History

The entrance to Mercer's campus in Macon.
The entrance to Mercer’s campus in Macon.

Mercer University was founded in 1833 in Penfield by Georgia Baptists. The school, under the leadership of Baptist minister and spiritual father Adiel Sherwood, was named for Jesse Mercer, a prominent Baptist leader and the first chair of the Mercer Board of Trustees. 
 
Josiah Penfield gave the $2,500 that prompted the Georgia Baptist Convention to begin plans to open a school. Many Georgia Baptists gave matching funds for Penfield’s gift. The school opened under principal Billington Sanders. 
 
Initially a male preparatory school named “Mercer Institute,” the school at its founding consisted of a red clay farm and two hewed log cabins, valued at approximately $1,935. Enrollment for the first term was 39 students. When the school opened, there were considerably fewer and others came over the first few weeks. Tuition was $35 for the year. Board was provided at $8 per month, and each student was required to supply his own bedding, candles and furniture. 
 
From its humble beginnings in Penfield, Mercer today is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University has more than 8,700 students; 12 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, health professions, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and Penfield College; campuses in Macon, Atlanta, Savannah and Columbus; two regional academic centers in the state; a university press; five teaching hospitals; an educational partnership with Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex; an engineering research center in Warner Robins; a performing arts center in Macon; and a NCAA Division I athletic program. 
 
The institution’s reputation for exceptional academics in an engaged learning environment continues to grow. In 2018 the University was reclassified as a doctoral university with high research activity (R2) and is ranked in the top tier of national universities by U.S. News & World ReportMercer has also earned a Community Engagement classification by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and is one of only 286 institutions in the country to shelter a chapter of The Phi Beta Kappa Society.