Converse College opened on October 1, 1889, with a student body of 168 and 16 faculty members. The college operated as a "stock company" with the board of directors composed entirely of residents of Spartanburg. Dexter Edgar Converse, a native of Vermont who had settled in Spartanburg before the American Civil War and had become a successful pioneer in the cotton mill industry, served as the head of the first board of directors. On January 2, 1892, fire destroyed the college's main building. The building was enlarged during its reconstruction. In 1896, the college was incorporated in South Carolina and a self-perpetuating board of trustees was named. In 1964, the college introduced graduate programs.
The Converse College Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. It encompasses eight contributing buildings dated between 1891 and 1915. They are the Main Building (1892), Annex (Pell Hall, 1891), Twichell Auditorium (1898-1899), Carnegie Library (1905), Cleveland House (c. 1905), Judd Science Hall (1915), Dexter Hall (1899) and Towne House (1898). The buildings are representative of the Romanesque Revival, Gothic Revival, and Neo-Classical styles.