Paul Quinn College was founded by a small group of African Methodist Episcopal preachers in Austin, Texas on April 4, 1872. The school’s original purpose was to educate freed slaves and their offspring. In 1877, the College moved from Austin to Waco, Texas, and was renamed Waco College. The College was housed in a modest one-building trade school where newly freed slaves were taught the skills of blacksmithing, carpentry, tanning, and saddle work.
Later, under the direction of Bishop William Paul Quinn, A.M.E. districts were developed throughout the South and tasked with raising funds to improve the College. Under Bishop Quinn’s direction, the college expanded its land ownership by purchasing more than twenty acres of property. The College’s curriculum also expanded during this time to include the subjects of Latin, mathematics, music, theology, English, carpentry, sewing, and household, kitchen, and dining room work. In May 1881, the College was chartered by the State of Texas and changed its name to Paul Quinn College in commemoration of the contributions of Bishop William Paul Quinn.
As the value of the College became more apparent, the campus was expanded. New buildings were constructed with capital raised from interested patrons. In 1950, the College experienced a significant phase of physical expansion. A campus church, student union building, gymnasium and administration building were erected between 1950 and 1954. Additionally, major renovations were made to other buildings on the campus.
In spring of 1954, the Waco Chamber of Commerce successfully completed a campaign which raised $100,000 for a new women’s dormitory to replace the one that had been destroyed by fire. In June of 1956, the Reverend John Hurst Adams, then Associate Professor of New Testament and Church History at Payne Theological Seminary at Wilberforce University, was elected President of the College. He succeeded Dr. Frank R. Veal, who resigned to accept the presidency of Allen University in South Carolina.
Bishop O.L. Sherman was assigned to supervise the work of the A.M.E. Church in Texas in 1962. His first official act was to have the Charter of the College changed so that trustees could be elected without regard to race, creed, or color. Because of this significant innovation, some of the most outstanding civic leaders in Central Texas were able to be added to the Board of Trustees. Under the leadership of the Reverend Leon H. McCloney and the work of Bishop Sherman, the College continued to make major improvements well into the 1960’s. During this time, two dormitories, a modern two-story classroom building, a fully equipped science building and a new library building were built.