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History

The making of Lipscomb University started out as an idea, a dream planted by God in the hearts of its founders, David Lipscomb and his friend, James A. Harding.

Harding and Lipscomb (old photo)

Our founders David Lipscomb, right, and James Harding, left.

These college-educated ministers believed in the value of an education infused with faith. As they watched the rapid development of schools and colleges in Nashville, often called the “Athens of the South,” they envisioned a school that was different—one that would instill practical knowledge through a Christian lens.

In the summer and fall of 1889, the two friends spent many long nights at Lipscomb’s farmhouse, developing their vision to establish a school that offered a rigorous and challenging academic education in a Christian context. They did not want it to be a “preacher” school, nor a seminary. Instead, they wanted it to be a place where the most useful academics would be taught alongside Bible study and opportunities for personal interactions with Scripture, rooted in the Church of Christ. This, they believed, was a complete education that would rear graduates who were prepared with wisdom and knowledge to serve their community and the world.

On Oct. 5, 1891, they opened the doors to Nashville Bible School—a bold act of faith by Lipscomb and Harding, who knew their unique approach to education was going against the grain. Even still, Harding declared, “We aspire to stand in the front ranks of the great educational institutions of the world.” 

In time, the school’s focus on faith-based education would directly influence the founding of almost half a dozen other colleges and universities with the same intent.

From that first year which saw only nine students, the school grew quickly. In 1896, it had developed intermediate and primary divisions that together made up Lipscomb Campus Schools, which would later be named Lipscomb Academy. When the student population became too large to fit in the school’s downtown building, Lipscomb and his wife, Margaret, offered their 110-acre farm—where they lived—along Granny White Pike only four miles from the center of town. There, the school found its permanent home in 1903.

Two of the school’s first four buildings are still in use today: Harding Hall, the primary building used for Lipscomb Academy, and Avalon Hall, now used for alumni and lifelong learning programs.

In 1918, one year after the passing of its founder, the school was renamed David Lipscomb College in his memory. 

The following decades were rife with blessings for the institution, but they also saw some harsh challenges. In 1929 and 1930, the school experienced devastating fires to its dormitories. Rebuilding from the tragedies almost sank the institution in debt during the Great Depression, but by the grace of God and through the faith and resiliency of the faculty and students, the school stood firm and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1941.

In the years following, the school experienced tremendous growth. The Lipscomb Expansion Program, launched by the board as a response to returning G.I.s following World War II, took place through the second presidency of Baxell Baxter and the presidencies of Athens Clay Pullias and Willard Collins. The Pullias administration changed the school dramatically, increasing enrollment 875 percent from 221 in 1943, to 2,154 in 1976. Over the same period, the number of buildings on campus grew from five to 31. An organizational structure for the intermediate school was also established and the first director of Lipscomb Campus Schools was appointed. Ending the Collins presidency with a bang was the execution of the Million Dollar Day, a dream Collins had of raising a million dollars in a single day.

Then in 1988, during the presidency of Harold Hazelip, the college was renamed Lipscomb University following its accreditation to award master’s degrees for the first time in its history. Building on Hazelip’s foundation, our 16th president Steve Flatt oversaw degree expansions, the reorganization of academic departments into colleges within the university and a move from NAIA to NCAA Division I athletics.

L. Randolph Lowry, Lipscomb University’s current president, was inaugurated in 2005. Under his leadership, six colleges have been established, one being Middle Tennessee’s first College of Pharmacy, and seven institutes, designed to not only offer academic degrees but to also serve the community through their programs and services. Lowry also oversaw the launch of the university’s first-ever doctoral program, and the renaming of Lipscomb Campus Schools to Lipscomb Academy. In the past decade, the academy has gained its current head of school Greg Glenn, the McAdams Athletic Center and $10 million in gifts for the restructuring of its lower and upper campuses.

Lowry has successfully led the university to raise nearly $200 million through two fundraising campaigns that have greatly advanced Lipscomb’s academic programs and funded construction of numerous facilities such as the Nursing and Health Sciences Center, the Pharmaceutical Sciences Research Center, the Fields Engineering Center and Bison Hall, as well as renovations and improvements of every building on campus. 

The founders’ vision and dream, and their hard work to make that dream a reality, have bore fruit for generations. Lipscomb University has developed into a fast-growing Christian liberal arts institution that started with just nine students in 1891 and now serves more than 4,700 students today. And Lipscomb Academy, which serves children in preschool through the 12th grade, is now the largest private school of its kind in Middle Tennessee and one of only a few in the nation associated with a university.

The vision and heart of David Lipscomb continues to be honored and lived out through the university. Lipscomb was beloved by the city of Nashville, evident at his funeral which saw an outpouring of community members, because of his service to the city. Like the man himself, the institution strongly values service to its community and the world as an act of faith. It’s a place known for developing courageous and confident leaders equipped with practical knowledge and rooted in their spiritual growth, who take on some of the most complex and difficult problems with their innovation and willingness to step out from the crowd. Because of the commitment of its founder and every past president thereafter to boldly follow the plans God placed on their hearts, Lipscomb University plays a vital role today in countless lives, communities and countries around the world. Faith is not only our foundation—it’s our purpose and our future.