The history of Wesleyan College

The History of Wesleyan College  

Chartered as the Georgia Female College on December 23, 1836, Wesleyan was founded through the efforts of a group of Macon citizens and the Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church as evidence of their concern for the education of women. The Reverend George Foster Pierce was elected president of the Georgia Female College in 1838, and the College opened its doors on January 7, 1839. Ninety young women were enrolled in our first session.

More than 180 years later, Wesleyan continues to educate women to do the extraordinary in their professions and in service to their communities. With many celebrated Wesleyan Firsts and honorary degrees conferred by the College, Wesleyan continues the tradition of excellence. Wesleyan offers the Bachelor of Arts, the Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), and the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees, as well as eight pre-professional programs - allied health, athletic trainer, dental, engineering (dual degree), law, medicine, pharmacy, seminary, and veterinary medicine.


1836 – 1928: The College Street Campus

The Georgia Female College was established with an expressed aim of granting the “power to confer all such honors, degrees, and licenses as are usually conferred in colleges or universities,” as is stated in Wesleyan’s charter of December 23, 1836. From the beginning, our curriculum encompassed liberal arts study with an emphasis on the sciences – quite progressive for the 1800s.

An early course of study included natural philosophy, mental and moral philosophy, astronomy, botany, chemistry, physiology, geology, history, and ancient and modern languages. Thomas B. Slade of the Clinton Female Institute brought two of his teachers and 30 of his students to Wesleyan. Some entered the junior class, which made it possible to graduate the first class in July of 1840, a year and a half after the College opened. Catherine Elizabeth Brewer (Benson) was the first member of the class to receive the “Testimonial of the Georgia Female College,” which stated in English that “after having passed through a Regular Course of Study ... embracing all the sciences which are usually taught in the Colleges of the United States, with such as appropriately belong in its most ample range,” she was deemed worthy of the first degree conferred by the institution.

In 1843, the Georgia Conference of the Methodist Church assumed responsibility for the College, and by an act of the state legislature changed its name to Wesleyan Female College. In 1917 the “Female” was eliminated from the title, and the school assumed its present name of Wesleyan College. Today, the College continues its affiliation with The United Methodist Church and in 1993 Wesleyan was designated a historic landmark by the church.

Wesleyan College saw the development of a number of student organizations throughout its history.  Wesleyan students founded the Adelphean Society (later Alpha Delta Pi, founded in 1851) and the Philomathean Society (later Phi Mu, founded in 1852), the first American sororities.  An interest in former students became apparent by 1858, when Wesleyan’s trustees adopted a resolution that “the faculty be requested to take into consideration the propriety of having a meeting of the alumnae at the next commencement.” An organizational meeting of the alumnae took place on July 11, 1859, at Macon’s Mulberry Street United Methodist Church. In July 1860, during commencement week, the first annual reunion was held – and thus was established the first alumnae association of a degree-granting college.  In 1897 Wesleyan established a chapter of the Young Woman’s Christian Association (YWCA), which continues to this day as the Council on Religious Unity (CRU).

In 1894, with the aid of the board of education of the Methodist Church, Wesleyan’s curriculum was studied and revised and the College admissions policy redefined. This action led to Wesleyan’s admission to full membership in the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools of the Southern States in 1919. The College has been continuously accredited by its successor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), since that time.

In 1928 the liberal arts college was moved from its original College Street site to the new Rivoli suburban campus. The historic College Street building continued to house the School of Fine Arts, which consisted of the Conservatory of Music and the departments of art, theatre, and speech. In 1953 the School of Fine Arts, too, was moved to the present Rivoli campus, and in 1963, Wesleyan’s original downtown campus burned to the ground.

1928 – Present: The Rivoli Campus

The Land: Approximately half the land included in the Wesleyan campus is a forest preserve/arboretum and remains undeveloped. This area, located at the back of the campus, is a native hardwood forest and home to a wide variety of native plants and wildlife and many species of birds. It has three entrances to hiking trails, a natural playground, a log cabin and outdoor pavilion. The “core campus” is set in the southeast corner of the property.

