Founded in 1877, Philander Smith College is the result of the first attempt west of the Mississippi River to make education available to freedmen (former African American slaves). The forerunner of the college was Walden Seminary, named in honor of Dr. J.M. Walden, one of the originators and the first corresponding secretary of the Freedmen's Aid Society.
In 1882, Dr. G.W. Gray, president of Little Rock University, the institution for the Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, met Mrs. Adeline Smith, widow of Mr. Philander Smith of Oak Park, Ill., while soliciting funds. The late Philander Smith had been a liberal donor to Asiatic Missions and had developed an interest in the work of the church in the South. In making her gift to Dr. Gray, Mrs. Smith designated $10,500 for Walden Seminary. The trustees accepted the gift and gave it special recognition by changing the name of the struggling Walden Seminary to Philander Smith College. A new site for the school had already been purchased at Eleventh and Izard Streets. The gift made by Mrs. Smith was a significant contribution towards the construction of Budlong Hall, the first brick building on the new site.
Philander Smith College was chartered as a four-year college on March 3, 1883. The first baccalaureate degree was conferred in 1888. The first president, the Rev. Thomas Mason, resigned in 1896. He was succeeded by a member of the faculty of the college, the Rev. James Monroe Cox, professor of ancient languages. Dr. Cox retired from the presidency of the college in 1924, and was succeeded by the Rev. George Collins Taylor, a graduate of the college. Dr. Taylor served as president from 1924 to 1936.
In May 1936, Dr. Marquis LaFayette Harris succeeded Dr. Taylor as president. During the administration of Dr. Harris, the campus area was greatly enlarged. In July 1948 the site of the Little Rock Junior College, adjacent to the South end of Philander Smith's campus, was purchased. On March 30, 1949, after an extensive program of academic improvement, Philander Smith College was fully accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Dr. Harris was succeeded by Dr. Roosevelt David Crockett, a graduate of the institution, on June 1, 1961.
Dr. Earnest Dixon, Philander Smith's sixth president, took office Jan. 1, 1965. He was succeeded by Dr. Walter R. Hazzard, who took office as the seventh president of the college on July 1, 1969. Dr. Hazzard was succeeded by Dr. Grant S. Shockley who took office as the eighth president on Jan. 1, 1980. Dr. Shockley was succeeded by Dr. Hazo W. Carter, whowas elected unanimously July 19, 1983 by the Board of Trustees, and took office Aug. 20, 1983.
Dr. Carter resigned the presidency in August 1987. He was succeeded by Dr. Myer L. Titus, a 1954 graduate of the institution. Upon Dr. Titus's retirement on June 30, 1998, Dr. Trudie Kibbe Reed was elected by the Board of Trustees in February 1998, becoming the eleventh and first woman president of Philander Smith College.
In the summer of 2004, in the wake of Dr. Reed's resignation, Dr. Julius Scott was appointed as Interim President by the Board of Trustees.
In October 2004, the Board announced the selection of Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough as the 12th president. Kimbrough took office on Dec. 13, 2004 and served until spring 2012 when Dr. Johnny Moore, a 1989 graduate of Philander Smith College, was named as the 13th president.
Upon Dr. Moore's February 2014 resignation of the presidency, Dr. Lloyd E. Hervey, a 1968 graduate of the College, was named Interim President. Philander Smith College Board of Trustees has selected Roderick L. Smothers, Ph.D., currently vice president of advancement at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, as its 14th president.