Athens State University is the oldest continuously operated institution of higher education in Alabama’s state educational system. The University was founded in 1822 by local citizens who purchased five acres of land, erected a building, and began Athens Female Academy. Ownership of the school was transferred in 1842 to the Tennessee Conference of the Methodist Church. With the birth of the North Alabama Conference of the Methodist Church in 1870, the College came under the jurisdiction of that body.
On May 10, 1974, the Board of Trustees requested from the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church that the College seek affiliation with the State of Alabama. The conference, at its annual meeting in June 1974, gave the Board of Trustees this permission and authorized the transfer of the College to the State of Alabama.
In June 1975, the College was accepted by the Alabama State Board of Education subject to the appropriation of operating funds by the Alabama Legislature. Later that year, the Legislature appropriated funds for the operation of the College to serve the graduates of state junior, community, and technical colleges/institutions.
The institution’s name has changed several times in its history, following adjustments in purpose and governance. Athens Female Academy, upon transfer to the Tennessee Conference of the Methodist Church in 1842, became Athens Female Institute. Then in 1889 after having been transferred to the newly formed North Alabama conference, the College was known as Athens Female College. In 1931 the College became coeducational and was known as Athens College. In 1975, when the institution became part of the state educational system, it was renamed Athens State College, marking the initiation of an era of increased opportunity for service. In 1998, a bill was passed by the Alabama Legislature to rename the College to Athens State University. On May 11, 2012, a bill was passed by the Alabama Legislature allowing the creation of an autonomous Board of Trustees for the University. This Board of Trustees took office in October 2012. Athens State University remains the only upper-division University in the State of Alabama. The long history of service by the University is the foundation upon which the future of the University rests.