Education played an important role in the development of the community, which was first settled in 1839. The history of Quitman is woven around the establishment of the Quitman Male and Female College in 1889. Quitman citizens incurred much personal expense to establish this institution. Quitman's economy boomed. Many businesses opened in the town including five hotels. The college was even enlarged. Quitman became known as "The Athens of Arkansas".
In 1897 the situation began to change. Due to the railroad bypassing the Quitman area, the college was consolidated with the Central Collegiate Institute of Conway to become what is now Hendrix College. The former Quitman College became Quitman Public School until it was destroyed by fire in 1932. A new elementary school building was built and used until 1964. Today, it serves as the Building Trades department for the high school.
Although the town suffered a big demise in population and business after the closing of the college, by 1970 a slow trend of growth began which led to the current population of over 700.