Celebrating Black History Month - Spelman College
Spelman College's history began on April 11, 1881. With the help of Frank Quarles, pastor of Atlanta's Friendship Baptist Church, Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles, schoolteachers and Baptist missionaries from New England, started a school in the church's basement. The school was supported by the Woman's American Baptist Home Mission Society and named the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary. With $100 from the First Baptist Church of Medford, Massachusetts, the founders embarked on a noble mission—providing quality education to black women and girls. Ten women, some of whom were former slaves, and one young girl, eager to acquire basic educational skills, constituted the first student body. The basement soon overflowed, and it became imperative to move to larger and more suitable quarters.
Through the philanthropy of John D. Rockefeller, whom Packard and Giles met at a church conference in Cleveland, Ohio, the school was able to relocate from its basement quarters to a nine-acre site once used as army barracks by Union troops during the Civil War. In 1884 the school expressed its gratitude for Rockefeller's generosity by changing the name of the school to Spelman Seminary in honor of the parents of his wife, Laura Spelman Rockefeller. The school was legally organized with a charter and a board of trustees in 1888 under the presidency of Packard.
In 1891 Harriet Giles succeeded Sophia Packard and served as president of Spelman for eighteen years. During her tenure the school enrolled 800 students, employed 30 teachers, and owned property valued at $90,000. Curricular offerings expanded to include high school and college programs of instruction, teacher training, missionary training, and nurses' training. The seminary conferred its first high school diplomas in 1887 and its first college degrees in 1901. Giles's death on November 12, 1909, marked the end of the era of the founders.
From 1910 to 1953 the seminary experienced unprecedented growth during the presidencies of Lucy Hale Tapley (1910-27) and Florence Matilda Read (1927-53). On June 1, 1924, Spelman Seminary officially became Spelman College, and substantial strides were made in its curriculum and organization. An "Agreement of Affiliation," signed in 1929, set up a university system in which Spelman and Morehouse colleges served as undergraduate institutions and Atlanta University served as a graduate school, thereby providing the undergraduate institutions immediate access to graduate facilities in an era when blacks were denied entrance to southern research universities.
Article by Taronda Spencer, Spelman College. Courtesy of The New Georgia Encyclopedia, the Georgia Humanities Council, and the University of Georgia Press.
For more information about Spelman College's history, visit http://www.spelman.edu/about-us/about-spelman/history-in-brief