Women's colleges in the Southern United States
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."
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
Seven Sisters of the South
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):
- Agnes Scott College- Decatur, Georgia
- Hollins University- Roanoke, Virginia
- Mary Washington College (became co-educational in 1972; now the University of Mary Washington)- Fredericksburg, Virginia
- Queens University of Charlotte (became co-educational in 1987)- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Randolph-Macon Woman's College (became co-educational in 2007; now Randolph College)- Ashland, Virginia
- Sophie Newcomb College (merged with Tulane University in 2006)- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Sweet Briar College- Sweet Briar, Virginia
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):
- Agnes Scott College- Decatur, Georgia
- Brenau University- Gainesville, Georgia
- Hollins University- Roanoke, Virginia
- Mary Baldwin College- Staunton, Virginia
- Salem College- Winston-Salem, North Carolina
- Sweet Briar College- Sweet Briar, Virginia
- Wesleyan College- Macon, Georgia
Historically black colleges
(as female institution)
|Scotia Seminary||Concord, North Carolina||Coeducational
(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, Georgia||Women's college||2,290||1881||1924
(First college degrees awarded in 1901)
|Tillotson College||Austin, Texas||1881-1926
|Hartshorn Memorial College||Richmond, Virginia||Merged with
Virginia Union University in 1932.
|N.A.||1883||March 13, 1884
(First college degrees awarded in 1885.)
|Mary Allen Seminary||Crockett, Houston County, Texas||Coeducational in 1933||N.A.||1886||N.A.|
|Barber Memorial College||Anniston, Alabama||Coeducational
(Merged with Scotia Women's College)
Current women's colleges in the South
- 1772: Little Girls' School, (now Salem College): Originally established as a primary school, it later became an academy (high school) and finally a college. It is the oldest female educational establishment that is still a women's college, and it claims to be the oldest female institution in the Southern United States, which is incorrect. (The oldest, founded in 1727, is the Ursuline Academy in New Orleans—before Louisiana became part of the U.S.)
- 1833: Columbia Female Academy (now Stephens College): Originally established as an academy (high school), it later became a college. It is the second oldest female educational establishment that is still a women's college. But Missouri is not in the South; it is in the Midwest, although often considered Southern as the only slave state in the Midwest.
- 1838: Judson Female Institute (Judson College): Founded in Marion, Alabama, it became Judson College in 1903 and later Judson College.
- 1839: Georgia Female College (now Wesleyan College): It is the oldest (and the first) school which was established from inception (chartered in 1836) as a college for women.
- 1842: Valley Union Seminary (now Hollins University): Established in Roanoke, Virginia as a coeducational school, it became a school for women in 1852, and was renamed Hollins Institute in 1855, Hollins College in 1911, and Hollins University in 1998
- 1842: Augusta Female Seminary (now Mary Baldwin College): Founded in Staunton, Virginia, it became the Mary Baldwin Seminary in 1895, and the Mary Baldwin College in 1923
- 1847: Kentucky Female Orphan School (now Midway College): Midway's day program on its main campus remains all-female, but its evening/weekend and online programs are coeducational, and it opened a coeducational pharmacy school at a separate campus in 2011.
- 1854: Columbia College (Columbia, South Carolina)
- 1857: Peace Institute (now Peace College, coeducational as of 2012): Founded in Raleigh, North Carolina. Plans to change name to William Peace University
- 1873: Bennett College : Founded in Greensboro, North Carolina as a coeducational school, it became a women's college in 1926
- 1878: Georgia Baptist Female Seminary (now Brenau University): Founded in Gainesville, Georgia, it became Brenau College in 1900, and Brenau University in 1992
- 1881: Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary (now Spelman College): It was the first historically black female institution of higher education to receive its collegiate charter in 1924, making it the oldest historically black women's college.
- 1889: Converse College: Founded in Spartanburg, South Carolina
- 1889: Decatur Female Seminary (now Agnes Scott College): Founded in Decatur, Georgia, it became the Agnes Scott Institute in 1890, and Agnes Scott College in 1906
- 1891: Baptist Female University (now Meredith College): Founded in Raleigh, North Carolina, it became the Baptist University for Women in 1891, and Meredith College in 1909
- 1901: Sweet Briar College: founded in Sweet Briar, Virginia
Former and defunct women's schools
- 1814: Louisburg Female Academy (now Louisburg College): Founded in North Carolina; Louisburg Female College, founded in 1857. Later merged with Franklin Male Academy.
