Southwestern University

Our History

In 1835, Colonel William B. Travis penned a letter to the New York Christian Advocate calling for the establishment of a Methodist presence in the new Republic of Texas. Five years later, in 1840, the first of Southwestern’s four root colleges was born from the vision of Methodist missionary Martin Ruter.

A Texas First

Not only was Southwestern the first institution of higher learning in Texas, but through the years, we have experienced several other firsts as well:

  • Hosting the first homecoming on record. Homecoming
  • Defeating UT-Austin in the first college baseball game played in the state.
  • Graduating three of the first five Rhodes Scholars in Texas.
  • Founding the first student literary journal in the state.
  • Legendary folklorist and author J. Frank Dobie graduated in 1910 and went on to national acclaim.
  • Establishing the nation’s first chapter of Alpha Chi, in 1922, growing out of a Scholarship Society.

During World War II, Southwestern prospered through participation in the Navy’s V-12 program, and later, by eliminating its graduate programs and concentrating on the liberal arts and sciences and the education of undergraduates only.

As the University’s reputation grew, so did its enrollment, which reached 1,000 students by 1978. The annual Brown Symposium was established in 1977. By the early 1980s, Southwestern University began to appear in national college guidebooks, and in 1988, U.S. News & World Report named Southwestern the top regional liberal-arts college in the nation; more recently, it has included Southwestern among its more competitive National Liberal Arts College category.

Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, the physical campus saw many changes, including the construction of new residence halls, academic buildings, a new campus center, and a new building to house the Offices of Admission and Financial Aid. Additions were also added to the library, the fine arts building, and the science building. Renovations were made to numerous additional buildings.

Financially, Southwestern was the beneficiary of The Brown Foundation of Houston, Inc.’s Matching Challenge, which concluded in 1995 with 34% of alumni participating.

Athletics changed dramatically through the years as well. In the fall of 1993, all of Southwestern’s varsity athletics teams joined the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference and became fully participating members of the NCAA Division III. The number of varsity teams grew to 20 over the years, with football being reinstated in fall 2013 and a women’s lacrosse team added in spring 2014.

Of many significant milestones, receiving a Phi Beta Kappa national honor society charter in 1995 is particularly noteworthy for its rarity and prestige.

In addition, in the most recent four decades, Southwestern has inaugurated three new presidents: Roy B. Shilling Jr. (1981–2000); Jake B. Schrum ’68 (2000–2013); Edward B. Burger (July 2013–December 2019); and Laura Skandera Trombley (July 2020–present). 

Read more about Southwestern’s history in “Duty and Doctrine: The Origin Story of Southwestern University.”