Milestone: Rhodes College’s Name Turns Forty

image of sign in front of Rhodes College building

Rhodes College has undergone several name changes since its founding in 1848, reflecting the growth and expanding mission of the college. On July 1, 1984, it took on its current name to honor Dr. Peyton Nalle Rhodes, who served as president from 1949 to 1965.

The college had been known as Southwestern at Memphis since 1945, and the Board of Trustees began considering a name change in 1984, partly to differentiate it from the many other colleges and universities named Southwestern and to expand the college’s national reputation.

Image of Dr. Peyton N. Rhodes sitting in a chair
Dr. Peyton Nalle Rhodes

According to archival information: Several months of research and intense, not to say heated, discussion ensued. All elements of the college community were invited to participate in the process—alumni, students, faculty, and friends. Comments and suggestions were solicited, then the responses were reviewed by a committee, representing the various constituencies, who made a recommendation to the Board. When Board chairman Frank M. Mitchener announced that the college was to be named in honor of former President Peyton Nalle Rhodes, he said, “By their action the Trustees have chosen to link the spirit of this college with the inspiration of the man who has helped to give it life for over half a century.”

Rhodes joined the faculty in 1926 as a physics professor, became vice president in 1944, and then president in 1949. During his tenure as president, he established a chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa honor society on campus, oversaw the construction of 10 major buildings (including Burrow Library, Mallory Gymnasium, and the Halliburton Tower), increased enrollment, and nearly doubled the college’s financial assets.

image of Rhodes College Sign in 1984
Rhodes College sign in 1984

Even after retiring from the college in 1965,  Rhodes continued to serve when needed, acting as vice president, dean, and a consultant for construction of the Frazier Jelke Science Center.

For the 2023-24 academic year, Rhodes enrolled 1,872 undergraduate students representing 48 states and 31 countries.