Women's colleges in the Southern United States

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Women's colleges in the Southern United States refers to undergraduate, bachelor's degree–granting institutions, often liberal arts colleges, whose student populations consist exclusively or almost exclusively of women. Salem College is the oldest female educational institution in the South and Wesleyan College is the first which was established as a college for women. Some schools such as Mary Baldwin College and Salem College offer coeducational courses at the graduate level.

Educational institutions for women during the 19th century typically began as schools for girls, academies (which during the late 18th and early 19th centuries was the equivalent of secondary schools), or as female seminaries (which during the early 19th century were forms of secular higher education), rather than as a chartered college. The Women's College Coalition noted that: "Seminaries educated women for the only socially acceptable occupation: teaching. Only unmarried women could be teachers. Many early women's colleges began as female seminaries and were responsible for producing an important corps of educators."[1]

Schools are listed chronologically by the date in which they opened their doors to students. Current women's colleges are listed in bold text. Schools that are closing or transitioning to coeducation and former women's colleges which are now coeducational are listed in italics.

Lists and tables[edit]

Seven Sisters of the South[edit]

Though ill-defined, the Seven Sisters of the South are the Southeast's answer to the Seven Sisters Colleges in the Northern United States. Originally, they were said to include (in alphabetical order):

However, due to four out of seven of the colleges either becoming co-educational or merging with larger institutions, the current list of the Seven Sisters of the South has been redefined as follows (in alphabetical order):

The ranks of the "Seven Sisters" will drop by one when Sweet Briar closes at the end of the 2014–15 school year.[2]

Historically black colleges[edit]

Historically black colleges and universities for women developed in the Southern United States.[3]

Educational Institution Location School
Current enrollment
(as female institution)
Opened door
to students
Scotia Seminary Concord, North Carolina Coeducational
Barber-Scotia College
since 1954
Lost accreditation
in 2004
N.A. 1867
(female seminary)
1870 (chartered)
(Scotia Women's College)
(Merged with Barber Memorial College)
(Women's college granted first degree 1874)
Bennett College Greensboro, North Carolina Women's college 780 1873


(Becomes women's college in 1926)

Mount Hermon Female Seminary Clinton, Mississippi Closed in 1924 N.A. 1875 Secured in 1873
Atlanta Baptist
Female Seminary
Spelman College)
Atlanta, Georgia Women's college 2,290 1881 1924
(First college degrees awarded in 1901)
Tillotson College Austin, Texas 1881-1926
(Women's college)

Huston-Tillotson University

N.A. 1881
(Women's college)
Hartshorn Memorial College[4] Richmond, Virginia Merged with
Virginia Union University in 1932.
N.A. 1883 March 13, 1884
(First college degrees awarded in 1885.)
Mary Allen Seminary[5] Crockett, Houston County, Texas Coeducational in 1933 N.A. 1886 N.A.
Barber Memorial College Anniston, Alabama[6] Coeducational
Barber-Scotia College
since 1954
Lost accreditation
in 2004
N.A. 1896[7]
(Merged with Scotia Women's College)[8]
(Women's college)

Current women's colleges in the South[edit]

Former and defunct women's schools[edit]


A number of women's colleges have become coeducational such as H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College which was dissolved as part of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2006. It is now a part of Tulane University. This also includes a few historically black women's colleges: Barber-Scotia College adopted coeducation in 1954; Tillotson College (a women's college from 1926–1935) is now coeducational Huston-Tillotson University; Hartshorn Memorial College merged with Virginia Union University in 1932; and Mary Allen Seminary[5] became coeducational in 1933. Bennett College, founded as a coeducational school, became a women's college in 1926.

Mississippi University for Women changed its single-sex admissions policy to include men in 1982 following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan. The court found that the university would be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause if it denied admission to its nursing program on the basis of gender.[13] The 5-4 opinion was written by Justice O'Connor, who stated that "In limited circumstances, a gender-based classification favoring one sex can be justified if it intentionally and directly assists members of the sex that is disproportionately burdened." She argued that there are a disproportionate number of women who are nurses, and that denying admission to men "lends credibility to the old view that women, not men, should become nurses, and makes the assumption that nursing is a field for women a self-fulfilling prophecy."[14] In their dissenting opinions, Justices Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and William H. Rehnquist suggested that the result of this ruling would be the elimination of publicly supported single-sex educational opportunities.[citation needed] The ruling did not require the university to change its name to reflect its coeducational status.[15]

