[Black History] A Brief History of Tennessee State University

Tennessee State University is a comprehensive urban coeducational land-grant university founded in 1912 in Nashville, Tenn. The 500-acre main campus, with more than 65 buildings, is located in a residential setting; the Avon Williams Campus is located downtown, near the center of the Nashville business and government district.

Through successive stages, TSU has developed from a normal school for Negroes to its current status as a national university with students from 42 states and 45 countries. The present-day Tennessee State University exists as a result of the merger on July 1, 1979, of Tennessee State University and the former University of Tennessee at Nashville.

By virtue of a 1909 Act of the General Assembly, the Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School was created, along with two other normal schools in the State of Tennessee, and began serving students on June 19, 1912. William Jasper Hale was appointed as head of the school. The original 247 students, along with the faculty and staff, operated as a family. Everyone worked to keep the institution running in its early years, from clearing rocks to harvesting crops to carrying chairs from class to class.

In 1922, the institution was raised to the status of four-year teachers’ college and was empowered to grant the bachelor’s degree. The first degrees were granted in June 1924. During the same year, the institution became known as the Agricultural and Industrial State Normal College. In 1927, “Normal” was dropped from the name of the college.

As the college grew in scope and stature throughout the 1920s and 1930s, so too did its impressive roster of alumni who embodied the school’s charge: “Enter to learn; go forth to serve.” In 1943, when William Hale retired after more than 30 years at the school’s helm, an alumnus was chosen to succeed him. From 1943 until his retirement in 1968, Walter S. Davis led the institution through an era of tremendous growth, in areas as multifaceted as academics, facilities, and worldwide recognition.

The university (then known as Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State University) was elevated to full-fledged land-grant university status by approval of the State Board of Education in August 1958. The Land-Grant University Program, as approved by the State Board of Education, included: the School of Agriculture & Home Economics, the Graduate School, the Division of Extension and Continuing Education, and the Department of Aerospace Studies. The School of Allied Health Professions and the School of Business were created in 1974. In addition, the School of Nursing was established in 1979. Currently, TSU consists of five colleges, three schools, and the Institute of Government: The College of Arts & Sciences; the College of Business; the College of Education; the College of Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science; the College of Health Sciences; the School of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences; the School of Nursing; the School of Graduate Studies and Research; and, as mentioned, the Institute of Government.

In 1968, Andrew Torrence, also an alumnus, was named the university’s third president. It was during his relatively brief tenure that the state legislature formally dropped “Agricultural & Industrial” from the university’s name, which became Tennessee State University. Also, one of the most significant events of the Torrence presidency would not be fully resolved or have its impact felt for decades to come.

The TSU of today offers 45 bachelor’s degrees and 24 master’s degrees and awards doctoral degrees in seven areas: biological sciences, computer information systems engineering, psychology, public administration, curriculum and instruction, administration and supervision, and physical therapy.

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