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, located in the South of the United States. Many started first as girls' seminaries or academies. Salem College is the oldest female educational institution in the South and Wesleyan College is the first that was established specifically as a college for women. Some schools, such as Mary Baldwin University 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 were the equivalent of secondary schools), or as female seminaries. (During the early 19th century there were forms of secular higher education.) 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 on 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 that are now coeducational are listed in italics.

Lists and tables[edit]

Education in the United States

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 Northeastern United States. Originally, they were said to include (in alphabetical order):

Because four of seven of the colleges either became co-educational or merged with larger institutions, the current list of the Seven Sisters of the South has been redefined as follows (in alphabetical order):

Historically black colleges[edit]

Historically black colleges and universities for women developed in the Southern United States in the 19th century after emancipation.[2]

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

Current women's colleges in the South[edit]

  • 1772: Little Girls' School, (now Salem College): Originally established as a primary school, it later developed as an academy (high school), and finally a college. It is the oldest female educational establishment that is still a women's college, and the oldest female institution in the Southern United States.
  • 1833: Columbia Female Academy (now Stephens College): Founded 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. Missouri is in the Upper South . It was settled by planters along the Mississippi River.
  • 1838: Judson Female Institute (Judson College): Founded in Marion, Alabama, it became Judson College in 1903.
  • 1839: Georgia Female College (now Wesleyan College): This is the oldest (and the first) school to be founded (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. As the curriculum was developed, it was renamed Hollins College in 1911, and Hollins University in 1998.
  • 1842: Augusta Female Seminary (now Mary Baldwin University): Founded in Staunton, Virginia, it was renamed as Mary Baldwin Seminary in 1895, Mary Baldwin College in 1923 after curriculum development, and Mary Baldwin University in 2016.
  • 1847: Kentucky Female Orphan School (now Midway University): Midway's day program on its main campus remains all-female, but its evening/weekend and online programs are coeducational. It planned to open a coeducational pharmacy school at a separate campus in 2011, but withdrew the school's application for accreditation before opening.
  • 1854: Columbia College (Columbia, South Carolina)
  • 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 after further development.
  • 1881: Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary (now Spelman College): In 1924 it was the first historically black female institution to receive its collegiate charter, 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; announced on March 3, 2015 that it was closing at the end of the 2014–15 school year. The alumnae, current students, and friends of the college took to the courts to battle the administrators' decision. Before the college officially closed, the Virginia Attorney General declared on June 20, 2015 that the college is to remain open. Sweet Briar is accepting applications.[8]

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 in 2006 as part of the aftermath of widespread damage from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans the previous year. It merged with Tulane University.

A few historically black women's colleges also adopted coeducation or merged with coordinate universities: Barber-Scotia College in 1954; Tillotson College became coeducational in 1936 and has developed as Huston-Tillotson University; Hartshorn Memorial College merged with Virginia Union University in 1932; and Mary Allen Seminary[4] became coeducational in 1933. Bennett College, founded as a coeducational school, realigned as 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.[12] 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."[13]

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.[13] The ruling did not require the university to change its name to reflect its coeducational status.[14]

In 2006, Randolph-Macon Woman's College announced that it would adopt coeducation and change its name. Former Interim president Ginger H. Worden wrote in September 15, 2006 editorial published in the Washington Post that it was not economically feasible for the college to remain single-sex as young women were no longer interested in attending women's colleges.[15] A number of presidents of women's colleges challenged Worden, arguing that other women's colleges are still doing well and attracting students. They included Agnes Scott College,[16] Columbia College in South Carolina,[17] the Seven Sisters,[18] a separate article from Mount Holyoke College,[19][20] Simmons College,[21]Sweet Briar College and Hollins University.[22] 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.[23][24]

The non-profit "Preserve Education Choice" (PEC) was founded,[25] composed of students, faculty, and alumnae who are trying to reverse the decision. Two lawsuits were filed by Preserve Educational Choice.[26] On January 23, 2007, both lawsuits were dismissed in Lynchburg Circuit Court.[27] PEC raised enough money to appeal both dismissals,[28] and a group of nine students brought the case to the Virginia Supreme Court. "Richmond lawyer Wyatt B. Durrette Jr. asked the state's high court to grant an appeal of the group's lawsuit."[29] Professor emeritus of Romance languages, Charlotte Stern, published the 24-page letter on the PEC website (with signatures from alumnae, former professors and a former president of Randolph's board of trustees) condemning the decision.[30][31][31] Ginger Hill Worden, Interim President, responded to this letter.[32] 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.[33] The institution was renamed Randolph College on July 1, 2007, when it became coeducational.

See also[edit]


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

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]