Rhodes had its origin in the Clarksville Academy, founded in 1837. The Academy conveyed its property in 1848 to the Masonic Grand Lodge of Tennessee and was merged into the new Masonic University of Tennessee, a degree-granting institution of higher education located in Clarksville, Tennessee. This institution became Montgomery Masonic College in 1850, and in 1855 its name was again changed, to Stewart College, in honor of its president, William M. Stewart. Under President Stewart’s leadership the operation of the College passed from the Masonic Lodge to the Presbyterian Synod of Nashville.
Under the Plan of Union of 1873, the Presbyterian Church reorganized Stewart College after the Reconstruction Era to operate it as the single Presbyterian college for the entire area which was at that time considered to be the Southwest. In 1875 Stewart College became Southwestern Presbyterian University, developing alongside the undergraduate curriculum a School of Theology, under the leadership of Dr. Joseph Wilson, father of Woodrow Wilson. The School of Theology remained in operation until 1917.
Under the leadership of President Charles E. Diehl, the College moved to Memphis in 1925 and adopted as its name Southwestern, denoting a liberal arts college. In 1945, the official college name became Southwestern At Memphis.
On July 1, 1984, the name of the College was changed to Rhodes College in honor of Peyton Nalle Rhodes, president from 1949 to 1965, who joined the faculty in 1926 and served the institution until his death in 1984. John David Alexander served as president from 1965 to 1969; William Lukens Bowden, from 1969 to 1973; and James Harold Daughdrill, Jr., from 1973 to 1999. William Earl Troutt became the nineteenth president of the College on July 1, 1999.
Rhodes Presbyterian History and Liberal Arts Heritage
Rhodes’ relation to the Presbyterian Church has remained close and unbroken since 1855. The most recent expression of the College’s relationship to the Church may be found in a covenant statement between Rhodes and the Church, summarized as follows:
Rhodes is a liberal arts college associated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The College has a covenant relationship with the Synod of Living Waters (Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky). Rhodes, as a church-related college whose primary mission is to educate, guarantees freedom of inquiry for faculty and students. The College, without pressing for acceptance, maintains a climate in which the Christian faith is nurtured. The curriculum includes a variety of courses in Bible and religion that explore the Judeo-Christian heritage and its implications for the whole of life. Students are required to study the Bible and its relationship with history and culture as a part of their college work. As an academic community founded on Christian ideals, Rhodes expresses personal concern for students, provides opportunities for corporate worship, and maintains a commitment to social justice and human mercy.
More specifically, the educational purpose of the College is expressed in its maintenance of an environment for the pursuit of truth in which it is ensured that the Christian faith is clearly articulated, that its formative role in Western civilization is carefully considered, and that honest intellectual and moral questions are articulated and responded to intelligently and sensitively.
This commitment is made clear in a resolution adopted by the Board of Trustees of the College: It is the intention of the Board that the College substantially complies with requiring twelve credits of sound and comprehensive study of the Bible for the granting of a degree. In keeping with this resolution and with the mission of the College, the foundations requirement is structured so that there are two ways available to students to complete this part of the degree program. Students may choose the course The Search for Values in the Light of Western History and Religion or the Life: Then and Now Program.