Women's colleges in the Southern United States

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Hollins University

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 Southern 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, closely followed by Judson College in 1838. Some schools, such as 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.

Historically black colleges (HBCU)[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)

Additional 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 the Brenau University Women's College): Despite its name, the college was never formally associated with any church or religious group. Founded in Gainesville, Georgia, it became Brenau College in 1900 and Brenau University in 1992. The university still boasts its robust Women's College on its historic Gainesville campus today, educating women to be, as its motto states, "as gold refined by fire."
  • 1881: Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary (now Spelman College): In 1924 it was the second historically black female institution to receive its collegiate charter, making it the second oldest historically black women's college.
  • 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 that the college is to remain open. Sweet Briar successfully re-opened for the 2015-16 school year and remains open.[8]

Additional former and defunct women's schools[edit]

  • 1869: Young's Female College in Thomasville, Georgia, was founded in 1869.[15] It had 15 teachers and 115 students in 1906.[16]
  • 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. The junior college, which offered associate degrees in both liberal arts and fine arts, closed in 1976.
  • 1873: Blue Mountain College (now Blue Mountain Christian University): 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 board of trustees voted to make the school co-educational.
  • 1875: Mount Hermon Female Seminary: Founded in Clinton, Mississippi, it closed in 1924.
  • 1881: Incarnate Word School (now University of the Incarnate Word): Located in San Antonio, Texas and originally chartered as a women's college, it absorbed an all-female secondary school early in its history, adding college classes in 1909. It became coeducational in 1970.
  • 1881: Tillotson College: Founded as a coeducational school, it was a women's college from 1926–1935. It became coeducational and has developed as Huston–Tillotson University with additional programs.
  • 1883: Belhaven College for Young Ladies (now Belhaven University): Opened in 1894 and located in Jackson, Mississippi. The school became coeducational in 1954.[17]
  • 1883: Hartshorn Memorial College founded in Richmond, Virginia. In 1932, it merged with Virginia Union University.[3][18]
  • 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.[4]
  • 1886: H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College: Became coeducational in 2007 (merged with Tulane University)
  • 1889: Converse College: Founded in Spartanburg, South Carolina, became coeducational in 2020. Changed its name a year later when it became a 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.
  • 1890: Belmont College for Young Women: It merged with Ward Seminary for Young Ladies in 1913 to become Ward-Belmont College and later became coeducational.
  • 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.
  • 1921: Villa Madonna College: Founded in Covington, Kentucky as a women's college, but conducted many coeducational classes through an affiliation with the all-male St. Thomas More College. In 1945, Villa Madonna became coeducational when St. Thomas More was merged into it. The school's previous name of Thomas More College was adopted in 1968, the same year it moved to its current campus in Crestview Hills. Thomas More was granted university status in 2018.
  • 1925: Mount Saint Joseph College for Women: Founded as a junior college in the rural Daviess County, Kentucky community of Maple Mount, it soon opened a coeducational extension branch in nearby Owensboro. The extension branch eventually became a second campus, although the Maple Mount campus remained all-female. In 1950, Mount Saint Joseph merged its two campuses into a single coeducational institution at the Owensboro site. The following year, the school became Brescia College, and it adopted its current name of Brescia University in 1998.
  • 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 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.[19] 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."[20]

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.[20] The ruling did not require the university to change its name to reflect its coeducational status.[21]

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.[22] 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,[23] Columbia College in South Carolina,[24] the Seven Sisters,[25] a separate article from Mount Holyoke College,[26][27] Simmons College,[28] Sweet Briar College and Hollins University.[29] 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 trustees votes.[30][31]

The non-profit "Preserve Education Choice" (PEC) was founded,[32] composed of students, faculty, and alumnae who are trying to reverse the decision. Two lawsuits were filed by Preserve Educational Choice.[33] On January 23, 2007, both lawsuits were dismissed in Lynchburg Circuit Court.[34] PEC raised enough money to appeal both dismissals,[35] 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."[36] 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.[37][38] Ginger Hill Worden, Interim President, responded to this letter.[39] 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.[40] The institution was renamed Randolph College on July 1, 2007, when it became coeducational.

