Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary grew out of Baylor University's Theological Department. The department was established in 1901; Benajah H. Carroll, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Waco, was dean. Albert H. Newman, internationally recognized church historian, was induced to leave McMaster University in Toronto to join Carroll and Robert N. Barrett, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Waxahachie, to staff the department. By 1905 the department had become the Baylor Theological Seminary. Three years later the seminary separated from Baylor University and with a new name was chartered by the State of Texas on March 14, 1908. In 1910 Southwestern was moved from Waco to Fort Worth. Although the seminary was affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which named a majority of the trustees, ten other state Baptist bodies also cooperated with Texas Baptists in providing trustees and some financial support. However, it remained a Texas Baptist institution. By 1926 the ownership of the school was transferred from the Texas Convention to the Southern Baptist Convention. Consequently, the seminary made the convention's articles of faith, "The Baptist Faith and Message," its own. Revised in 1963, these articles continue to serve as the seminary's confessional statement. From its beginning the seminary's purpose has been to prepare men and women for vocational Christian ministry. Through the years the student body has become increasingly international and interdenominational. In 1988 forty-three different countries and forty-one denominations were represented in the student body. Students are accepted without regard to race. During 1988 4,784 students were enrolled in classes taught on the main campus and in five off-campus centers located in Dallas, Houston, Lubbock, San Antonio, and Shawnee, Oklahoma. By the close of 1988 the seminary had graduated 27,230.
Southwestern resembles a university in its size and organization. It is divided into three schools—theology, educational ministries, and church music—each with its own faculty and degree programs. Students enrolled in one school are required to take a specific number of hours in each of the other schools. Originally the seminary only consisted of the School of Theology with courses in religious education, which in time evolved into a department, and by 1921, into the School of Religious Education; J. M. Price was dean. Courses in church music were added in 1911, which, under the direction of Isham Emmanuel Reynolds, who joined the faculty in 1915, became the School of Gospel Music by 1920 (now the School of Church Music). The School of Theology, the largest of the three schools, was reorganized in 1923.
Although a limited number of older undergraduate students is admitted, the seminary is basically a graduate school offering a variety of master's and doctor's degrees in all three schools. The seminary is accredited by the American Association of Theological Schools and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The School of Church Music is also accredited by the National and the Texas Associations of Music Schools. The faculty in 1988 was made up of 110 full-time teachers, fifty-three adjunct teachers, twenty-six teaching fellows, and a number of student tutors. The seminary also employed 162 full-time staff personnel and an additional forty-six student secretaries. Major funding for the seminary's annual budget is derived from the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1988–89 the budget was $18,822,819. Additional income comes from an endowment of $43,519,412 (1988). Due to the level of financing of seminary education by the convention, students do not pay tuition but only a nominal matriculation fee each semester. The seminary is still largely dependent upon individual donors for capital needs. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary had 107 faculty members and 3,364 students for the 1992–93 regular term, plus 1,163 for the 1992 summer session. In the fall of 1998 enrollment was 3,676, with a faculty of 201.
The first seven presidents of the seminary were B. H. Carroll (1908–14), L. R. Scarborough (1915–42), E. D. Head (1942–53), J. Howard Williams (1953–58), Robert E. Naylor (1958–78), and Russell H. Dilday (1978–94). In 1994 Dilday was fired by the board of trustees, apparently as part of a struggle for control of Baptist institutions between conservatives and moderates in the Southern Baptist Convention. He was succeeded by Kenneth S. Hemphill, who was still president in 2001. In that year the seminary operated extension centers in Dallas; Houston; San Antonio; Marshall; Shawnee, Oklahoma; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Little Rock, Arkansas.