Knoxville College was founded in 1875 as part of the missionary effort of the United Presbyterian Church of North America to promote religious, moral, and educational leadership among the freed men and women. Its mission today is a direct outgrowth of the purpose of its founding.
Knoxville College opened as a normal school for the training of teachers, but was designated a college in 1877. Dr. John Schouller McCulloch, who had been a chaplain in the Civil War, was called as the College’s first president. The school offered teacher training and full college courses in classics, science, and theology. There were classes in agriculture, industrial arts, and medicine (1895-1900). After the erection of its first building, McKee Hall (the administration building) in 1876, students helped construct most of the other buildings on campus. Wallace Hall (1891) and McMillan Chapel (1913) were built with student labor. A former student, William Thomas Jones, designed McMillan Chapel. Most of the bricks for these buildings were made by students at the campus brickyard. In 1904, students made and used or sold one million bricks. The College also owned some timberland (given to the school by a former student) which was used for its lumber needs.
Since there were so few blacks in the early days that prepared for higher education; Knoxville College initially offered classes from first grade through college level. The elementary department was discontinued during the 1926-27 school years, and the high school, or academy, was dropped in 1931.
Between 1902 and 1912, the State of Tennessee contributed to the financial support of the College’s agricultural, industrial and mechanical departments. This arrangement lasted until the State established Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial College in Nashville. Gradually, other areas of general and specialized training were discontinued, until by 1931, Knoxville College had become a liberal arts institution.
As a work college, Knoxville College guarantees financial resources for all students while preparing them for responsible roles in society. The College is entrepreneurial, collaborative, and emphasizes commitment to social justice and civic involvement.