Rhodes College Celebrates 175 Years

image of Rhodes College 175th Anniversary Banners

Rhodes College marks its 175th anniversary this year and is celebrating with a full schedule of events as it reflects on its liberal arts and sciences history and embarks on a future that will continue to inspire students, transform lives, graduate trailblazers, and advance the college’s national and international stature.

As part of the celebration, the inauguration of the 21st president of Rhodes College, Jennifer M. Collins, will take place Oct. 21 at 9:30 a.m. in the Bryan Campus Life Center.

W.F. Hopkins is listed first on the roster of presidents who have led the college, which was originally located in Clarksville, TN. It began as Masonic University of Tennessee in 1848, after Clarksville Male Academy conveyed its property to the Masonic Grand Lodge of Tennessee.

The Castle, the college’s first permanent building, was completed in 1850 and described as an elegant structure in Elizabethan architecture, arresting the attention of those passing by. In 1855, the college was renamed Stewart College in honor of then-president William M. Stewart. Under his leadership, the college became affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, an affiliation that continues to this day.

It was in 1925 under the leadership of Charles E. Diehl that the college moved to its current Memphis location. Diehl is reported to have said this about the selection of the Collegiate Gothic architectural style for the new campus: “Genuineness is characteristic of the heart of this institution, and we wanted this note sounded everywhere, even in the construction of the physical plant. It was to be enduring, for we were building for generations to come. It was to be beautiful, for the aesthetic side of man’s nature is important and a college of liberal culture dare not overlook it . . . .”

Among the treasures brought from the Clarksville campus to Memphis was the bell that had summoned students to classes throughout the day and oak seedlings that have grown to become today’s majestic Oak Alley. The bell—and not to be confused with the Halliburton Tower bell—currently hangs over the dining hall. The Honor System was one of the institutions brought from the Clarksville campus.

As in any enduring story, the college has had numerous chapters and changing circumstances, and with those changes have come the college’s different names, including Montgomery Masonic College, Southwestern Presbyterian University, and Southwestern at Memphis. In 1984, Rhodes was renamed to honor Petyon Nalle Rhodes, who served as president from 1949 to 1965.

When turning the pages of the college’s history, one can note many firsts and defining moments, from the first football game against rival Sewanee in 1899 to the opening of the newest East Village residence hall in 2023. Other notable events include the first interdisciplinary course, Man in the Light of History and Religion, established in 1945; the Halliburton Tower, dedicated in 1962; the Bonner Scholars program, established in 1992; the M.S. in Accounting program, established in 1993; the Mike Curb Institute for Music, founded in 2006; the Clarence Day Scholarship Program for talented students from Shelby County, launched in 2011; and the Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center, established in 2017. The campus has continued to grow, adding residence halls and academic buildings, including the Paul Barret, Jr. Library in 2005 and Robertson Hall in 2017. Each new building has continued to fulfill Diehl’s vision of a residential college in the Collegiate Gothic design, using the same Arkansas fieldstone, Indiana limestone, and Vermont slate as the first building on campus.

Today, Rhodes students—more than 2,000 representing 45 states and 63 countries—engage with the culture, community members, and global industries of the major metropolitan city of Memphis through service and internship opportunities, in addition to exploring the world through study abroad. Rhodes has become a place like no other, where students meet the demands of rigorous academics, work with faculty mentors on research and creative activities, discover and cultivate lifelong passions, and make a positive difference wherever their journeys take them.

And this student success has been enhanced thanks to the support of faculty and staff, alumni, trustees, donors, and college partners in varied fields, from healthcare to government to the arts. The banners hanging high at the college’s entrance on University Street welcome the community to join the celebration of Rhodes’ 175th anniversary.

For event information, favorite memories, courses related to the anniversary, and other updates, visit Rhodes Celebrates 175 Years, and let’s celebrate!