Palmer Theological Seminary was founded on March 19, 1925 as Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The founders were motivated by the desire to provide another option for graduate-level theological training in the Baptist context. Along with other conservative seminaries of that time, the Seminary held to a high view of Scripture as the authoritative word of God. But the founders maintained that the agendas of conservative institutions were too narrow, particularly with regard to the prohibition of women in ministry and the absence of concern for social justice. Thus, in its early days the Seminary was widely described as being “conservative, yet progressive,” a designation that still applies today.
For the first 15 years of its existence, the Seminary was located on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. In 1940, it relocated to Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, on the edge of the city. In 2012, the Seminary moved from the Wynnewood campus to an interim location (an estimated 3 to 5 years) at the American Baptist Missions Center in nearby King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
From the beginning the Seminary was committed to providing remedial educational programs for people who felt called to Christian ministry but who lacked the educational credentials required to qualify for graduate-level training. This commitment planted the seeds for Eastern University, which was founded as Eastern Baptist College in 1952, changed its name to Eastern College in 1972, and became Eastern University in 2001.
The Seminary’s continuing commitment to providing quality theological education to all who desire it is reflected in such programs as ESCM (Eastern’s School of Christian Ministry) and the Priscilla Institute.
Through the years, both Palmer Seminary and Eastern University have remained true to the values of their founders. Based on a high view of Scripture, both schools integrate justice into their missions, an emphasis that is reflected in part in the institutions’ program offerings. The schools’ dual degree program, for example, allows a student to earn a Master of Divinity degree concurrently with either a Master of Business Administration in Economic Development or a Master of Arts in International Development. This unique program prepares men and women to bring both spiritual healing and meaningful economic aid to the some of the world’s poorest areas.
When the two institutions reunited in 2004, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary became the Seminary of Eastern University. In 2005, the name of the Seminary was changed to Palmer Theological Seminary. In 2010, the Smith School of Christian Ministries was established to oversee the Doctor of Ministry in Contextual Leadership, the MTS Openseminary, ESCM, and the Priscilla Institute.