Marion Military Institute (MMI) is the oldest military junior college in the United States and is one of the country’s leading U.S. Army commissioning programs. Located in Marion, Perry County, the two-year public college is one of only five military junior colleges in the United States. The school has graduated more than 200 individuals who have gone on to become either generals or admirals since its founding in 1887.
Marion Military Institute Anniversary Celebration Originally, MMI operated as Howard College (present-day Samford University), which was established in 1842 by the Alabama State Baptist Convention and specialized in theological and classical education for young men. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, many Howard professors and students joined the Confederate Army, and the campus later functioned as a military hospital. After the war, Howard struggled with decreased revenue, falling enrollment, and leadership issues, prompting the Alabama Baptist Convention to relocate the school to Birmingham in July 1887. Declining to move, Howard president Col. James T. Murfee stayed in Marion with a small group of faculty. Together, they formed a new college for young men that they named Marion Military Institute. Murfee, a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, modeled MMI after that institution and other military academies of Virginia. The school opened in October 1887 with 79 students and a board of trustees. It was granted a charter as a private academy by the Alabama State Legislature in 1889.
Hopson O. Murfee, son of J. T. Murfee and a former MMI cadet, became the school’s second president in 1905. Murfee focused on developing academics and established one of the country’s first student government associations and honor systems. Also during Murfee’s tenure, MMI received national attention when Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, visited the school in 1905 for the convocation. In recognition of Wilson’s visit, MMI adopted the colors orange and black and selected the “Tiger” as its mascot, matching those of Princeton. Pres. William Howard Taft also served as president of the MMI board of trustees in 1909. He also expanded military training in 1910 with the Service Academy Preparatory Program, which trains students for entry into the five U.S. service academies.
President’s House After the outbreak of World War I, MMI increasingly focused on military training. The school started a Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program in 1916 and established the Early Commissioning Program, through which cadets could be commissioned as officers after only two years of college. During this time, MMI became a military high school and junior college, and many MMI cadets served in World War I and World War II. Notable cadets include Alabamian Eugene B. Sledge, author of the combat memoir With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, and future Rear Adm. William W. Outerbridge, who was captaining the USS Ward (DD-139), a Wickes-class destroyer that fired the first shots in defense of Pearl Harbor after the Japanese attack on the morning of December 7, 1941. Bruce K. Holloway, an MMI cadet from 1932 to 1933, shot down 13 Japanese planes in World War II and later became an Air Force general.
Old Marion City Hall After World War II, MMI experienced significant growth. The 1940s and 1960s, in particular, were periods of major building initiatives. Before World War II, the school had two main buildings, the Chapel, built in 1857, and the Old South Barracks, built in 1854 and now called Lovelace Hall. After the war, MMI built a gymnasium, a chemistry building, and barracks. The 1960s saw the addition of a golf course and the Baer Memorial Library. The campus today consists of 180 acres with academic buildings and multiple athletic facilities for men’s basketball, tennis, baseball, and wrestling, and women’s softball and tennis. MMI first admitted women as cadets in 1971. The MMI Chapel, Lovelace Hall, and the President’s Mansion, built in 1912, were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. MMI is also the home of the Alabama Military Hall of Honor, created by executive order of Gov. George Wallace in 1975 and housed in the former Marion City Hall on the campus.
MMI became a state institution and a member of the Alabama Community College System in 2006, enabling the school to access state funds and resources that help expand academics and restore facilities. MMI is now known as the State Military College of Alabama. The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). MMI currently enrolls more than 400 students. The college continues to offer early commissioning and preparatory training for the service academies and other four-year institutions, as well as two years of Air Force ROTC. MMI also offers a flight training program, which began instruction in fall 2009. Participating cadets can complete the Federal Aviation Administration’s written exam for private pilots or receive a private pilot’s license. Cadets can join the White Knights Drill Team, Scabbard and Blade military honor society, the Normandy Club military history society, and the Swamp Foxes, a group of elite cadets named for Francis Marion, a hero of the American Revolution for whom the town is named.
Clark, Willis G. History of Education in Alabama, 1702-1889. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1889.