- 1818: Elizabeth Female Academy: First female educational institution in Mississippi; it closed in 1843
- 1821: Clinton Female Seminary: Georgia. Forerunner to Wesleyan College 
- 1827: Knoxville Female Academy: Rechartered as the East Tennessee Female Institute in 1846, which granted "Mistress of Polite Literature" degrees; closed in 1911.
- 1831: LaGrange Female Academy (now LaGrange College): Founded in LaGrange, Georgia, it became LaGrange Female College in 1851, and coeducational in 1953
- 1835: Livingston Female Academy and State Normal College (now University of West Alabama): It became coeducational in 1915.
- 1839: Farmville Female Seminary Association (now Longwood University): Founded in Farmville, Virginia and became a full-fledged college in 1860; it became coeducational in 1976.
- 1841: Asheville Female Seminary: Later renamed Asheville Female College
- 1842: Fulton Female Academy (now Synodical College): Founded in Fulton, Missouri, it closed in 1928
- 1846: Greensboro Female College: Charted in 1838 in Greensboro, North Carolina; it is now the coeducational school Greensboro College
- 1851: Tennessee and Alabama Female Institute (later Mary Sharp College): It was the first women's college to grant college degrees to women that were the equivalent of those given to men; the college closed due to financial hardship in 1896.
- 1855: Davenport Female College (later Davenport College): Founded in Lenoir, North Carolina. Chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1859. Merged with Greensboro College in 1938.
- 1855: Mansfield Female College: Founded in Mansfield, Louisiana, it is claimed to be the first women's college west of the Mississippi. Merged with Centenary College of Louisiana in 1930.
- 1857: Charlotte Female Institute: founded in Charlotte, North Carolina; became the coeducational Queens University of Charlotte after World War II
- 1857: Peace Institute (now Peace College), coeducational as of 2012: Founded in Raleigh, North Carolina. Plans to change name to William Peace University
- 1867: Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College): It was the first historically black female institution of higher education established after the American Civil War and became a women's college in 1946. It became a coeducational school in 1954 and lost its accreditation in 2004.
- 1870: "Sullins College": Founded in Bristol, VA in 1870, it originally operated a high school as well as a junior college. The high school was discontinued after WW II, and the junior college, which offered associates degress in both liberal arts and fine arts, closed in 1976.
- 1873: Blue Mountain College: Founded in Northeast Mississippi, it remained focused on women's education until 1956 when a program to train men for church-related vocations was started. In October 2005, the college's Board of Trustees voted to make the school co-educational.
- 1875: Mount Hermon Female Seminary: Founded in Clinton, Mississippi, it closed in 1924
- 1881: Tillotson College: Founded as a coeducational, it was a women's college from 1926–1935. It is now the coeducational school, Huston-Tillotson University
- 1883: Hartshorn Memorial College founded in Richmond, Virginia. In 1932, it merged with Virginia Union University.
- 1884: Industrial Institute & College, (now Mississippi University for Women): It was the first public women's college; became coeducational in 1982 as a result of the Supreme Court's Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan case, but maintained its original name.
- 1886: Mary Allen Seminary : Founded in Crockett, Houston County, Texas. It became coeducational in 1933.
- 1886: H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College: Became coeducational in 2007 (merged with Tulane University)
- 1889: Georgia Normal and Industrial College: The coordinate college for Georgia Tech, it granted its first degrees in 1917. After two name changes, the Women's College of Georgia became coeducational in 1967. Three more name changes followed, with the current name of Georgia College & State University adopted in 1996.
- 1891: Randolph-Macon Women's College: It become coeducational and changed its name to Randolph College in 2007.
- 1891: North Carolina Women's College: It became the coeducational University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1963.
- 1896: Alabama Girls Industrial School: Became coeducational (Alabama College) in 1956 and changed its name to University of Montevallo in 1969.
- 1896: Barber Memorial College: Founded in Anniston, Alabama, it merged with Scotia Women's College (formerly Scotia Seminary) in Concord, North Carolina in 1930 to become Barber-Scotia Junior College
- 1905: Florida State College for Women: Founded as the coeducational West Florida Seminary in 1851, it went through four name changes in its first half-century, becoming Florida State College in 1901. The school then became a women's college in 1905. In 1947, it returned to coeducation and adopted its current name of Florida State University.
