Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spelman College

The Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary was established on April 11, 1881 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. The school was originally named Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary and was sponsored by the American Baptist Women's Home Mission Society.

Giles and Packard began the school with 11 African-American women and $100 given to them by a church congregation in Medford, Massachusetts. 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.

In 1883, the school relocated to a nine acre (36,000 m²) site in Atlanta relatively close to the church they began in, which originally had only five buildings left from a Union Civil War encampment, to support classroom and residence hall needs. The school was able to survive on generous donations by the black community in Atlanta, the efforts of volunteer teachers, and gifts of supplies.

In April 1884, Rockefeller visited the school and was so impressed that he settled the debt on the property. The name of the school was changed to the Spelman Seminary in honor of Laura Spelman, an Oread student and the wife of John D. Rockefeller who helped to fund the school, and her parents who were longtime activists in the anti-slavery movement. Rockefeller's gift precipitated interest from other benefactors

Rockefeller also donated the funds for what is currently the oldest building on campus, Rockefeller Hall; in 1887 Packard Hall was also established. Packard was appointed as Spelman's first president in 1888, after the charter for the seminary was granted. The first college degrees were awarded in 1901.
Packard died in 1891, and Giles assumed the presidency until her death in 1909. Lucy Hale Tapley then became president, and the college witnessed a transition to vocational training. 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. A club for students whose mothers and aunts had attended Spelman was also created, and this club is still in existence today.

In 1924, Spelman Seminary became Spelman College. Spelman also solidified its affiliation with 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. In 1932, Spelman was granted accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. 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.

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 also began to see an improvement in extracurricular investment in the arts, with the 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. In 1930 the Spelman Nursery School as 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.


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