The original landscaping plan was designed in 1928 by the Atlanta firm of J. Leon Hoffman and Company. Hoffman was a pupil of the great American landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York’s Central Park and the landscape of Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. Early in his career, Hoffman supervised Olmsted’s work on Biltmore and the Druid Hills suburb in Atlanta. His later work included designs at Callaway Gardens and the Atlanta subdivisions of Avondale Estates, Morningside, and Garden Hills. In Macon, his designs can be found in Shirley Hills, Ingleside, Forsyth Circle, and Callaway Terrace. Also significant is the grove of cherry trees at the back entrance of the Candler building, designed by noted Macon architect Ellamae Ellis League ’20 who attended Wesleyan and was the first female fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Due to the efforts of the Wesleyan College Alumnae Association, the entire Wesleyan campus is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Wesleyan College Historic District. The designation was approved for Wesleyan in 2004 because the campus meets four areas of significance – architecture, landscape architecture, community planning and development, and education. The Wesleyan College Historic District includes the entire 200 - acre campus and consists of approximately thirty buildings, the majority of which are Georgian Revival-style and historically significant.

The Buildings: The Wesleyan College campus is among the most extensive and intact early twentieth century-planned campuses in Georgia, with little if any incompatible new development or intrusive parking lots that characterize many other campuses. A unified design from the beginning, later additions have followed the original plan. The large, open, central quadrangle is a design that dates back to mid-sixteenth century Cambridge, England, reflecting the layout of monasteries of the time whose design became associated with education.

The original campus plan was designed by well-known Cleveland, Ohio, architects Walker & Weeks and the first Georgian Revival-style buildings were completed in 1928. Original buildings included the currently named: Tate Hall, Taylor Hall, Olive Swann Porter Student Center, Porter Gymnasium, Persons, Wortham, and Banks residence halls, old physical plant / smokestack, and the Loggia. The Candler Library Building, now Candler Alumnae Center, was also completed in 1928 and designed by Atlanta architect Philip T. Shutze. Several buildings constructed later are the works of Macon architect W. Elliott Dunwody, whose wife, Mary Bennet, was a Wesleyanne, Class of 1925. The Dunwody buildings include Porter Family Memorial Fine Arts building, Huckabee Hall, Jones and Hightower residence halls, Murphey Art Building, and the co-design of the Willet Library. These buildings continue the Georgian Revival style with impressive columns, porticos, and arches.

In 1954 the W. C. and Sarah H. Bradley Foundation of Columbus, Georgia, purchased 66 acres adjoining the northwest side of campus that included a two-story Georgian-inspired brick house. Later, they donated the tract to Wesleyan for use as the president’s home (Bradley House) as well as the scene of celebrations, reunions, and traditional events like the annual Senior Toast.

More construction and renovation: New construction during second half of the twentieth-century included Porter Family Memorial Fine Arts Building, which includes the Porter Family Memorial Auditorium and the Cowles Myles Collier Art Galleries; Huckabee Hall, originally the College infirmary, today the home of the Office of Enrollment Services; Jones and Hightower residence halls; the Valeria McCullough Murphy Art Building, which contains 10,000 square feet of floor space designed exclusively for the teaching of visual arts; and the Lucy Lester Willet Memorial Library, constructed in 1968 and totally renovated in 2017 - 2019. Located within the library is the Georgia Room, the Strickland Room, and the Academic Resource Center. In April 2013, the Confucius Institute at Wesleyan College opened on the library’s ground floor and houses the China Museum. Candler Alumnae Center, originally used as the College library, was renovated in 1971. Today Candler houses the offices of alumnae affairs and institutional advancement, Oval Hall, and the Benson Room.

