In 1900 the institution now known as the University of Tennessee at Martin was founded by the Baptists of Martin and the Beulah Association of Northwest Tennessee to give religious and denominational training to the young people of the region. The school was named for two prominent Baptist ministers, J. N. Hall and J. B. Moody. The land for the school was donated by Mrs. Ada Gardner Brooks. The full 13-year course at Hall-Moody Institute taught students from the primary grades through what would now be considered the first two years of a modern college degree.
In 1921 Hall-Moody Baptist Institute became Hall-Moody Normal School, dedicating its efforts to the training of teachers for Tennessee. In 1927, when the Baptists proposed merging the financially troubled Hall-Moody Normal School with Union College in Jackson and closing the Martin campus, Martin business and civic leaders approached UT with the proposition that the university purchase the campus and operate a junior college. President Harcourt Morgan, reluctant to have UT assume operation of the institute, proposed that the city of Martin and Weakley County each should provide $100,000 to allow the university to purchase the Hall-Moody Institute property and add to it. Both Martin and Weakley County provided $100,000. (In January 1928 the university filed suit against the receiver of the defunct People’s Bank of Martin to be designated as a preferred creditor. A large portion of the money appropriated by the city and Weakley County and some of the state appropriation had been on deposit when the bank failed. UT’s claim was ruled to be a preferred claim.) A bill creating the University of Tennessee Junior College was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Austin Peay on March 20. The UT trustees formally accepted the property of Hall-Moody Institute and the funds for the expansion of the college in June 1927. The Baptist Association received $65,000 for 14 acres, an administration building, a science building, a gymnasium, three dormitories, and a dining hall, which made up the Martin campus. The Tennessee Junior College opened in 1927 to a large celebration and a disappointing enrollment of 120 students.
On November 28, 1928, the Junior College of Agriculture was delivered formally to the State of Tennessee in dedicatory exercises (lasting five hours) featuring Governor Henry Horton. It offered two-year curricula in agriculture and home economics. It was operated by the board of trustees through Agriculture Dean C. A. Wilson, and the executive officer of the college was C. Porter Claxton. The academic program was under the control of department heads in Knoxville. (The Tennessee Junior College also offered courses in education, but these classes were not listed in the catalog, in order to avoid conflicts with other colleges.)
In 1951 the legislature elevated the junior college to senior college status. The curriculum was extended to that of a four-year general baccalaureate college, and the name was changed to the University of Tennessee Martin Branch. The first Martin class of 14 seniors graduated in 1953. In 1968 Governor Buford Ellington signed the legislative bill that changed the name of the UT Martin Branch to the University of Tennessee at Martin as part of the reorganization of the university into a statewide system. Also in 1967, the UT Board of Trustees recognized 1900 as the date of origin of the Martin campus and embraced Hall-Moody alumni as those of UT.
In 2003 UT at Martin awarded its first honorary doctorate to former Tennessee Governor Ned Ray McWherter. A replica of his gubernatorial office is in the Martin Library.