- 1908: State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Fredericksburg: After changing its name to Mary Washington College (MWC) in 1938, it became the coordinate women's college of The University of Virginia in 1944. MWC was separated from UVA in 1972, two years after both schools became fully coeducational. MWC adopted its current name of the University of Mary Washington in 2004.
- 1908: State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg: Became de facto coeducational in 1946, by which time it was known as Madison College (the school's fourth name), and became officially coeducational in 1966. Adopted its current name of James Madison University in 1976.
- 1938: Ursuline College: Located in Louisville, Kentucky, it merged into the previously all-male Bellarmine College, also in Louisville, in 1968. The merged school adopted its current name of Bellarmine University in 2000.
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 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. 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." 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. The ruling did not require the university to change its name to reflect its coeducational status.
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. 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, Columbia College, The Seven Sisters, a separate article from Mount Holyoke College, Simmons College, Sweet Briar College and Hollins University. 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. This led to the formation of a non-profit "Preserve Education Choice" (PEC), composed of students, faculty, and alumnae who are trying to reverse the decision. Two lawsuits were filed by Preserve Educational Choice. On January 23, 2007, both lawsuits were dismissed in Lynchburg Circuit Court. PEC raised enough money, however, to appeal both dismissals 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. 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. Ginger Hill Worden, Interim President, responded to this letter. 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. It was re-named Randolph College on July 1, 2007, when it became coeducational.
- List of current and historical women's universities and colleges in the United States
- Timeline of women's colleges in the United States
- Women's colleges in the United States
- Seven Sisters (colleges)
- Women's College Coalition
- The Rise of Women's Colleges, Coeducation
- Women's Colleges in the United States: History, Issues, and Challenges
- A Guide to the Hartshorn Memorial College Reunion Collection 1976–1980
- Mary Allen Seminary
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- Townsend, Barbara (1999). Two-Year Colleges for Women and Minorities. Retrieved August 12, 2008.
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- "Davenport College history". Caldwellheritagemuseum.org. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
- Mississippi IHL – Mississippi's Universities
- "Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan", 458 U.S. 718 (1982)
- MUW – Planning and Institutional Effectiveness
- Worden, Virginia (September 15, 2006). "Why We Had No Choice but to Go Coed". washingtonpost.edu.
- Kiss, Elizabeth. "Reaffirming Our Commitment to Women’s Education". agnesscott.edu. Retrieved October 20, 2006.
- Whitson, Caroline (October 17, 2006). "The case for women’s colleges". thestate.com. Retrieved October 20, 2006.
- Simpson, April (November 5, 2006). "'Sisters' don't want a future in coeducation: Women's colleges see an obligation". Boston Globe.
- Creighton, Joanne (May 21, 2007). "Why we need women's colleges". Boston Globe.[dead link]
- Mount Holyoke College :A Tradition of Their Own
- Scrimshaw, Susan (October 4, 2006). "Yes to women's colleges". Boston Globe.
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- "YouTube footage of campus protests and efforts to save RMWC". YouTube. December 15, 2006. Retrieved February 18, 2007.
- Preserve Education Choice
- Coed Vote Brings Legal, Financial Repercussions
- Challenges to coed decision dismissed
- "Group suing over coed vote continues fundraising efforts". Jacksonville.com. 2007-07-02. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
- Va. Supreme Court hears argument for appeal of coed challenge
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- Kiss, Elizabeth. "Reaffirming Our Commitment to Women’s Education". Agnes Scott College. Retrieved October 20, 2006.
- Muhlenfeld, Elisabeth and Nancy Gray. "Women's colleges must be an option." The Roanoke Times, September 14, 2006.
- Scrimshaw, Susan (October 4, 2006). "Yes to women's colleges". The Boston Globe.
- Simpson, April (November 5, 2006). "'Sisters' don't want a future in coeducation: Women's colleges see an obligation". The Boston Globe.
- Whitson, Caroline (October 17, 2006). "The case for women’s colleges". Columbia College. Retrieved October 20, 2006.
- "Giving Voice to a New Generation: Metro Atlanta's three women's colleges are going strong, even while the number of women's colleges nationwide has declined" (Agnes Scott College, Spelman College, and Brenau University)
- "In Virginia, three elite women's colleges reinvent themselves and find a new mission in a coed world" (Sweet Briar College, Hollins University, and Mary Baldwin College)
- "All women, and thriving" (Meredith College and Peace College)