Between the years of 1996-2000, the campus enjoyed several upgrades, including establishing the Wesleyan College Arboretum (100 acres of mixed pine and hardwood forest) as an ecological study area, wildlife refuge, and recreation resource; the complete renovation of Persons and Wortham residence halls; the construction of Nancy Ellis Knox Equestrian Center, which includes turnout paddocks, two riding rings, and a 24-stall barn; the construction of Mathews Athletic Complex, which includes soccer and softball fields and tennis courts, and the Mathews Athletic Center, which offers fitness equipment, a variety of exercise classes, and personal training; the three-story residence halls Ernest and Pauline Pierce Corn Hall and Elizabeth Turner Corn Hall; the renovation of the Olive Swann Porter Student Life  Center (OSP), which today houses student affairs, health services, student activities, Anderson Dining Hall, Burden Parlor, Hurdle Cafe, Manget Dining Room, campus police, student counseling, residence life, computer and information services, communications, Belk Student Leadership Suites, Lane Center for Service and Leadership, Campus Store, post office, Trice Conference Rooms, auxiliary services, and the Center for Career Development.

Student government and organizations, sororities, class traditions

Wesleyan College has seen the development of a number of student organizations throughout her history. Wesleyan students founded the Adelphean Society in 1851 (later Alpha Delta Pi) and the Philomathean Society in 1852 (later Phi Mu), the first American sororities. Social sororities continued to exist at Wesleyan until the early 1900s when concerns began about the impact the sororities were having on the student body. In 1914, the Wesleyan board of trustees, acting on faculty recommendation, voted to end all social sororities on campus. The board of trustees banned the creation of any new sororities, but current members were allowed to continue their meetings until graduation. By 1917, there were no longer sororities on campus.

During the ongoing discussions about the fate of social sororities on the campus, Wesleyan students began to form associations and traditions based on the graduating class to which they belonged. Eventually they developed four “classes” rotating among currently enrolled students, allowing current students to connect to “sister classes” of alumnae.  Initially these classes identified themselves by class colors and class flowers. The 1902 seniors, for example, were “garnet and Nile green,” while the other classes were purple and gold (Class of 1905), purple and white (class of 1904), and yellow and white “daisies” (Class of 1903). The Class of 1905 later changed its colors from purple and gold to red and white, while the class of 1906 adopted lavender and white with a white carnation as their class flower, and the class of 1908 adopted the Maréchal Niel rose and the colors green and gold.

The class of 1909 broke this pattern by adopting a class name, the Ku Klux Klan, while keeping the red and white colors adopted by the class of 1905. Their 1913 successors titled their yearbook “Ku Klux,” and in later yearbooks they alternated use of Ku Klux Klan and Ku Klux Klass as their class name. Although the Ku Klux Klan that emerged in the South following Reconstruction had been largely inactive for decades when the class of 1909 adopted the name, this choice was likely influenced by the wild popularity of Thomas Dixon’s trilogy of novels (published in 1902, 1905, and 1908). His novels romanticized the Reconstruction era Ku Klux Klan and touted their purported mission of promoting and protecting southern Christian values, but ignored the violent and racist history of the Ku Klux Klan.  

The class of 1913 also relied upon the historically inaccurate portrayals in Dixon’s novels when they not only adopted the name and colors of their sister class but also began to use imagery—skulls, cross-bones, and masked and robed figures on horseback--of the so-called “heroic” organization.  Both the class of 1909 and 1913 appear to have intentionally adopted the imagery and name of the Klan, actions that were not overridden by the administration of the College.

The other classes at Wesleyan College also gradually adopted class names, but did not draw their inspiration from Dixon’s plays. For example, the class of 1919 listed some of its members as “golden hearts,” drawing from the gold color of the center of their long-established class flower, the daisy. In later years, “Golden Hearts” would shift from a social group of some members of the class to apply to the whole class.  The name “Golden Hearts” continued into the twenty-first century as one of Wesleyan’s class names.

