Jesse Sewell’s life began in 1876 in Viola Community, Tennessee. William A. Sewell and his wife, Nancy, chose to raise their one son in this middle-Tennessee farming country where an industrious and religious community of settlers made frontier living more bearable. School was held in the abandoned meetinghouse of the primitive Baptist church. The people met to worship at the Methodist and Baptist churches, and at two Churches of Christ.
The youthful interests of Jesse were guided into religion, but he would take it even further into religious education. Jesse was inquisitive as a young student. When he left the Nashville Bible School, he would take with him a zeal for education from David Lipscomb and James A. Harding, and some definite ideas on how not to teach from some of his other pedagogues.
Sewell’s road to a college presidency was a winding one. A young lady from Bonham who was studying art in Nashville drew him to Texas in 1897-98. She was Daisy McQuigg, and in 1899, she was to become Mrs. Jesse P. Sewell. Jesse entered into a business venture and bought half interest in an insurance agency, thus establishing himself and Daisy financially.
While in business, he continued to preach, starting dozens of congregations in West Texas. Through these contacts he was able to share and gain support for his dream of a Christian College. It was in the midst of these successes that Sewell was asked to serve as president of Childers Classical Institute in Abilene, Texas. Two things destined Sewell to give the school the permanence it needed: his boldly optimistic personality and his own theories of operating a private college.
From 1912 to 1924, under Jesse Sewell’s presidency, 10 new buildings were built, as well as an addition to the existing structure. The student body increased from 65 in 1912 to 303 in 1924. Talk was begun about moving the campus away from its noisy location next to the railroad to a site further from the business district. By 1924, Sewell had convinced the Board of Trustees, the people of the city of Abilene, and the members of churches in Texas that Abilene Christian College would be a permanent institution. Sewell resigned in 1924 but remained a tremendous advocate for Abilene Christian College and is considered the father of ACC. Jesse Sewell was born in 1876 and passed away on July 4, 1969.
It is unclear how the whole of the Sewell Photo Collection came to be a part of the Special Collections within the Brown Library. Many of the photos deal with the early history of Abilene Christian University (formerly College), including photos of Jesse P. Sewell (ACU’s first President), faculty, students, sports, and facilities. These photos seem to be the main emphasis of what was the original collection, and are believed to be a part of Jesse P. Sewell’s private collection that was donated to the college. Many of these photos have little to no information available on or connected to them as to who is in them or where they were taken. It also appears that some photos gathered for the Prickly Pear (ACU’s yearbook), were added to the collection as well.
As more photos were being donated to an overall history of ACU through the years, they were added to the Sewell Photo Collection. This has resulted in an eclectic range of photos dealing with Church of Christ buildings from across the United States. Many of these photos can be linked to Jesse P. Sewell, but not all of them have this specific information noted on them.