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Digital Collections : Simmons College of Kentucky Collection

Simmons College of Kentucky History

The predecessors of Simmons College of Kentucky date to 1879, when the General Association of Colored Baptists in Kentucky (now called the General Association of Kentucky Baptists) opened the Kentucky Normal and Theological Institute on a 2.5 acre plot at Seventh and Kentucky streets in Louisville, installing E. P. Marrs as the first president. By 1881-1882 the Normal and Theological Institute catalogue listed a new president, William J. Simmons, who would ultimately serve as the institution's namesake.

The school encouraged a spirit of egalitarianism by forbidding women to wear expensive attire, encouraging students to work, requiring everyone to contribute to the upkeep of the building and grounds, controlling spending money through the president, and directing all gift packages of food to the common dining table. Female students were given a very specific list of suggested articles to pack for school in order to avoid students' clothing showing their economic status.

During the previous academic year, the school had attracted 157 students, mostly from Kentucky. The catalogue named a staff of 139 including administrators, faculty, a matron, a steward, and student teachers. The University included a model school, a normal school, an academic department, and theological training. Classes were offered in theology, Greek, mathematics, Latin, English, and vocal and instrumental music. The school and the Association boasted of good relations with white Baptists in Kentucky and white people generally in Louisville. The General Association considered its school "the chief illuminator of the Baptist horizons."

Renamed State University in 1884, the school was coeducational and not exclusively academic in its offerings. In 1883-1884 the catalogue reported an industrial department with 21 students taking classes in sewing, crocheting, knitting, embroidery, shoe making, chair caning, cooking, and printing. Other industrial classes introduced in the 1880s included printing, photography, telegraphy, and carpeting.

During its first decade of existence the University also offered classes in business, missionary and social work, music, law (awarding LL.B. and LL.M. degrees through Central Law School), and a correspondence course for ministers. State University also offered a medical course through the Louisville National Medical College. Many of the faculty members were local doctors with offices around the Walnut Street (now Muhammad Ali Boulevard) area, west of Sixth, which was the black business district at the time. According to the 1907-1908 school catalogue, the Louisville National Medical College was "the only medical school in the world" managed "entirely by colored men," which the writer considered "a crucial test of their ability to successfully direct such an enterprise." The medical school operated the Citizens National Medical Hospital at 112 West Green (now Liberty) Street. The 1918-1919 catalogue of State University reported that the Louisville National Medical College had closed "for lack of funds to meet the State requirements" after 25 years of operation and having graduated 125 physicians.

Although many State University faculty members held advanced degrees from black universities in the South and from integrated schools in the North or in Europe, an unusual number were graduates of the school at which they later taught. From the beginnings State University included a theological department, which trained some of the outstanding Baptist preachers of Kentucky, including Charles Henry Parrish, Sr., president of the school from 1918 to 1931. It was under his administration, in 1919, that the name of State University changed to Simmons University in honor of William J. Simmons. Parrish's son, Charles Henry Parrish, Jr., also attended and subsequently taught at Simmons University, the Louisville Municipal College for Negroes, and finally at the University of Louisville.

Simmons University, as it had operated for over fifty years, ceased to exist during the early 1930s. The school's property was sold to the University of Louisville, which opened the Louisville Municipal College for Negroes (later called the Louisville Municipal College of the University of Louisville) there in 1931. The Municipal College offered undergraduate degrees in the arts and sciences until the University of Louisville was integrated on all levels and the segregated division closed in 1951. Meanwhile, Simmons University moved to Eighteenth and Dumesnil streets, where it became Simmons Bible College and continued to offer a theological course. Although no official kinship existed between the old Simmons University and the new Louisville Municipal College, the segregated division of UofL took up some of the non-theological courses previously taught at Simmons, and, along with Kentucky State College in Frankfort, provided the only undergraduate education available for blacks in the state of Kentucky until the integration of undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville during the late-1940s and early 1950s. The change of name from Simmons University to Simmons Bible College occurred in 1982. In 2007, the college instituted a new curriculum to reestablish itself as a liberal arts college and took on the name of Simmons College of Kentucky.

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