Historic late-19th Century photo of Belmont College

Belmont History

The history of Belmont University is a story of determination, commitment and faith.

In 1890, two school principals from Philadelphia founded a school to help female students find their voices at a time when women were expected to be quiet.

The school that Susan L. Heron and Ida B. Hood launched has grown and evolved in countless ways in the 130-plus years since then, but the founders’ mission of empowering students to find their purpose remains strong to this day.

Belief: 125 Years of Belmont University

Belmont Through the Years


Susan L. Heron and Ida B. Hood choose the antebellum former Belle Monte estate site as the grounds for what is now known as Belmont University. The Bell Tower, Belmont’s now-famous cornerstone, inspired the duo to move forward despite the property’s dilapidated condition. 

September 4, 1890 

Belmont College for Young Women opens, bucking the traditional trend of sending girls to finishing schools by empowering students to lead lives of purpose through cultural, intellectual and social learning. 90 students enroll the first year, paying $60 in tuition. 


Heron and Hood retire. Belmont College merges with Nashville’s prestigious Ward Seminary for Young Ladies to form Ward-Belmont College. 


Ward-Belmont becomes home to the production of Nashville’s first radio broadcast — a concert by pianist Philip Gordon before a live audience of Ward-Belmont students and their families. 

November 17, 1934 

In the wake of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visits campus with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Classes are suspended, and students welcome the presidential brigade to campus. 

Late 1950 

Facing debt and intimidating endowment requirements, Ward-Belmont’s board begins looking for new funding options. 

February 27, 1951 

The executive board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention unanimously votes to purchase Ward-Belmont’s property. 

Spring, 1951 

Ward-Belmont becomes a coeducational, four-year institution, and the former Ward-Belmont preparatory school moves to a 26-acre estate across town. Enrolling 161 girls during its first year, the school later becomes Harpeth Hall, one of the finest schools for girls in the nation. 

May 1951 

The newly appointed board of trustees chooses a new name for the school: Belmont College. 

April 27, 1959 

Dr. Herbert Gabhart, pastor of McLean Boulevard Baptist Church in Memphis, accepts an offer to become Belmont’s next president. 

March 11, 1965 

Belmont’s board unanimously passes a recommendation to admit any student who meets requirements, regardless of race. President Gabhart signs the Certification of Assurance of Compliance with Provisions of Civil Rights Act of 1964. 


Construction begins on an auditorium and fine arts center. Thanks to a gift of $250,000, Nashville businessman and philanthropist Jack C. Massey earns naming rights. At the dedication, Massey announces his desire to also fund a state-of-the-art business program at Belmont. 


Coach Betty Wiseman launches Belmont’s Women’s Basketball Program, the first of its kind in the south. 

Spring 1970 

Fannie Delores Valree is the first African American student to graduate from Belmont College, earning a Bachelor of Science degree. 


Based on a suggestion from music legend Roy Acuff, Professor Robert E. Mulloy starts teaching an Introduction to Music Business course — and the school’s music business program is born. 

December 1972 

A fire destroys Blanton Hall, a cornerstone of the campus, along with registrar records, in-progress faculty dissertations and the College’s library. Damages are estimated at $2 million. 


Dr. Gabhart retires as president of Belmont College and moves into the position of chancellor, one he would serve in for 27 more years. During his time as president, enrollment grew from 365 to more than 2,000, and the budget grew from $480,000 to $8 million. Dr. Bill Troutt, Belmont College executive vice president, steps into the role of president after Dr. Gabhart’s retirement, making him the youngest college president in the U.S. 


The Bell Tower’s carillon bells return to campus after having been sold years earlier for desperately needed funds. Faculty, staff, students and neighbors gather to welcome the bells back home. 


Belmont College becomes Belmont University. 


Belmont officially becomes a member of NCAA Division I, thanks to President Troutt’s efforts to gain wider recognition for the University’s athletic programs. 


Dr. Bob Fisher is hired as president after a successful career in higher education as a vice president, professor and economist. 


Songwriter, producer and record company owner Mike Curb helps establish the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business, the University’s biggest college.  

Thanks to Curb’s support, Belmont opens the Beaman Student Life Center, Curb Event Center and Maddox Grand Atrium, a $52 million, three-building athletic and student life complex that illustrates Belmont’s commitment to the student experience, both in and out of the classroom. 


The Gordon E. Inman Center opens. The $22.5 million facility is home to Belmont’s nursing, social work, occupational therapy and physical therapy programs.  

April 2007 

Belmont announces it will open a School of Pharmacy and welcomes its inaugural class of 75 students in fall 2008.  

November 2007 

A lawsuit between Belmont and the Tennessee Baptist Convention reaches a resolution. With the settlement, Belmont honors its Baptist heritage but steps forward as an independent, ecumenical Christian university with no denominational ties. 

October 7, 2008 

Belmont hosts Senators John McCain and Barack Obama in the 2008 Town Hall Presidential Debate. The debate, moderated by NBC News’ Tom Brokaw, generated considerable attention from national and international media. 

October 7, 2009 

Belmont announces its intention to open a College of Law, the first newly accredited law school in Middle Tennessee in nearly 100 years. 

September 2010 

Belmont opens McWhorter Hall, a 90,000-square-foot building to house the Schools of Pharmacy and Physical Therapy as well as the Department of Psychological Science. 


Belmont funds the renovation of the historic E.S. Rose Park. A shared facility for use by Metro Schools, the Easley Center, the community and Belmont, Rose Park serves as a constant reminder of the University’s strong ties with the community. 

August 2012 

Belmont opens the 75,000-square-foot Randall and Sadie Baskin Center, providing a new home for the College of Law in its second year of classes. 