More recently, Midway University in Kentucky, which already had coeducational evening, weekend, and online programs, became fully coeducational when it admitted men to its daytime undergraduate program for the first time at the start of the 2016–17 school year. When announcing this change, the school's president cited surveys indicating that only about 2% of high school girls wanted to attend a women-only college, and added, "We see this change as strengthening our historic mission to educate women by broadening our reach to that 98 percent of young women who would never consider a women's college."[11]

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. S. J. Clarke publishing Company. p. 48. Retrieved August 12, 2008. Barber Memorial College Anniston Alabama.
  6. ^ Keiser, Albert (1952). College Names, p. 173. Retrieved August 12, 2008.
  7. ^ Townsend, Barbara (1999). Two-Year Colleges for Women and Minorities. ISBN 9780815331735. 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 October 7, 2013.
  10. ^ Gergel, Belinda F. (September 14, 2016). "Barhamville Academy". South Carolina Encyclopedia. Univ. of S.C. Retrieved October 20, 2022.
  11. ^ a b "Midway University Trustees vote to accept men into its daytime undergraduate programs" (Press release). Midway University. May 16, 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2017.
  12. ^ "The doors closed 38 years ago but Kee-Mar memories linger on". The Daily Mail. Hagerstown, Maryland. March 12, 1949. p. 6. Retrieved October 18, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  13. ^ Blandin, Isabella Margaret Elizabeth (1909). History of Higher Education of Women in the South Prior to 1860. Neale Publishing Company.
  14. ^ "Davenport College history". Caldwellheritagemuseum.org. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  15. ^ Arthur Remillard (2011). Southern Civil Religions: Imagining the Good Society in the Post-Reconstruction Era. University of Georgia Press. p. 175. ISBN 9780820336855.
  16. ^ J. Cochrane Hunt (December 20, 1906). "Six Thousand Dollars Needed: The President of a Southern College for Girls Makes a Modest, But Earnest Appeal". New York Observer.
  17. ^ "History of Belhaven University, previously Belhaven College". www.belhaven.edu. Retrieved March 27, 2019.
  18. ^ Photos
  19. ^ Mississippi IHL – Mississippi's Universities
  20. ^ a b Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718 (1982)
  21. ^ MUW – Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, Mississippi University for Women
  22. ^ Worden, Virginia (September 15, 2006). "Why We Had No Choice but to Go Coed". washingtonpost.edu.
  23. ^ Kiss, Elizabeth. "Reaffirming Our Commitment to Women's Education". agnesscott.edu. Retrieved October 20, 2006.
  24. ^ Whitson, Caroline (October 17, 2006). "The case for women's colleges". thestate.com. Retrieved October 20, 2006.
  25. ^ Simpson, April (November 5, 2006). "'Sisters' don't want a future in coeducation: Women's colleges see an obligation". Boston Globe.
  26. ^ Creighton, Joanne (May 21, 2007). "Why we need women's colleges". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on July 10, 2007.
  27. ^ Mount Holyoke College :A Tradition of Their Own
  28. ^ Scrimshaw, Susan (October 4, 2006). "Yes to women's colleges". Boston Globe.
  29. ^ "Women's colleges must be an option". roanoke.com. September 14, 2005. Retrieved October 14, 2006.
  30. ^ Nguyen, Janet (August 29, 2006). "R-MWC sends message to board of trustees". NewsAdvance.com. Retrieved February 18, 2007.
  31. ^ "YouTube footage of campus protests and efforts to save RMWC". YouTube. December 15, 2006. Retrieved February 18, 2007.
  32. ^ "preserveeducationalchoice.org". Retrieved March 15, 2015.
  33. ^ "Coed Vote Brings Legal, Financial Repercussions". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
  34. ^ Challenges to coed decision dismissed
  35. ^ "Group suing over coed vote continues fundraising efforts". Jacksonville.com. July 2, 2007. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  36. ^ Va. Supreme Court hears argument for appeal of coed challenge
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ Desrets, Christa (July 22, 2007). "She said, she said: The coed debate broken down". The News & Advance. Retrieved July 22, 2007.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ Desrets, Christa (July 31, 2007). "Richmond Appeals go to Virginia Supreme Court". The News & Advance.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]