Owen College was established in 1947 when the Tennessee Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention bought property on Vance Avenue to build a junior college. The school opened in 1954 with 33 students as S. A. Owen Junior College, in honor of a distinguished religious and civic leader. In 1958, Owen College secured accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and offered two-year associate degrees in general education, business, home economics and religious education. Owen students also became involved in Memphis’ civil rights movement; in 1960, a group of students launched sit-ins to desegregate public facilities in the city, including the library. Unfortunately, in the mid-1960’s, Owen College began facing fiscal challenges, including inadequate funding and lower tuition fees at the recently de-segregated Memphis State University. In 1967, Roger Williams Hall was tragically destroyed by fire, resulting in a $500,000 loss and adding to the college’s challenges.
Both LeMoyne College and Owen College had been in discussions about a potential merger and in 1968, both schools joined, symbolically linking their names together.