March 2013 

The Bridges to Belmont program launches with the goal of enrolling 26 high-potential students from Metro Nashville Public Schools who otherwise may not have been able to consider Belmont an option. The program expands to include 30 Bridges Scholars in December. 

February 10, 2014 

Following the renovation of an original club house, the Foutch Alumni House opens to welcome graduates home to campus. 

August 2014 

The Janet Ayers Academic Center opens as a five-story, 186,000-square-foot building, home to three Belmont colleges and the campus’s first chapel, named in honor of former University president Dr. Herbert C. Gabhart.  

In 2016, the building is named in honor of The Ayers Foundation’s $15 million donation, the largest single donation in Belmont’s 125-year history. The eight-figure endowed scholarship gift stems from the passion for education of Ayers Foundation President Janet Ayers and Founder Jim Ayers and is used toward scholarships for qualified Belmont students based on financial need. 

August 2015 

Belmont opens the four-story, 116,000-square-foot R. Milton and Denice Johnson Center to house Harrington Place Dining and several academic programs, including music business, motion pictures and media studies, among others.  

February 2018 

Belmont and O’More College of Design announce they will combine efforts to serve the next generation of designers, with Belmont acquiring O’More. Belmont announces a distinct O’More College of Architecture and Design in 2019 after launching Middle Tennessee’s first Bachelor of Architecture degree. 

April 2018 

The Davis Cup, an international tennis competition event, is hosted on campus, bringing worldwide attention to Belmont. 

April 2019 

Rick Byrd retires after 33 seasons as head coach of the Belmont Men’s Basketball team. Byrd leaves with eight NCAA Tournament appearances for Belmont and 805 career victories, which puts him 12th all-time among NCAA Division 1 head coaches. 

January 2020 

Belmont and Watkins College of Art announce their intent to merge in the fall, creating the Watkins College of Art at Belmont. 

October 15, 2020 

Belmont announces its intent to start a new College of Medicine. In May 2021, the University announces that the College of Medicine would be named in honor of health care icon Thomas F. Frist, Jr. 

October 22, 2020 

Belmont hosts the second and final meeting of 2020 presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden, drawing millions of eyes around the world to Belmont and the city of Nashville while giving citizens an up-close perspective on a historic election. 

May 2021 

Belmont President Dr. Bob Fisher retires after more than two decades of service to the University. Fisher’s tenure shaped Belmont into a nationally recognized, premier institution, leading the campus through extraordinary development with more than $1 billion invested in new construction, renovations and property acquisitions. The expansion was needed to serve the nearly tripled enrollment under his presidency, which makes Belmont the country’s largest ecumenical Christian university. 

May 2021 

The Crockett Center for Athletic Excellence opens as the primary training facility for Belmont’s nationally regarded men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball programs. 

June 1, 2021 

Dr. Greg Jones becomes president of Belmont University. The former dean of Duke Divinity School and provost and executive vice president of Baylor University, President Jones is a celebrated speaker, author, educator and business leader who is dedicated to forming leaders of character who are committed to helping people and communities flourish. 

August 2021 

Belmont announces the launch of the Belmont Data Collaborative, investing $60 million over five years to provide industries, corporations and nonprofits with resources to navigate a data-driven world. 

September 2021 

The University opens the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, a $180 million multifunctional facility designed with a vision to be the best performance venue on any college campus in the world.  

October 2021 

Belmont announces the Bridges to Belmont initiative will expand from 34 students annually to reach 50 students a year, originating from one of 10 different local public high schools. The vision is set for the program's future to continue expanding to inviting applicants from all public and charter schools in the greater Nashville area. This is thanks, in part, to the $10 million endowment to support the initiative, created in 2015 by retired HCA Healthcare CEO/chairman, Belmont alumnus and Belmont Board Chair Milton Johnson and his wife Denice. 

Spring 2022 

The Belmont Women’s Basketball team advances to the second round of the 2022 Division I Women’s NCAA Tournament, becoming only the second program to win NCAA Tournament games in consecutive seasons as a No. 12 seed or lower. 


The University launches Belmont Innovation Labs, focused on equipping people and organizations with the tools to design, develop and deploy collaborative responses to the world’s most pressing social and community challenges. Belmont and the Innovation Labs host the University’s inaugural Hope Summit in October, a multi-day event focused on innovation and creativity to help regions thrive. 

Fall 2022 

Belmont Athletics begins competition in the Missouri Valley Conference, after having won 67 conference championships and 50 NCAA Tournament appearances (team and individual). 

August 2023 

Belmont opens the six-story Jack C. Massey Center, serving as the University’s new “front door,” thanks to a $15 million gift from the Jack C. Massey Foundation and Mr. Massey’s daughter, Barbara Massey Rogers, after whom the previous Massey Center was renamed.  

October 2023 

The Thomas F. Frist, Jr. College of Medicine earns preliminary accreditation from its accrediting body, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, allowing the College to begin recruiting students. Applications open in early November for the College’s inaugural class of 50, which matriculate in July 2024.   

December 2023 

Belmont receives $32 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. that will fund nationwide initiative in Christianity and the arts, supporting efforts to inspire people from all walks of life to discover and live the beauty and wisdom of Christian faith and encounter God through the arts. 


Nationally recognized for high-quality academic programs and an innovative approach, Belmont is furthering its efforts to become the leading Christ-centered university in the world. With more than 115 areas of undergraduate study, 41 master’s programs and five doctoral degrees and nearly 9,000 students from every state and more than 33 countries, Belmont aims to produce leaders who will radically champion the pursuit of a life abundant for all people.