In 2006, Randolph-Macon Woman's College announced that it would adopt coeducation and change its name. Former Interim president Ginger H. Worden argued (in a September 15, 2006 editorial for the Washington Post) that it was not economically feasible for the college to remain single-sex as young women are no longer interested in attending women's colleges.[16] In response, a number of presidents of women's colleges challenged Worden's article, arguing that other women's colleges are still doing well and attracting students. This includes: Agnes Scott College,[17] Columbia College,[18] The Seven Sisters,[19] a separate article from Mount Holyoke College,[20][21] Simmons College,[22] Sweet Briar College and Hollins University.[23] In addition, there were numerous protests on campus including rallies, blocking administrative offices, mass requests for transfer transcripts, banners all over campus, striking from classes, and participation in quiet protest to highlight lack of student voices in the board of trustee votes.[24][25] This led to the formation of a non-profit "Preserve Education Choice" (PEC),[26] composed of students, faculty, and alumnae who are trying to reverse the decision. Two lawsuits were filed by Preserve Educational Choice.[27] On January 23, 2007, both lawsuits were dismissed in Lynchburg Circuit Court.[28] PEC raised enough money, however, to appeal both dismissals[29] and a group of nine students brought the case to the Virginia Supreme Court where "Richmond lawyer Wyatt B. Durrette Jr. asked the state's high court to grant an appeal of the group's lawsuit.[30] In addition, Professor emeritus of romance languages, Charlotte Stern, published the 24 page letter (with signatures from alumnae, former professors and a former president of Randolph's board of trustees) condemning the decision on the PEC website.[31][32][32] Ginger Hill Worden, Interim President, responded to this letter.[33] The Virginia Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals in both the student contract and charitable trust cases. The Court affirmed the trial court's decision in both cases in opinions issued June 6, 2008.[34] It was re-named Randolph College on July 1, 2007, when it became coeducational.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Rise of Women's Colleges, Coeducation
  2. ^ a b Kapsidelis, Karin (March 3, 2015). "Sweet Briar College's decision to close stuns students". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved March 4, 2015. 
  3. ^ Women's Colleges in the United States: History, Issues, and Challenges
  4. ^ a b A Guide to the Hartshorn Memorial College Reunion Collection 1976–1980
  5. ^ a b c "- Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)". Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  6. ^ Thomas McAdory Owen, Marie Bankhead Owen (1921). History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography. Retrieved August 12, 2008. 
  7. ^ Keiser, Albert (1952). College Names, p. 173. Retrieved August 12, 2008. 
  8. ^ Townsend, Barbara (1999). Two-Year Colleges for Women and Minorities. Retrieved August 12, 2008. 
  9. ^ "Salem College". Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  10. ^ "GeorgiaInfo :: Carl Vinson Institute of Government :: University of Georgia". Cviog.uga.edu. Retrieved 2013-10-07. 
  11. ^ "Davenport College history". Caldwellheritagemuseum.org. Retrieved 2013-10-07. 
  12. ^ Photos
  13. ^ Mississippi IHL – Mississippi's Universities
  14. ^ "Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan", 458 U.S. 718 (1982)
  15. ^ MUW – Planning and Institutional Effectiveness
  16. ^ Worden, Virginia (September 15, 2006). "Why We Had No Choice but to Go Coed". washingtonpost.edu. 
  17. ^ Kiss, Elizabeth. "Reaffirming Our Commitment to Women’s Education". agnesscott.edu. Retrieved October 20, 2006. 
  18. ^ Whitson, Caroline (October 17, 2006). "The case for women’s colleges". thestate.com. Retrieved October 20, 2006. 
  19. ^ Simpson, April (November 5, 2006). "'Sisters' don't want a future in coeducation: Women's colleges see an obligation". Boston Globe. 
  20. ^ Creighton, Joanne (May 21, 2007). "Why we need women's colleges". Boston Globe. [dead link]
  21. ^ Mount Holyoke College :A Tradition of Their Own
  22. ^ Scrimshaw, Susan (October 4, 2006). "Yes to women's colleges". Boston Globe. 
  23. ^ "Women's colleges must be an option". roanoke.com. September 14, 2005. Retrieved October 14, 2006. 
  24. ^ Nguyen, Janet (August 29, 2006). "R-MWC sends message to board of trustees". NewsAdvance.com. Retrieved February 18, 2007. 
  25. ^ "YouTube footage of campus protests and efforts to save RMWC". YouTube. December 15, 2006. Retrieved February 18, 2007. 
  26. ^ "preserveeducationalchoice.org". Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  27. ^ "Coed Vote Brings Legal, Financial Repercussions". Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  28. ^ Challenges to coed decision dismissed
  29. ^ "Group suing over coed vote continues fundraising efforts". Jacksonville.com. 2007-07-02. Retrieved 2013-10-07. 
  30. ^ Va. Supreme Court hears argument for appeal of coed challenge
  31. ^ Stern, Charlotte (June 30, 2007). "How the Board of Trustees Hijacked R-MWC Right Before Our Eyes" (PDF). Preserve Educational Choice Inc. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 27, 2007. Retrieved July 22, 2007. 
  32. ^ a b Desrets, Christa (July 22, 2007). "She said, she said: The coed debate broken down". The News & Advance. Retrieved July 22, 2007. 
  33. ^ Worden, Ginger Hill. "Ginger Hill Worden, Interim President, responds to What Every Trustee Should Know and 20 Reasons Why You Should Change Your Vote". Randolph College. 
  34. ^ Desrets, Christa (July 31, 2007). "Richmond Appeals go to Virginia Supreme Court". The News & Advance. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]