Similarly, two class names inspired by medieval lore emerged in the 1920s. The class of 1920 identified themselves as “knights of the order of Green and Gold,” and even had a Round Table that they bequeathed to the class of 1922 (their “sister class”) upon graduation.  From that point on, every even-year class adopted names indicating some form of knight of the Round Table, although it took several years for the class colors to become standardized.  Later classes would call themselves “Knights of the Purple Garter” and make references to quests, King Arthur, and holy grails. Eventually these two classes solidified into the “Green Knights” and “Purple Knights” that continued into the twenty-first century.

The resurgence of the nationwide Ku Klux Klan after 1915 brought reports of the violent nature of the racist and anti-immigrant organization to local Macon newspapers. However, the Ku Klux Klan/Klass did not choose a new name. Neither did the administration take any action to change the name. Sporadic efforts were made to redefine the meaning of the class name away from the organization glorified by Dixon, and subsequent classes began to refer to themselves as “Tri-K” or Pirates.  By the 1930s, the class was exclusively called “Tri-K” or “Pirates.”  Alternative explanations for the class name also began to appear. One class indicated that the name referred to three favorite professors whose first names all began with “K.” As the years passed, a widely held belief developed among many on campus that the class name originated in 1913 as “kuklosklan,” that it referred to a “circle of friends” in Greek, and that it predated the Ku Klux Klan and therefore, presumably, was unrelated to the hate group. This untrue but resilient explanation persisted well into the twenty-first century.

Despite these efforts to distance the class name from the Klan and despite various intimations in board of trustees minutes and student newspaper articles that it might have been desirable to change the class name, the name of the class was not officially changed until 1991. In that year, the student newspaper announced that the “Tri-K Pirates of 1993 are in the process of changing their class name and cheers after facing questions concerning the class name.” The class president told the newspaper, “[S]ometimes traditions must change in order to make people happy.” From that point on, the class has been known as the “Pirates” with class colors of red and white. For additional information about the development and evolution of class names and the elimination of all freshman initiation activities, click here.  

The Twenty-First Century

Physical Changes: The first two decades of the twenty-first century brought many changes to the College, thanks in part to the successful tenure of President Ruth Austin Knox ’75, Wesleyan’s first alumna president (2002-2017). The entire Wesleyan Rivoli Campus was designated the Wesleyan College Historic District on April 2, 2004 and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This official listing recognizes the historic significance of Wesleyan’s campus located on Forsyth Road. Later that year, the Candler Alumnae Building was specifically named to the National Register of Historic Buildings by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

Physical changes in the campus included the construction of the 42,000 square foot Munroe Science Center in 2007. Renovations of Persons, Banks, and Wortham Halls in 2008 included implementation of new Bundled Energy Solutions (BES), a comprehensive package of energy conservation services which maximizes the facilities’ energy efficiency and lowers their cost of operations. The renovation of Taylor Hall in 2011 produced Wesleyan’s first LEED-certified (Gold Level) building and, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) project directory, the first LEED-certified project in Macon, Georgia. The Confucius Institute at Wesleyan College was established in 2013 and can be found on the first floor of Willet Library. Consecrated in Spring 2015, Pierce Chapel is the newest addition to campus with the oldest history. The Chapel has a capacity of about 300 in the sanctuary, which is used primarily for worship services and occasionally as a venue for recitals, concerts, weddings, and special events. The first level of the chapel contains The Lovick Corn Center, which provides meeting and entertainment space for faith-based programs and campus groups, as well as the chaplain’s office. Pierce Chapel received LEED Certification at the Silver Level. 

In April 2013, partnering with the Historic Macon Foundation, the Porter Charitable Trust provided funds to relocate Porterfield, James Hyde Porter’s country home, to Wesleyan College’s campus and to restore the building to useful condition. The French-Tudor inspired house, built the same year as Wesleyan’s Forsyth Road campus, was designed by W. Elliot Dunwody, a prominent Macon architect. Mr. Dunwody also designed several buildings on the College’s campus, including the Porter Family Fine Arts Building, Huckabee Hall, the Jones and Hightower residence halls, the Murphey Art Building, and the Willet Library.

