John Nelson Armstrong
On The Life Of J. N. Armstrong
Nelson Armstrong was born to Robert and Elizabeth Armstrong, January
6, 1870, on a farm near Gadsden, Tennessee. Despite the rude
simplicity of his birthplace, Armstrong received from his parents a
remarkable heritage of personality and character. From his father,
Robert, came his deeply emotional nature, his warm friendliness, a
fine sense of humor, and perfect integrity. From his mother,
Elizabeth, came his penetrating insight and his good judgment.
Altogether, there were twelve in the family. Living on the farm,
young Nelson (nicknamed Nelse), like the other children, learned to
hoe, weed, pick strawberries or cotton and to do many other chores
on the farm.
Entering school for Nelse was difficult but proved to be profitable
when he found his teacher, J. R. McDonald, to be excellent. McDonald
managed his students well by placing the younger ones behind him and
the older ones in front so he could keep a close eye on them. The
school contained eight grades and when these were finished,
McDonald, being the excellent teacher that he was, carried the
students through the high school course. Here the students were
organized for a debating society on Friday afternoons. Here Nelse
got his first experience in public speaking. McDonald encouraged his
students to go to college. Nelse left home for college to prepare
for law. He entered West Tennessee Christian College, which is now
FreedHardeman University at Henderson, Tennessee. He spent two
years at Henderson and left college for lack of money.
applied for the Matthews School some four miles from Gadsden. The
summer term opened with 35 students, which quickly grew to 63. He
taught all eight grades.
first, the students called him "Nelse," but after he explained to
them kindly that he was now their teacher, they addressed him with
the respect due the new relationship.
re-entered college at Henderson for a third year but left after
Christmas to attend Union University at Jackson. After his term at
Union University, he decided to go to Lexington, Kentucky, where
J. W. McGarvey's influence was
strongly felt, but he wound up at the Nashville Bible School, now
Lipscomb University, October, 1893. While there he preached his
first sermon on the subject, "What It Means To Be A Christian." He
graduated from Nashville Bible School in 1896.
Armstrong married Miss Woodson Harding, daughter of James A.
Harding. Woodson was 19 at the time of their marriage. The marriage
ceremony was performed by J. W. Harding, Woodson's grandfather. The
Armstrongs had one daughter, Pattie Hathaway.
and Mrs. C. D. Potter planned a new college at Bowling Green,
Kentucky, and asked James A. Harding
to serve as president. The Armstrongs had been with Nashville Bible
School eight years but left and went with James A. Harding to begin
the new school at Bowling Green, Kentucky. The school was named
Potter Bible College.
Potter Bible College, Armstrong was head of the Greek Department but
also taught Latin and Bible and even though he had a very heavy load
he still continued taking Hebrew under M. C.
Kurfees, who came down from Louisville for the class.
1904, Armstrong and his four associates stated that for the previous
six years they had wanted to establish another Christian school in a
new location and a new field. A. D. Gardner, brother of R. N.
Gardner, Armstrong's close associate, offered a 40-acre farm, two
miles from Paragould, Arkansas, for the school, but plans fell
through and John Nelson Armstrong went from Paragould to Odessa,
Missouri, for a meeting. At Odessa, he talked with a Mr. Foster who
told him they had built, several years before, a school building,
which was now standing idle. It had a two-acre campus with beautiful
trees, and Mr. Foster thought that the town would donate all these
to Armstrong if he would move the school to Odessa. Armstrong looked
it over and the town readily agreed to deed over the property to the
school. Armstrong and his associates agreed that Odessa was the best
location. Western Bible and Literary College in Odessa opened in
Armstrong was an educator, evangelist and a writer. Some of the
articles he wrote appeared in the Gospel Herald, Living
Message, Truthseeker, Gospel Advocate, and Firm
Foundation. Armstrong was one who fought long for freedom of
conscience, freedom to learn and to teach, and for Christian
tolerance over differences of view.
Armstrong's preaching took him into the states of Texas, Tennessee,
New Mexico, Arizona, Alabama, Florida, California and Michigan.
teaching included, besides the Matthews School, Nashville Bible
School, Nashville, Tennessee; Potter Bible College, Bowling Green,
Kentucky; Western Bible and Literary College, Odessa, Missouri;
Cordell Christian College, Cordell, Oklahoma; Harper College,
Harper, Kansas; and Harding College, Morrilton and Searcy, Arkansas.
