The Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary was established on April 11, 1881 (1881-04-11) in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, by two teachers from the Oread Institute of Worcester, Massachusetts: Harriet E. Giles and Sophia B. Packard. Giles and Packard had met while Giles was a student, and Packard the preceptress, of the New Salem Academy in New Salem, Massachusetts, and fostered a lifelong friendship there. The two of them traveled to Atlanta specifically to found a school for black freedwomen, and found support from Frank Quarles, the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church.
Giles and Packard began the school with 11 African-American women and $100 given to them by the First Baptist Church in Medford, Massachusetts., and a promise of further support from the Women's American Baptist Home Missionary Society (WABHMS), a group with which they were both affiliated in Boston. Although their first students were mostly illiterate, they envisioned their school to be a liberal arts institution - the first circular of the college stated that they planned to offer "algebra, physiology, essays, Latin, rhetoric, geometry, political economy, mental philosophy (psychology), chemistry, botany, Constitution of the United States, astronomy, zoology, geology, moral philosophy, and evidences of Christianity". Over time, they attracted more students; by the time the first term ended, they had enrolled 80 students in the seminary. The WABHMS made a down payment on a nine-acre (36,000 m²) site in Atlanta relatively close to the church they began in, which originally had five buildings left from a Union Civil War encampment, to support classroom and residence hall needs.
In 1882 the two women returned to Massachusetts to bid for more money and were introduced to wealthy Northern Baptist businessman John D. Rockefeller at a church conference in Ohio. Rockefeller was impressed by Packard's vision. In April 1884, Rockefeller visited the school. By this time, the seminary had 600 students and 16 faculty members. It was surviving on generous donations by the black community in Atlanta, the efforts of volunteer teachers, and gifts of supplies; many Atlanta black churches, philanthropists, and black community groups raised and donated money to settle the debt on the property that had been acquired. Rockefeller was so impressed that he settled the debt on the property. Rockefeller's wife, Laura Spelman Rockefeller; her sister, Lucy Spelman; and their parents, Harvey Buel and Lucy Henry Spelman, were also supportive of the school. The Spelmans were longtime activists in the abolitionist movement. Thus, in 1884 the name of the school was changed to the Spelman Seminary in honor of Laura Spelman, John D. Rockefeller's wife, and her parents, who were longtime activists in the anti-slavery movement. Rockefeller also donated the funds for what is currently the oldest building on campus, Rockefeller Hall, which was constructed in 1886.
Packard was appointed as Spelman's first president in 1888, after the charter for the seminary was granted. Packard died in 1891, and Giles assumed the presidency until her death in 1909.
The years 1910 to 1953 saw great growth and transition for the seminary. Upon Giles' death, Lucy Hale Tapley became president. Although the college was a stride in and of itself, at the time, neither the founders nor the current administration had interest in challenging the status quo of young women as primarily responsible for the family and the home. Tapley declared: "Any course of study which fails to cultivate a taste and fitness for practical and efficient work in some part of the field of the world's needs is unpopular at Spelman and finds no place in our curriculum." The nursing curriculum was strengthened; a teachers' dormitory and a home economics building were constructed, and Tapley Hall, the science building, was completed in 1925. The Granddaughters' Club, a club for students whose mothers and aunts had attended Spelman was also created, and this club is still in existence today.
In 1927, Spelman Seminary officially became Spelman College. Florence Matilda Read assumed the presidency in 1927. Shortly thereafter, Spelman entered into an "agreement of affiliation" with nearby Morehouse College and Atlanta University by chartering the Atlanta University Center in 1929. Atlanta University was to provide graduate education for students, whereas Morehouse and Spelman were responsible for the undergraduate education. At a time during which black students were often denied access to graduate studies at predominantly white southern research universities, access to Atlanta University allowed the undergraduate students at Morehouse and Spelman immediate access to graduate training.
In 1927, one of the most important buildings on campus, Sisters Chapel, was dedicated. The chapel was named for its primary benefactors, sisters Laura Spelman Rockefeller and Lucy Maria Spelman. The college had also begun to see an improvement in extracurricular investment in the arts, with the organization of the Spelman College Glee Club in 1925, inauguration of the much-loved Atlanta tradition of the annual Spelman-Morehouse Christmas Carol Concert and smaller events such as the spring orchestra and chorus concert, the Atlanta University Summer Theater, and the University Players, a drama organization for AUC students. The school also began to see more of a focus on collegiate education, as it discontinued its elementary and high school divisions. In 1930 the Spelman Nursery School was created as a training center for mothers and a practice arena for students who planned careers in education and child development. Spelman celebrated its 50th anniversary in April 1931. This milestone as accompanied by the construction of a university library that was shared amongst the Atlanta University Center institutions, and the center continues to share a library to this day.
