Carson-Newman University is a four-year liberal arts institution located in Jefferson City. It traces its roots to the founding of the Mossy Creek Baptist Seminary, which opened its doors for the first session in September 1851. Reverend William Rogers served as the first president of the institution. The curriculum included courses in Latin, Greek, literature, philosophy, morals, mathematics, history, and natural sciences. In 1855 the seminary conferred a baccalaureate degree on its first graduate, Richard Scruggs, who later became a physician. In 1856 the institution changed its name to Mossy Creek Baptist College. In 1859 the graduating class had six members, and the 1860 class numbered thirteen.
In June 1862 the college closed during the Civil War. Not only was it located in a highly contested area, but most of its students had enlisted in the army. During the next three years, Federal troops occupied the campus and destroyed the buildings. When the college reopened in 1868, its officials filed a claim for damages against the Federal government. In 1896 the institution finally received six thousand dollars in compensation.
By 1870 enrollment had increased to 100 men. In January 1880 the school changed its name to Carson College to honor J. H. Carson of Dandridge, a longtime trustee and benefactor. In 1889, the trustees of Carson College and the trustees of nearby Newman College for Women (established in 1878) agreed to merge the two institutions. To celebrate, the men of Carson College–including future Tennessee governor Ben W. Hooper–marched to the grounds of Newman College and staged a mock wedding. Townspeople, students, and faculty of both colleges looked on as the two institutions were united in “matrimony.”
With more than fifty majors and special programs, Carson-Newman provides a superior educational and social experience in a Christian atmosphere for approximately 2,200 students from across the United States and various countries. Carson-Newman students excel in music, religion, business, biology, chemistry, education, nursing, psychology, history, and social sciences. In addition to the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees, Carson-Newman offers graduate degrees in nursing, counseling, and education. In 2001 Carson-Newman received recognition as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the South. The college also excels in the athletic field, winning the NAIA National Baseball Championship in 1965 and five NAIA National Football Championships (1983, 1984, 1986, 1988, and 1989).
As many as six succeeding generations of families have received their education at Carson-Newman and contributed to its rich tradition. Dr. James S. Netherton was named college president in December 1999, replacing Dr. Cordell Maddox who had served as the president of Carson-Newman since 1977. In 2008, J. Randall O’Brien became the 22nd president of the school.
In 2013, the school changed its name from Carson-Newman College to Carson-Newman University.