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black and white photo of original campus building

Southwest Baptist University first opened its doors in 1878 in Lebanon, Mo., as Southwest Baptist College. In 1879, the college was chartered by the state of Missouri and moved to Bolivar. Early writings recount a legacy of sacrificial giving and extraordinary efforts by Baptists in southwest Missouri to establish and maintain the college. The founders, Abner S. Ingman and James R. Maupin, faced many difficulties as they rode horseback seeking funds, students and an ideal college site.

Each spring semester, SBU celebrates Founders Day. It is a time to reflect upon our rich heritage and to remember that in 1878, our founding fathers, Ingman and Maupin, established Southwest Baptist College. Founders Day is an important time when we are challenged to reflect on our past and to thank God for the people who have made the success of today possible.

The college faced many hardships in its early years and actually closed from 1910-13 to regain financial solvency and to recover from a devastating fire that destroyed the college’s only building. The efforts and prayers of area supporters and Missouri Baptists brought results, and the college reopened in 1913 as a two-year junior college.

The University has maintained its strong Baptist heritage through its affiliation with the Missouri Baptist Convention, which provides financial support for the University and elects the 25-member board of trustees which governs the institution. The Missouri Baptist Convention approved plans in 1964 for the college to become a senior liberal arts college. The first baccalaureate degrees were awarded in 1967. Bolivar citizens donated a 102-acre farm on the southern edge of the city that allowed the college to expand beyond the small 10-acre campus located near downtown.

Another milestone occurred in 1981 when the college name was changed to Southwest Baptist University. In 1995, the University entered a joint nursing education agreement with St. John's Regional Medical Center in Springfield, Mo., to form St. John’s School of Nursing of SBU. The school became the St. John's College of Nursing and Health Sciences in 2005. St. John's changed its name in 2012, making the name of the college Mercy College of Nursing and Health Sciences of SBU. Today, the College of Health Professions maintains a valuable partnership with Mercy Health Systems.

Today, SBU is a thriving higher education institution with more than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled annually. The 152-acre main campus is located in the southern portion of Bolivar, a community of about 10,300 residents that serves as the county seat of Polk County. Bolivar is located about 25 miles north of Springfield, which is the third-largest city in the state of Missouri after St. Louis and Kansas City. The University also operates campuses in Mountain View, Salem and Springfield, Mo. An online campus was added in 2019.


From its inception, the University has been a distinctively Christian and Baptist institution in terms of worldview and ideological commitments. A Christian worldview, which is grounded in the Old and New Testaments, is the belief that:

  • God is creator and sustainer of the universe and the ultimate source of all truth, beauty, and moral value wherever they are found.
  • God both judges and redeems humanity, thereby inviting men and women to define their relationship with Him, with fellow human beings across the globe, and with history.
  • All people are to be treated with respect since they have been created in the image of God and have innate worth.
  • Human beings have sufficient capacity and freedom of will to develop their physical, social, psychological, and spiritual well-being.
  • Christians are to be change agents in society, sharing the Christian message and lifestyle, in that persons are responsible for their relationship with God, with fellow human beings, and with their environment.
  • Christians must exercise responsible citizenship.

The cornerstone of Baptist tradition is the conviction, based upon biblical principles, that each person has freedom of conscience before both God and man. The implications of this tradition for Baptist higher education are the:

  • acknowledgment of God as the ultimate source of all knowledge and truth
  • commitment to scholarly endeavor under God
  • desire for open inquiry and responsible scholarship, and the freedom to promote the results of this scholarship
  • freedom of others to hold and to promote contrary scholarly views

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