Carson-Newman University

From Appalachian Dream to Thriving Educational Community

  • Author(s): Marion, Melody and Amanda Ford
  • Series:
  • Imprint: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2023-06-15
  • Status: Active
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The history of Carson-Newman University, the development of rural Appalachia in the nineteenth century, and the rise of the Baptist faith in the South are all inextricably linked. The 120-acre university known today for its high-value liberal arts education and Christian-focused student life, originally founded as Mossy Creek Missionary Baptist Seminary in 1851, is situated in Jefferson County, Tennessee, amidst the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Baptist leaders sought to develop the rechristened Mossy Creek Baptist College to cater to the growing population of East Tennessee. In 1880, the college was renamed again for James Harvey Carson who left his estate to the institution that would become Carson College. Newman College, a separate facility for women’s education operating alongside the all-male Carson, would merge with the latter in 1889 creating, under a new moniker, one of the first coeducational institutions in the South: Carson-Newman.

In this expertly told history, Melody Marion and Amanda Ford trace the school’s humble beginnings through two dozen presidents; the turmoil of the American Civil War, Reconstruction, and two world wars; and the contemporary scandals that have plagued the Southern Baptist Convention. Carson-Newman’s history is filled with important players, both courageous and corrupt. Many such players fought tirelessly to grow the campus and maintain a level of excellence at Carson-Newman, but the university’s history is dotted with conflict concerning women’s rights, civil rights, presidents whose questionable actions created firestorms of protest and led to their exits, and modern questions related to its Baptist affiliation.

Additionally, Carson-Newman University owes much to its Appalachian heritage, and in an excellent final chapter the authors unpack Carson-Newman’s regional identity past and present. Education in Appalachia historically has fallen behind national standards, but from its start as a seminary through its gender-segregated college days to the integrated orange-and-blue Eagles we know today, the university, with its presidents and academic body has been an agent of demonstrable gain for its students and the region. Today, as new chapters in Carson-Newman’s history are being opened, this text will serve as a record of tradition, world-class education, and lifelong learning within a Christian setting.


MELODY MARION, a Nashville native, earned degrees from Carson-Newman and Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. After a longtime career in editorial work at the Baptist Sunday School Board/Lifeway Christian Resources, she has lived in each of Tennessee’s three Grand Divisions.

AMANDA FORD received her doctorate from the University of Arkansas. Her work has appeared in the International Social Science Review, Encyclopedia of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Encyclopedia of the British Empire.