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Will Candice McQueen really be the first female president of a Church of Christ university?

Some scholars want to see Meta Chestnutt Sager, a pioneer Oklahoma educator, recognized.

Candice McQueen made history this week as the first woman chosen to lead a university associated with Churches of Christ.

Or did she?

Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., introduced the former Tennessee education commissioner as its president-elect Thursday.

When she succeeds Randy Lowry on Sept. 7, McQueen, 47, will become the first female CEO in the 130-year history of Lipscomb, which David Lipscomb and James A. Harding launched as the Nashville Bible School in 1891.

Likewise, a woman never has served as president at 13 other coed, residential colleges and universities associated with Churches of Christ — from Abilene Christian University in Texas to Harding University in Searcy, Ark., to Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

But some scholars want to make a case for the late Meta Chestnutt Sager, a pioneer Oklahoma educator.

Sager led El Meta Christian College — later renamed El Meta Bond College — in Indian Territory from about 1895 until its closing in 1920, according to “Churches of Christ in Oklahoma: A History” by W. David Baird.

Sager, inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1939, is credited with organizing the Sooner State’s first coeducational institute of higher learning.

Meta Chestnutt Sager

Meta Chestnutt Sager

Born in North Carolina, Sager lived from 1863 to 1948. She received degrees from the Peabody Normal School (now the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University) in 1888 and the University of Nashville in 1889, according to the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

She came to Oklahoma during the Land Run of 1889.

“Meta Chestnutt Sager actually shook the hand of President Theodore Roosevelt in the summer of 1906 while in a receiving line in Washington, D.C. with women pushing prohibition,” her Oklahoma Hall of Fame bio notes. “When she greeted him she said, ‘Mr. President, I’m not here in the interest of Prohibition, but I would like statehood for Oklahoma.’ She recalled he gave her an interested look and with a smile said, ‘Yes, Madam, it’ll come in time.’ He signed the proclamation making Oklahoma the 46th state the following year.”


Related: Lipscomb names Candice McQueen as its next president


Leonard Allen, dean of Lipscomb’s College of Bible and Ministry, sent an email to colleagues this week sharing an excerpt about Sager from Baird’s book, published last year.

“She had been sent from Nashville as an educational missionary to the Indians in the Oklahoma Territory,” Allen wrote.

Earlier, Trace Hebert, a Lipscomb higher education researcher, characterized McQueen’s appointment to lead the Tennessee university as a “profoundly historic moment.”

Candice McQueen speaks to Lipscomb University faculty and staff on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, after her selection as the university's first female president.

Candice McQueen speaks to Lipscomb University faculty and staff on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, after her selection as the university’s first female president.

“The entirety of my research is focused on our contemporary regionally accredited colleges and universities that have residential campuses,” Hebert said in response to Allen’s email. “None of it includes the history of the multiplicity of small religious institutions that sprang up across the American frontier in the 19th and early 20th century but didn’t survive.”

Darryl Tippens, a scholar at ACU and former provost at Pepperdine, believes Sager merits recognition.

“Her work with Native Americans is an inspiration, as was her effort not to be divisive when the C of C split with the Disciples,” Tippens wrote in a letter to The Christian Chronicle. 

A 1906 federal census formally noted a separation between Churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), both part of the Stone-Campbell Movement, also known as the Restoration Movement. The two groups differed on doctrinal issues, including the use of instrumental music in worship.

“When Candice McQueen assumes Lipscomb’s presidency, she will be standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Sager “deserves to be remembered as the first female president of a Stone-Campbell Movement-related college,” Tippens said. “I congratulate Lipscomb University on the appointment of perhaps the second female president of a Church of Christ-related institution of higher learning. When Candice McQueen assumes Lipscomb’s presidency, she will be standing on the shoulders of giants.”

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected]

Filed under: Candice McQueen Christian higher education David Baird Lipscomb University Meta Chestnutt Sager National News Partners Top Stories women in Churches of Christ

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