| Founded in 1867 as the Centenary Biblical Institute by the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the institution's original mission was to train young men in ministry. It subsequently broadened its mission to educate both men and women as teachers. The school was renamed Morgan College in 1890 in honor of the Reverend Lyttleton Morgan, the first chairman of its Board of Trustees, who donated land to the college. Morgan awarded its first baccalaureate degree to George F. McMechen in 1895. McMechen later obtained a law degree from Yale and eventually returned to Baltimore, where he became a civic leader and one of Morgan's strongest financial supporters.
In 1915 the late Andrew Carnegie gave the school a conditional grant of $50,000 for the central academic building. The terms of the grant included the purchase of a new site for the College, payment of all outstanding obligations, and the construction of a building to be named after him. The College met the conditions and moved to its present site in northeast Baltimore in 1917. Carnegie Hall, the oldest original building on the present MSU campus, was erected two years later.
Morgan remained a private institution until 1939. That year, the state of Maryland purchased the school in response to a state study that determined that Maryland needed to provide more opportunities for its black citizens.
From its beginnings as a public campus, Morgan was open to students of all races. By the time it became a public campus, the College had become a relatively comprehensive institution. Until the mid-1960s, when the state's teachers colleges began their transition to liberal arts campuses, Morgan and the University of Maryland College Park were the only two public campuses in the state with comprehensive missions.
As Maryland's teachers colleges began to broaden their objective, Morgan and other like institutions, were placed into a state college system governed by a Board of Trustees. However, in 1975 the State Legislature designated Morgan as a university, gave it the authority to offer doctorates, and provided for it to once again have its own governing board.
In 1988 Maryland reorganized its higher education structure and strengthened its coordinating board, the Higher Education Commission. The campuses in the state college system became part of the University of Maryland System. Morgan and St. Mary's College of Maryland were the only public baccalaureate-granting institutions authorized to have their own governing boards. The legislation also strengthened Morgan's authority to offer advanced programs and designated the campus as Maryland's Public Urban University.