The school continued to expand, building and acquiring more property to accommodate the growing student body. IN 1947, Spelman joined the list of "approved institutions" of the Association of American Universities. In 1953, Florence Read retired, and Albert E. Manley became the first black and first male president of college. Under his presidency and the presidency of his successor, Donald Stewart, Spelman saw significant growth. The college established its study abroad program, the Merrill Foreign Travel-Study Program. Stewart's administration tripled the college's Endowment and oversaw the establishment of the Comprehensive Writing Program, an across-the-curriculum writing program that requires students to submit portfolios of their written work; the Ethel Waddell Githii College Honors Program; and the Women's Research and Resource Center. In 1958, the college received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Going into the 1960s, the Spelman College students became involved in the heated civil rights actions going on in Atlanta. In 1962, the first Spelman students were arrested for participating in sit-ins in the Atlanta community. Noted American historian Howard Zinn was a professor of history at Spelman during this era, and served as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chapter at the college. Zinn mentored many of Spelman's students fighting for civil rights at the time, including Alice Walker and Marian Wright Edelman Zinn was dismissed from the college in 1963 for supporting Spelman students in their efforts to fight segregation; at the time, Spelman was focused on turning out "refined young ladies." Edelman herself writes that Spelman had a reputation as "a tea-pouring, very strict school designed to turn black girls into refined ladies and teachers."
Stewart retired in 1986, and the following year, Johnnetta Betsch Cole became the first black female president of Spelman College. During this time, the college became noted for its commitment to community service and its ties to the local community. Cole also led the college's most successful capital campaign; between 1986 and 1996, the college raised $113.8 million, including a $20 million gift from Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille Hanks Cosby, whose daughter attended Spelman. In honor of this gift, the Cosby Academic Center was constructed. In July 2015 the remainder of the funds were returned and an endowed professorship named for the Cosby couple discontinued as allegations of sexual assault by Bill Cosby grew more prominent.
In 1997, Cole stepped down and Audrey Forbes Manley became Spelman's first alumna president. After her retirement, in 2002, Beverly Daniel Tatum, the college's president until 2015, took the post. The campus now comprises 26 buildings on 39 acres (160,000 m2) in Atlanta.
In 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama served as the keynote commencement speaker.
In 2012, media mogul and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey served as the kenynote commencement speaker.
In March 2015, Mary Schmidt Campbell was named the 10th president of Spelman College. She began her presidency August 2015.
Since its inception Spelman has had ten presidents:Sophia B. Packard, (1888) founded women's seminary with Giles in a basement of an historic African-American church and cultivated Rockefeller support for the schoolHarriet E. Giles, (1891) under whom the school granted its first college degreesLucy Hale Tapley, (1910) under whom the school decided to focus on higher education, the school officially became Spelman College (1927), and Sisters Chapel, one of the main buildings on campus, was erected.Florence M. Read, (1927) a Mount Holyoke College graduate, under whom the school established an endowment fund of over $3 million, the school came into agreement with Atlanta University and Morehouse College to form the Atlanta University Center (later Clark-Atlanta University, Morris Brown College, Morehouse School of Medicine, and the Interdenominational Theological Center were added), the Arnett Library was built, and Spelman earned approval from the American Association of Universities;Albert E. Manley (1953) (the first black and first male president of Spelman), under whom study abroad programs were established, the fine arts center was built, and three new residence halls and several classroom buildings were renovated. According to Howard Zinn, Manley tried to suppress the student civil rights movement that was taking place on campus during his tenure.Donald M. Stewart (1976) under whom the departments of women's studies and chemistry were founded, and three strategic programs were formed: the Comprehensive Writing Program, the Women's Research and Resource Center, and the Ethel Waddell Githii Honors Program, and a continuing education department and a computer literacy program were established;Johnnetta B. Cole (1987) (the first African-American female president of Spelman), under whom the college received $20 million from Drs. William and Camille Cosby for the construction of the Cosby Academic Center and instituted the Cole Institute for Community Service;Audrey F. Manley (1997) (the first alumna president of Spelman), under which Spelman gained a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, Spelman was accepted as a provisional member of NCAA Division III athletics, a Science Center was finished;Beverly Daniel Tatum, (2002) who was appointed in 2002 after teaching and serving as an administrator for a number of years at Mount Holyoke College, and under whom the renovation of Sisters Chapel was begun;Mary Schmidt Campbell, (2015) a President Obama appointee that serves as vice chair of the President's committee on the Arts and Humanities, also formerly served as dean emeritus of the Tisch School of the Arts and Associate Provost for the Arts at New York University;
The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art is the only museum in the nation that emphasizes art by and about women of the African Diaspora.
In 2016, the museum in collaboration with Spelman's Department of Art and Art History launched a two-year curatorial studies program to increase diversity in the museum industry. The curatorial studies program is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The 2016 US News rankings placed Spelman 1st among Historically Black Colleges and/or Universities and 10th for most innovative among all U.S. liberal art colleges.
Spelman is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Spelman is a member of the Coalition of Women's Colleges, National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, The College Fund/UNCF, National Association for College Admissions Counseling, and State of Georgia Professional Standards Commission (PSC).
Spelman offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in the following majors: Art, Child Development, Comparative Women's Studies, Drama & Dance, Economics, English, Foreign Languages (French and Spanish), History, Human Services, Independent Major, International Studies, Mathematics, Music, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Religious Studies, Sociology, and Anthropology.
