Jeremiah Rhodes, originator of the junior high school system in Texas, was born at Point Pleasant, Ohio, on March 1, 1862, the son of William Henry and Sarah R. (Schriver) Rhodes. He taught in the rural schools of Jasper and Barton counties, Missouri, from 1879 to 1883, and ran his own business from 1883 to 1886. He graduated from Kansas State Normal School in 1889 and served as high school principal and then superintendent of schools in Council Grove, Kansas, from 1889 to 1892. He attended Stanford University in 1892–93 and then the University of Indiana, where he received his bachelor of arts in 1894. He began graduate studies at Harvard University in 1896, received his master's degree in 1898, and did additional graduate work at the University of Chicago and Columbia University in 1898–99. Rhodes served as superintendent of city schools in Hiawatha, Kansas (1894–96), and Windom, Minnesota (1899–1901). In 1901 he married Cora Alice Ingels of Lincoln, Nebraska; they had three children. Also in 1901 Rhodes joined the faculty of Kansas State Normal School as a professor of European history and political science. He left Kansas State in 1909 to serve as principal of the New Hampshire State Normal School in Keene (1909–11). He became superintendent of schools in Pasadena, California, in 1911 and served in this capacity until 1920. In 1913 he received a Ph.D. from Milton College in Wisconsin.
He moved to Texas in 1920 and served as superintendent of the San Antonio schools from September 1920 to July 1925. When he arrived, the San Antonio schools were extremely crowded because no schools had been built since before World War I. Rhodes pushed successfully for a bond issue of $2 million in 1922. The heart of the bond proposal was the establishment of eight junior high schools for grades six through eight between the elementary grades and the high schools. Rhodes held community meetings through the city informing the public about the junior high school concept, and about 400 district administrators and teachers spent an entire year in preparation and training for the opening of the schools in September 1923. The junior high school experiment was successful and quickly spread to other school districts. Under his leadership San Antonio became the first school district in the United States to inaugurate a fully developed junior high school system. Rhodes also implemented an innovative plan of supervision of teachers, raised the standards for teacher training, established a single salary schedule for all teachers, and recruited teachers from throughout the United States. In 1925 his contract was not renewed because of a change in the membership of the San Antonio school board.
After leaving San Antonio Rhodes conducted a series of lectures on the junior high school concept. He later served as the director of the American schools in Mexico City (1926–27). He became director of education at Edinburg Junior College in 1927 and in this capacity helped to reorganize the school systems in Edinburg, Mission, McAllen, Weslaco, Mercedes, Raymondville, and other communities in the Rio Grande valley. His role in the reorganization of these schools gained him national attention. In the late 1920s and early 1930s Rhodes, in semiretirement, devoted much of his time to study and travel. He spent a year in France so that his children could attend school abroad. In 1933 he became the head of the junior high schools division of the Texas State Department of Education. Because of his experience in San Antonio and the Rio Grande valley, he was used throughout the state as an expert on the organization and construction of junior high schools. At his death he was serving as the first assistant superintendent of the state Department of Education under Superintendent L. A. Woods. Rhodes died on January 6, 1938, in Austin, following an operation for appendicitis. He is buried in Mission Burial Park, San Antonio.