History of College X: Spelman College, Basic Questions



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Natima Walker

EDLD 7432

Dr. Russell Mays

June 3rd, 2012


History of College X: Spelman College,

Basic Questions:

  1. When was Spelman College founded? Where?

Spelman College was founded in 1881 in Atlanta, Georgia in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church. The College was originally named Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary until receiving its charter in 1924.

  1. By whom was it founded? How was it funded?

Spelman College was founded by Harriet E. Giles and Sophia B. Packard. Both women were teachers at the Oread Institute. Spelman was originally funded by the American Baptist Women’s Home Mission Society. The school was started with 11 students and $100 provided for the college. In 1883, Giles and Packard met John D. Rockefeller who pledged $250.00 to support the school. In 1884, visited the college and decided to pay off the lien on the property (the college had moved to a nearby area in Atlanta and had incurred debt). Spelman is named after Laura Spelman, Rockefeller’s wife.

  1. What kind of institution was Spelman College originally?

At its inception, Spelman served as a seminary for African American women; however, the first credentialing offered by Spelman were high school diplomas that were conferred in 1887. It can be assumed that while the name still contained the word “seminary,” Spelman’s offerings extended beyond the theological. Spelman is a perfect example of missionary-funded education, or education that is funded through a religious organization.

  1. Who was its first president? Board of trustees (source)?

According to Spelman’s website, Henry L. Morehouse became the first president of the Board of Trustees in 1888 and subsequently named Sophia B. Packard as the first president of the college.

  1. What was its original mission? How does that compare with its present mission?

Spelman’s original mission of education African American women remains intact some 131 after the college’s inception. While the curriculum has changed, Spelman’s mission of educating African American women has remained at the forefront of the college’s mission.

  1. Who was admitted to Spelman?

Originally, African American women were the only ones granted admission at Spelman College. Due to a lack of record keeping and formal education in the African American community, there were no strict admissions’ standards in 1881. The first 11 students were composed of African American women who expressed a desire to acquire formal education, some of whom were former slaves.

  1. How was Spelman influenced by major historical events?

The founding of Spelman College is in and of itself proof of the historical effects of post-Civil War America. Without the emancipation of the slaves in 1863, Spelman would have remained but an idea or dream. As African American women were granted more rights, Spelman’s programs and enrollment has continued to expand.

  1. How did its curriculum develop over time? How is it now?

Originally, Spelman provided enough credentialing to confer high school diplomas with the first diplomas conferred in 1887. The missionary training department was introduced in 1891 followed by the first college degrees being conferred in 1901. Spelman, a private institution, now offers a wide variety of liberal arts programs and, thanks to becoming part of the Atlanta University Center with Morehouse College in 1929. Spelman’s curriculum seeks to prepare African American woman for careers in service and leadership in its 27 degree programs across varying disciplines.

  1. What are some recent statistics of Spelman College?

As of 2010, the student body at Spelman College is largely African American (87.74%) and 100% female. Georgia residents account for 29% of Spelman’s enrollment. As of 2010, Spelman boasted 471 graduates (385 degrees Bachelor of Arts degrees and 86 Bachelor of Science degrees).

  1. What present-day characteristics show a link to its past?

Spelman is deeply steeped in history and has maintained its exclusivity over the past 130 years. Though religious and mission-centered curriculums have been abandoned, Spelman’s focus of education African American women to become service-minded leaders has not changed.

Enhancement Questions

  1. How did the location of its founding influence its development?

The fact that Spelman College was founded in Atlanta is a testament to the area being ripe for societal change after the Civil War. Former slaves, desperate for education, were sure to flock to a school that did not discriminate against them, but rather was hinged on their participation, even if the school was housed in a basement. Atlanta, Georgia has long been steeped in the African American tradition and culture; the birthplace for this institution couldn’t have been more perfect.

  1. What were the interests of its founders (funders)?

The interest of the founders of Spelman College was pure—educating young, black women to become missionaries and leaders in a post-Civil War society that left many ex-slaves disenfranchised and without previous formal education. John D. Rockefeller and his wife Laura Spelman Rockefeller were continuing the legacy put in place by Mrs. Rockefeller’s parents, Harvey and Lucy Spelman, who were longtime supporters of emancipation and had even assisted in the Underground Railroad.

  1. Has there been a substantial change in mission and form since its founding?

While the curriculum has changed, the focus of Spelman College has remained relatively the same, save the omission of missionary-centered studies.

  1. Are there any anecdotes or folklore available that indicate the character of Spelman in a given period?

The anecdote that stands out the most is the tale of Harriet E. Giles and Sophia B. Packard approaching John Rockefeller in an attempt to secure more funding for the school. According to Spelman folklore, Rockefeller was so impressed with the dedication of Giles and Packard (he stated that people often ask for money, but can rarely produce the results to justify a continued donation) that he decided to bankroll the institution after visiting in 1884. This piece of folklore explains the fearless determination that Spelman was founded on and a tradition that continues to guide the school today.

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