Chemistry began on the Memphis campus of Rhodes College in the fall of 1925 with the opening of the Science Building (later to be named Kennedy Hall). Although the Science Building, a collegiate gothic structure of three stories, was planned to be devoted exclusively to chemistry, it housed in its first four decades all of the college′s science departments. In addition to numerous lecture halls, classrooms, and laboratories, the building was equipped with a battery room, a constant temperature room, an acid room, hot and cold water, gas, compressed air, steam, distilled water, alternating and direct current, and an exhaust hood system made especially for the building. In the college catalog, it was boasted that this building represented the last word as to a modern science hall for a college of liberal arts and sciences, and that it would easily meet the most exacting requirements for thoroughly efficient scientific work. The chemistry faculty was made up of Dr. William Swan and Dr. Francis Huber, and they offered courses in general, analytical, organic, and physical chemistry. These courses all had substantial laboratory components and certainly were an early indicator of expectation within the department. The fact that a physiological chemistry course was also offered for students contemplating the study of medicine is noteworthy since this post-graduate goal still rates highly with the departments graduates.
By the start of its third decade in Memphis, the department had an entirely new faculty that had grown to three members. Drs. Swan and Huber had left, Drs. Jacob Meadow and Ogden Baine had come and gone, and Drs. Raymond Vaughn, James Webb, and Foster Moose were on hand to usher the department into a new era. The curriculum had been expanded to include advanced work in organic chemistry and a new course, Introduction to Research, was offered. Doing honors in chemistry was also offered as an option. In this period, the Spandow Scholarship in chemistry was established in memory of Mr. William Spandow. Both Dr. Vaughn and Dr. Webb had experience outside of academe and brought to the department an increased awareness of the importance of a research activity in the development of young chemists and the importance of grants to support such activity. In 1955, Mr. Herbert Emigh was hired to supervise the department′s storeroom. The Southwestern Research Institute was established in 1957 to foster industrial consultation by the college′s science faculty, and Dr. Harold Lyons, an analytical chemist, was enticed from industry to be a fourth member of the faculty. In this same time, Dr. Webb left the college, Dr. Helmuth Gilow joined the faculty as a new professor of organic chemistry, and course work in biochemistry was added to the curriculum.
Under the leadership of Dr. Vaughn, the department was approved in 1960 to offer American Chemical Society certification to our graduates and outside support from NSF, NIH, and the Research Corporation began to flow into the department. Dr. Richard Gilliom, a research chemist at Exxon, became the fifth member of the department in 1961. NSF sponsored summer research programs were also in full swing during these years from which dozens of students would profit. The college′s chapter of the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society was established in 1964. The mid-1960s saw extensive renovation of the Science Building and the expansion into the space previously occupied by the departments of biology and physics, which had moved to the new Frazier Jelke Science Center. New hoods were added to the freshman laboratory, and new desks were added to the physical chemistry laboratory. A new micro-analytical laboratory which was air conditioned was developed as was a new instrument laboratory for a burgeoning array of biochemistry equipment. With a generous gift in memory of Dr. Berthold S. Kennedy and a substantial grant from the Research Corporation, the department was able to both refurbish the space planned for it in 1925 and add major instrumentation such as a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer and a mass spectrometer to it holdings. In 1966 the Chemical Biology major, a bridged major, was developed, and in 1968, Dr. Richard Olcott joined the faculty.
The 1970s were a time of particular transition for the department′s faculty. Dr. Olcott left, Dr. Vaughn died, and both Dr. Moose and Mr. Emigh retired. Dr. Robert Mortimer and Dr. David Jeter both became associated with the department as did Dr. Harlie Parish, whose position was that of a research associate, Mr. Steve Glover, the storeroom supervisor, and Ms. Anne McAuley, the departmental secretary. Grants from NSF and the Research Corporation continued to flow into the department along with new instrumentation, and new courses were offered in both organic chemistry and physical chemistry.
In 1984, the name of the college was changed to Rhodes College after many years as Southwestern at Memphis and a succession of events moved the department ahead in a substantial way. In the same year, Ms. Evelena Grant became the department′s secretary. In response to changes in student interest, the Chemical Biology major was replaced in 1985 by a biochemistry track wholly within the department. A second course in biochemistry was added, and Dr. Lyons was able to direct his entire attention into this area since Dr. Kevin Ogle was hired as the department′s analytical chemist. With a successful request to the NSF, Dr. Ogle was able to move the department into the era of Fourier transform instrumentation with the acquisition of an FTIR in 1988. In 1989 both Dr. Lyons and Dr. Gilliom retired from the faculty. Mr. Jeff Goode joined the department as storeroom supervisor in 1989 upon the departure of Mr. Glover.
In 1990 the Kresge Foundation offered the college a substantial grant dependent upon the collection of an equivalent amount of money to buy instrumentation for science and upon the establishment of a $1.5 million endowment to support the maintenance of the college′s scientific equipment. In successfully meeting this challenge the college made it possible for the department to obtain FTNMR capabilities and to underwrite the department′s instrument maintenance needs. The Hendrick Endowment was established in 1996 in memory of alumnus Michael Hendrick and will be used to support summer research opportunities for students. In respect to faculty, Dr. Darlene Loprete was hired to be the department′s biochemist and Dr. Bradford Pendley joined the department subsequent to the departure of Dr. Ogle. In May of 1997, Dr. Gilow retired. Dr. Andrea Works joined the faculty in the fall of that year. Also in 1997, the department was able, through the efforts of Dr. Pendley, to obtain new instrumentation both in GC-mass spectrometry and atomic absorption, and Dr. Mortimer introduced a substantial computer modeling component into the physical chemistry course. In the spring of 1998, Dr. Pendley was named to be the first holder of the James H. Daughdrill, Jr. Chair in the Natural Sciences. After a year of planning, the general laboratory, the organic laboratory and the analytical/biochemistry laboratory were completely renovated in the summer of 1999 at an expense in excess of $1.3 million.
In the fall of 2000, Dr. Richard Redfearn joined the faculty subsequent to the departure of Dr. Works. Dr. Redfearn came from industry and has brought a substantial expertise in polymer chemistry to the department.