He served as President of four of the colleges: Harper College,
Western Bible and Literary College, Cordell Christian College, and
Schools which he attended were West Tennessee Christian College,
later called Georgia Robertson and still later, FreedHardeman
College (now University), Henderson, Tennessee; Union University,
Jackson, Tennessee; Nashville Bible School, Nashville, Tennessee;
Potter Bible College, Bowling Green, Kentucky; and the University of
Oklahoma, Tulsa, Oklahoma. One of his life-long friends, who was a
student at Freed-Hardeman when Armstrong was a student, was
R. L. Whiteside.
In 1935, Armstrong started a weekly radio broadcast which he
continued until his death.
1936, John Nelson Armstrong was still the president of Harding
College. Its enrollment was approximately 500. Many families had
moved in, new houses were built, and new teachers added to the
faculty. In 1936, inspectors who visited the college were frank in
saying that "no other college in the state included in its survey is
more strongly equipped."
Though no one would have ever taken the presidency during the
depression, the college was now in condition, Armstrong believed,
for a younger man to carry it forward. At a special meeting, April
22, 1936, he stated that he believed it was time for him to retire,
and so he recommended that the Board elect
George S. Benson to replace him.
November 24, 1936, the Board of Governors conferred on Armstrong
Honorary Membership in the Eugene Field Society for "having by his
writings made an outstanding contribution to contemporary
literature." This was never mentioned by him, but was later
discovered among his longforgotten papers.
the summer of 1938, Armstrong held meetings in California, and at
Los Angeles Mr. and Mrs. George Pepperdine had attended the meeting
and invited him to dinner. Pepperdine was a native of Kansas and
knew of Armstrong's work at Harper. The Pepperdines were interested
in Harding and in Armstrong's long experience in Christian
education. The Pepperdines made a gift of $25,000 and with help of
other sums of money raised from some of his best friends, plus a
discount of a sum of $2,300 from the Booth family who held the
mortgage, the mortgage could now be paid and Harding College freed
for the first time in its history.
Thanksgiving day, 1939, the mortgage was cleared. A bonfire was lit
and the mortgage burned.
relieved of his administrative duties, he gave himself to the work
he loved best - teaching, preaching and writing. He often wrote for
the Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation.
1937, he held meetings in Kentucky and Michigan. At Flint, it was
said that "more outsiders were preached to in this meeting than in
any other meeting ever held in Flint." People drove from Canada and
from many places in Michigan to hear him.
summer of 1938 he spent in California. He held meetings at different
places in California and the strenuous schedule of speaking twice a
day and visiting into the night was too much. He had never been
physically strong but in spite of the strenuous schedule and his
illness, he enjoyed the summer.
John Nelson Armstrong, who had fought so long for freedom of
conscience, freedom to learn and to teach, and for Christian
forbearances over differences of view, finally found peace at last.
He fell asleep very quietly, as he had wanted to, and passed from
this life on August 12, 1944, at Searcy, Arkansas. The funeral was
held in the college auditorium in Godden Hall. Dr. George Benson
read some favorite Scriptures and S. A. Bell spoke. Armstrong's body
was laid to rest in the Oaklawn Cemetery but, later, due to some
circumstances, his casket was moved from Oaklawn and reburied in the
new White County Memorial Gardens.
—In Memoriam, Gussie
Lambert, c.1988, pages 13-16, Updated For The Web, January, 2005
Directions To The
Grave Of J. N. Armstrong
J.N. and Woodson Armstrong
are buried in the White County Memorial Gardens in Searcy, Arkansas.
White County Memorial Gardens is located on the southeast side of
Searcy. Enter the cemetery and dead end. Turn right, note statue of
Jesus in center of section to your left. Go to the next left and go
to the step-up entrance in the center of the section heading toward
the statue of Jesus (west). Just a few sections in look to your left
and travel in about halfway to the Sears/Armstrong plot.
See Map Page Here!
N35º 14' 537" x WO 91º 41' 350"
Garden Of Christus
Lot 87, Section C, Space 2
J.N. Armstrong Plot