel is amazing to learn. Thank you!
We are so glad you enjoyed it!