Texas A&M University–Commerce was originally established by William L. Mayo at Cooper, Delta County, in 1889 and chartered in 1890 as Mayo or Mayo's College, a private institution where Mayo "could be at liberty to put into operation his idea of a democratic school of a college type." The school grew for five years, but the building burned in 1894; and since Cooper had no railroad at the time and Mayo was in financial straits, he proposed to move his school to the town offering the best incentives. Commerce put up land and $20,000 cash, so the college was rechartered there in 1894 as East Texas Normal College. It started with thirty-five pupils. The first session was held in a small business house, but soon a two-story administration building and two frame dormitories were erected. Mayo continued as president until his death in 1917. The school operated as an independent private college with no endowment or income except tuition and a small profit from its dormitories. Between 1889 and 1917 more than 30,000 students received their basic educational training in this school; records show that the college prepared more teachers for the public schools than any other college or university in Texas in the same period. The college had six degree programs.
Mayo wanted to perpetuate his school as a state teachers' college, and he started a move to place it under the authority of the board of regents of the state normal schools. After the Thirty-fifth Legislature passed an act to do this, the board of regents paid the Mayo estate $80,000 for the institution; Mayo died in March 1917, the same month that the state purchased the plant and fifty acres of land. Commerce donated $40,000 to renovate the buildings. The board of regents of the state teachers' colleges took over the plant and staff of East Texas Normal College, and its name became East Texas State Normal College. In 1923 the name was changed again to East Texas State Teachers College. Graduate courses were offered for the first time in 1935. Enrollment in 1947–48 was 1,593.
The educational scope of East Texas State Teachers College became much broader than teacher education, and consequently "Teachers" was dropped from the name in 1957. In 1962 the first doctoral program was initiated. University status was authorized by the legislature in 1965, and the name was changed to East Texas State University. ETSU was reorganized into three schools: graduate, education, and arts and sciences.
Buildings on the 150-acre main campus numbered eighty-seven in 1965, and twenty-five were on the 1,052-acre college farm. The value of the physical plant grew steadily from $175,000 in 1917 to $2,328,000 in 1947 and $19 million in 1965. The university operated on a $6 million budget in 1965, when sixty-nine undergraduate majors were offered in twenty-five academic departments and master's degrees were offered in thirty fields. In the 1990s the campus occupied 1,883 acres, and the physical plant was valued at $150 million. The main 140-acre campus was eight blocks southwest of the business district in Commerce. In 2000 the James G. Gee Library, built in 1959 and enlarged in 1969 and 1986, housed nearly 1,900,000 volumes. The McDowell Administration–Business Administration Building was constructed in 1970. In 1990 ETSU was accredited by or belonged to the Association of Texas Colleges and Universities, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the American Council on Education, the American Association of University Women, the National Commission on Accreditation, the Council of Graduate Students in the United States, the Association of Texas Graduate Schools, the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences, the Federation of North Texas Area Universities, the Inter-University Council of the North Texas Area, the National Association of Schools of Music, the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, the Texas Education Agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, the National Association of Schools of Music, and the Council on Social Work Education. In 1995 the school was transferred to the Texas A&M University System and renamed Texas A&M University–Commerce.
TAMU–Commerce is a regional state university. In addition to the Commerce Campus, it offers classes at the Mesquite Metroplex Center. It also participates in the Universities Center at Dallas through the Federation of North Texas Area Universities, and in the fall of 1999 entered into partnership to offer graduate and undergraduate courses at Navarro College. The university is divided into the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Business and Technology, and the College of Education. In the fall of 1999 the faculty numbered 235 and student enrollment was 7,762. The president of TAMU–Commerce in 2001 was Keith D. McFarland.