Bishop College was founded by the Baptist Home Mission Society in 1881 in Marshall, Texas, and relocated to Dallas, Texas, in 1961. The drive to establish a Texas college for black Baptists was originally founded by Nathan Bishop, native of New York, and superintendent of the Providence, Rhode Island, and Boston, Massachusetts, school systems. Ten years earlier Rufus C. Burleson, then president of Baylor University, had contacted Bishop requesting a contribution of $25,000. Bishop agreed but died before sending the money. Later his wife, Carolina Caldwell Bishop, contributed $10,000 to the American Baptist Home Mission Society in order to initiate construction on the school. A selection committee that included the distinguished pastor from the New Hope Baptist Church in Dallas, Rev. Allen R. Griggs, visited several East Texas cities and determined that Marshall was the best location for the school. Local Baptist ministers then raised $1,600, purchased a tract of land from the Holcomb family, and temporarily named the new facility South-Western Baptist College. In 1880 forty additional acres was purchased and donated to the school by Mrs. Bishop. The institution was named Bishop College.
The new college's orientation was primarily religious, but the charter stated that it would "give instruction in literature, science, and the arts" as well. Although always plagued with financial difficulties, Bishop expanded its course offerings. In 1925 the school began a two-year training program for ministers. It elected its first black president, Joseph J. Rhoads, in 1929. That year it discontinued the high school department and received senior rank from the State Board of Education. In 1931 an annual training institute for in-service ministers and lay church workers began. The program was named the Lacy Kirk Williams Institute in 1943. Throughout its history the program attracted the attention of many prestigious clergymen, including Martin Luther King, Sr., and Jesse Jackson. In 1931 Bishop College was given a Class B rating by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and in 1948 was granted Class A accreditation. In 1947 a junior college branch was opened in Dallas, and a graduate program leading to the M.Ed. degree was initiated. The Zale jewelry family (see ZALE JEWELRY CORPORATION) contributed to the library project, and by the 1980s the Zale Library housed more than 130,000 volumes, in addition to collections of federal publications, clippings, and pamphlets, and over 375 periodicals and newspapers.
M. K. Curry, Jr., assumed the presidency in 1952. Under his administration the graduate program in teacher education was terminated, a minimum endowment of $300,000 was raised, the faculty was strengthened, and the Marshall campus was renovated. Plans to move the college were formulated when, in 1957, the Hoblitzelle Foundation (see HOBLITZELLE, KARL ST. JOHN) gave ninety-eight acres in south Dallas for a new campus. Four Baptist conventions joined in the purchase of an additional two-acre plot, and an anonymous gift enlarged the campus by 287 acres in 1964. Initial construction in the multimillion-dollar expansion program on the Dallas campus provided an administration-classroom building, a gymnasium-auditorium, housing facilities, and a fine arts building, converted from the junior college branch. The move to the new campus was accomplished in 1961.
Additional construction included a student center (1962); men's dormitory and married-student apartments, classrooms, an infirmary, service buildings, and a stadium (1963); and a library, chapel, and science building (1964). The college further acquired the Sabine Farms Community Center, twelve miles south of Marshall, and cooperated with various other community-service agencies. Rechartered by the state in 1961, the college reduced the number of trustees but strengthened their power.
The church-related college was nonsectarian and interracial in selection of students and faculty. The college program, emphasizing liberal arts education, included summer sessions and an evening division of adult education. B.A. or B.S. degrees were available in twenty major fields. By 1969 the library contained 75,000 volumes. During the 1974–75 term Bishop College had an enrollment of 1,243 students and a faculty of 100. Curry was still president.
The 1970s also brought problems. In early 1970 the American Association of University Professors blacklisted the school because of the firing of a White professor and the arrest of a number of students who demonstrated against the firing. The AAUP stated that the academic freedom of students and faculty had been seriously infringed. Furthermore, criminal charges of embezzlement were filed against the president and two other employees. Although the president and one of the employees were cleared, enrollment dropped, and the college was unable to meet a large debt owed to the federal government. The debt was restructured several times, but financial problems became worse. In December 1986 the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools revoked Bishop's accreditation and membership in the association. Because of this the college lost its right to participate in several government financial programs and access to funds from the United Negro College Fund. In April 1987 Bishop College filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in an unsuccessful attempt to restructure its debts and raise money to remain open; it was closed in 1988. At the time it closed the student body was dominated by foreign and out-of-state students; fewer than 10 percent were from Dallas. The grounds and facilities were then occupied by Paul Quinn College, originally from Waco and affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church.