The university traces its beginnings to 1937 when the Japanese held control of the Korean peninsula. It was in this year that the Sangmyung Academy for Higher Learning for the Young was established with the hopeful objective of grooming future national leaders.
By 1965, the academy became a women's teacher's college and then a women's university in 1986. Ten years later, Sangmyung Women's University began to admit men. 2006 marked Sangmyung University's 10th anniversary as a co-educational institution. According to faculty members, students, alumni and members of the community, Sangmyung University's move to expand education opportunities to men as well as women has been a success. Library occupancy rates and graduate employment rates have increased since 1996. Male alumni have been largely responsible for the surge in alumni activities since Sangmyung went co-educational with the assistance of Kyoungsun Im.