Saluting Spelman: Women Who Serve Since 1881

Spelman Class of 1892
Spelman Class of 1892

On April 11, 1881, Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary was founded by Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church. The school grew quickly, moving to its present site in 1883 and like many of its other black college contemporaries, boasted a “Model School” for the training of student-teachers.  The following year the school’s name was changed to Spelman Seminary in honor of Mrs. Laura Spelman Rockefeller and her parents Harvey Buel and Lucy Henry Spelman who were longtime activists in the antislavery movement. Its final name change occurred in 1924, when the school became Spelman College.

Today, Spelman is the leading educational institution for African-American women in the nation. Ranked among the top liberal arts schools in the country by the U.S. News and World Report, and among the top 10 best women’s colleges in the country by Forbes magazine, Spelman is also notably a part of the Atlanta University Center.

Spelman’s legion of distinguished alumnae includes Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker, Children Defense Fund Founder Marian Wright Edelman, Spelman College President Emerita Audrey F. Manley and actresses Ester Rolle and LaTanya Richardson.

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A historian and storyteller whose research interests include black higher education and college student activism, DR. CRYSTAL A. deGREGORY is a research fellow at Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. A graduate of the historic Fisk, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee State universities, she is a passionate Historically Black College and University (HBCU) advocate, convener of the HBCUstory Symposium, and editor-in-chief of The Journal of HBCU Research + Culture. Follow her online at @HBCUstorian.