The merger of LeMoyne College and Owen College in 1968 joined two institutions, which had rich traditions as private, church-related colleges that have historically served Black students, founded and developed to provide higher education to students in the Mid-South area.
LeMoyne Normal and Commercial School opened officially in 1871, but it actually began in 1862 when the American Missionary Association sent Lucinda Humphrey to open an elementary school for freedmen and runaway slaves to Camp Shiloh soon after the occupation of Memphis by federal troops under General Ulysses S. Grant. The School was moved to Memphis in 1863, but was destroyed by fire in the race riots, which followed the withdrawal of federal troops in 1866. Lincoln Chapel, as the school was then known, was rebuilt and reopened in 1867 with 150 students and six teachers, but the small school was beset by financial problems.
In 1870, Dr. Francis J. LeMoyne, a Pennsylvania doctor and abolitionist, donated $20,000 to the American Missionary Association to build an elementary and secondary school for prospective teachers. The first years were difficult ones, primarily, because of the toll that the yellow fever epidemic took on school personnel, but under the leadership of the third principal, Andrew J. Steele, the institution experienced three decades of growth and development.
In 1914, the school was moved from Orleans Street to its present site on Walker Avenue. In that same year, the first building, Steele Hall, was erected on the new campus. LeMoyne developed rapidly; it became a junior college in 1924 and a four-year college in 1930, chartered by the State of Tennessee just four years later.
Owen College began in 1947, when the Tennessee Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention bought property on Vance Avenue to build a junior college. After several years of planning, the school opened in 1954 as S. A. Owen Junior College, named in honor of a distinguished religious and civic leader, but the name was later changed to Owen Junior College. The merger of Owen and LeMoyne Colleges in 1968 joined two religious traditions at the same time that it reinforced the institutions' shared purpose of combining a liberal arts education with career training in a Christian setting.