William J. Simmons (teacher)

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William J. Simmons (June 26, 1849 – October 30, 1890) was an ex-slave who became Simmons College of Kentucky's second president (1880–1890) and for whom the school eventually was named. Simmons greatly developed Howard University's teacher training programs when he took over the school. In addition, he was a writer, journalist, and educator. In 1886 he became president of the American National Baptist Convention, one of the organizations that would merge to form the National Baptist Convention, USA. He was elected president of the Colored Press Association for his work as editor of the American Baptist, a newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky.


Rev. Dr. William J. Simmons worked his way from ex-slave to President of the State University of Kentucky, which is now known as Simmons College of Kentucky.

Rev. Dr. William J. Simmons was born a slave in Charleston, South Carolina, to Edward and Esther Simmons on June 29, 1849. While William was young, his Mother fled slavery with her three children, William and his two sisters Emeline and Anna. They initially landed in Philadelphia, PA, and was met by an uncle named Alexander Tardiff, who housed them, fed them and educated the children. Due to stemming pressures from slave traders, Tardiff relocated his extended family to Roxbury, Pennsylvania, Chester, PA, and ultimately settled down in Bordentown, New Jersey.[1] From 1862 to 1864 William served as an apprentice to a dentist. He served in the Union Army briefly, and returned to dentistry after the war. In 1867, he joined a White Baptist church in Bordentown that was pastored by Reverend J. W. Custis. The congregation helped him through college. He attended Madison University, Rochester University, and Howard University, from which he graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1873. He worked briefly in Washington D.C. at Hillsdale School.[1]

The following year, he and his new bride Josephine A. Silence moved to Ocala, Florida, where he invested in land to grow oranges, became principal of Howard Academy's teacher training program and served as the pastor of a church, deputy county clerk and county commissioner. He served there until 1879. He was ordained that year and moved to Lexington, Kentucky where he pastored the First Baptist Church. The following year, he became the second president of the Kentucky Normal and Theological Institute, which he worked for a decade. The school was eventually renamed to Simmons College of Kentucky after Simmons due to schools progression under his tenure.

Simmons received an honorary master's degree from Howard University in 1881 and an honorary Doctorate degree from Wilberforce University in 1885.[1] In 1887, he published a book entitled Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising, which highlights the lives of 172 prominent African-American men, while serving as the school's president. He was working on a sister edition of the title that would highlight the lives and accomplishments of prominent pre-1900 African-American women, but unfortunately died before its completion. He died on October 30, 1890, in Louisville, Kentucky.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Simmons, Rev. William J. (1887). Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive, and Rising. Cleveland, Ohio: Geo. M. Rewell & Co. pp. 39–63.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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