Spelman offers a Bachelor of Science degree in the following majors: Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, Computer and Information Sciences, Dual Degree Engineering, Environmental Science, Mathematics, and Physics.
The Ethel Waddell Githii Honors Program is a four-year comprehensive academic program open to highly qualified students who meet the above average performance criteria.
Spelman has several research programs designed to hone students' research skills and make them more competitive for admissions into top tier graduate school and academic fellowship programs.
Spelman has a four-year graduation rate of 69%, a five-year graduation rate of 73%, and a six-year graduation rate of 76%. It has a student:faculty ratio of 12:1.
Spelman is a selective institution annually offering admissions to approximately 40% of the 8,000+ applicants.
Registered academic honor societies include Alpha Epsilon Delta, Alpha Lambda Delta, Alpha Sigma Lambda, Beta Kappa Chi, Golden Key International Honour Society, Kappa Delta Epsilon Society, Mortar Board Senior Honor Society, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Sigma Alpha, Psi Chi, Sigma Tau Delta, and the Upsilon Pi Epsilon.
Students are all women and predominantly African-American. Thirty percent come from Georgia, 69% from the rest of the United States, and 1% are international. Of the incoming class, 99% applied for need-based financial aid, and such aid was awarded to 97% of the first-year class. In 2007-08, a total of $44,399,221 in financial aid was awarded.
Spelman offers organized and informal activities. The college's 82 student organizations include community service organizations, special interest groups, Morehouse cheerleaders, choral groups, music ensembles, dance groups, drama/theater groups, a jazz band, club, and intramural sports, and student government.
The Spelman campus in Atlanta consists of 39 acres and 27 buildings. The cost of tuition is approximately $26,000 and room and board is set at about $11,000 for a full academic school year. Ninety-seven percent of incoming students receive financial aid.
All new Spelman students are required to attend a six-day New Student Orientation (NSO) in August immediately before the fall semester begins. The Spelman NSO is a host of events, workshops, and sessions designed to teach new Spelman students about the mission, history, culture, sisterhood, and traditions of Spelman College; students are also given information on how to be a successful college student, such as registration, advisement, placement, and planning class schedules. NSO is led by student leaders who apply for the positions and Spelman alumnae. During NSO, students are required to remain on campus; any leave must be approved by NSO leaders.
One of Spelman's oldest traditions are students wearing "respectable and conservative" white dresses to designated formal events on campus. The tradition began in the early 1900s when it was customary for women to wear such dresses when attending formal events. Spelman's white dress tradition continues to thrive today; white dresses are worn to the annual NSO induction ceremony, Founders Day Convocation, Alumnae March, and graduating seniors wear white dresses underneath their black graduation gowns for Class Day and Commencement.
Spelman offers a literary magazine (Aunt Chloe: A Journal of Candor), a student newspaper (Spelman Spotlight) and student government association newsletter (Jaguar Print). The yearbook is called Reflections.
Religious organizations currently registered on campus include: Baha'i Club, Al-Nissa, Alabaster Box, Atlanta Adventist Collegiate Society, Campus Crusade for Christ, Crossfire International Campus Ministry, Happiness In Praise for His Overflowing Presence, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Movements of Praise Dance Team, The Newman Organization, The Outlet and The Pre-Theology Society Minority.
International student and social organizations
NAACP and Sister Steps are registered campus organizations. Spelman also has chapters of Colleges Against Cancer, Circle K, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Habitat for Humanity, National Council of Negro Women, National Society of Black Engineers, Operation Smile, United Way, and Young Democrats of America. Spelman is also the first HBCU to charter a chapter of Amnesty International on its campus.
Spelman has all four National Pan-Hellenic Council sororities on campus: Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta, and Sigma Gamma Rho. In addition, Spelman has a chapter of the Tau Beta Sigma National Honorary Band Sorority and a chapter of Gamma Sigma Sigma, a national service sorority. Spelman students may also join the AUC-wide chapter of Alpha Phi Omega housed at Clark Atlanta University.
Spelman College has 11 residence halls on campus with approximately 1,200 students occupying them. Each one has unique features and identities. There are three first-year students only residence halls, an honors residence hall (mixed with first-year students and upperclassmen), and seven upperclassmen only residence halls. All first-year students must stay on campus and it is a Spelman tradition for them to engage in friendly residence hall competitions (i.e. stroll-offs, chant-offs, pranks, fundraising, etc.) throughout the school year.
From 2003 to 2013 the Spelman Jaguars were a member of the Great South Athletic Conference (GSAC) of NCAA's Division III. The school sponsored seven varsity sports: basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, tennis, volleyball.
On November 1, 2012, Spelman College announced that it would be dropping all intercollegiate sports at the end of the 2012-13 academic year to promote healthy lifestyles amongst students. The vision is that with this change, students will implement these healthy practices in their home life outside of college.Alma Jean Billingslea, civil rights activist and authorPearl Cleage, authorSophia B. Jones, first African-American faculty member, organized nursing programShirley Franklin, former Atlanta mayorHoward Zinn, historian