In 1949, the Wesleyan alumnae magazine described James Hyde Porter as “Wesleyan’s most generous benefactor” and “one of the biggest-hearted men to ever live.” Porter was deeply interested in Wesleyan and the role it played in the education of women. From the time he joined the board of trustees in 1927 until his death in 1949, Porter maintained a personal interest in the health of the College and was heralded as Wesleyan’s financial savior. Dr. Silas Johnson, former president of Wesleyan College, remembered Mr. Porter as “the most unselfish man I have ever known.” 

In 1938, when Wesleyan was sold on the courthouse steps to a group of bondholders, Porter was one of the leaders of the movement to buy back the College. His initial gift of $100,000 inspired an avalanche of contributions from donors who were reassured by Mr. Porter’s confidence in the future of the College. Later he increased his gift to $150,000 and ended the campaign. At the time, his contribution was the largest single gift in Wesleyan’s history. 

Today, the James Hyde Porter Charitable Trust continues the philanthropic legacy of Mr. Porter and his wife Olive Swann Porter. Wesleyan has received more than $1.2 million dollars from the Trust to maintain the Porter collection and to make improvements to the buildings on campus that bear his name – the Olive Swann Porter Building, Porter Gymnasium, the Porter Family Memorial Fine Arts Building and Auditorium, and Porter House.

Today, the Porter House serves as a welcoming center for visitors to campus and is open for tours most days. In spring 2015, Pierce received LEED certification to the Silver level.

In 2017, first phase of Willet Library’s renovation was completed. The library’s main entrance was relocated to the first floor to improve access from the quadrangle. Students now enter a comfortably furnished active learning space designed to accommodate laptops, tablets, iPads, and cell phones. A large open room with a variety of seating areas, the newly redesigned floor provides students with a casual place to meet, interact, and study 24 hours a day. The first floor is also the new home for The Learning Commons, a consortium of student learning resources including the Academic Center, Peer Tutoring, First Year Experience, and the Writing Center. Moving these services to the library produces a natural synergy, creating one central place where students can find academic and research assistance. The first floor of the building is available by key card access even after the second and third floors close, giving students a secure place to congregate and study at all hours.

Signature Programs

Wesleyan College is fortunate to have an extensive collection of art work and collectibles. Approximately 138 paintings have been restored through the Adopt a Painting program, and a number of paintings have traveled to other museums through Masterworks on the Move. Wesleyan’s endorsement of the President’s Climate Commitment to reduce the carbon footprint of the college was confirmed with LEED certification for Taylor Hall and Pierce Chapel. With the incorporation of the Academic and Writing Centers into Willet Library, the Center for Career Development moved into its new space in the Olive Swann Porter building, just in time to launch the 2015 Quality Enhancement Plan “From Here to Career” which connects liberal arts education with professional development. Each year, the Lane Center for Service and Leadership engages students, faculty, and staff in thousands of hours of service to community organizations and provides activities for children through its Aunt Maggie’s Kitchen Table program (honored in November 2000 with the first Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award for Campus-Community Collaboration). Student scholars and leaders participate in Summer Leadership Institute, Model UN, Wesleyan Disciples, study abroad, and student-faculty research.

Wesleyan faculty continue to revise and develop the College curriculum with new majors, minors, and modes of delivery. In 2013 the College was authorized to grant the bachelor of science in nursing degree, a program that quickly became one of the largest on campus, and 2018 saw the return of the bachelor of fine arts in studio art. Building on the strong legacy of liberal arts and other Wesleyan strengths, the College created many new, interdisciplinary majors and minors such as equine assisted therapy, business sport management, applied data analysis, and politics and global studies.

The early years of the twenty-first century also saw changes in the demographics of Wesleyan’s student body. Increases in international student enrollment and increased diversity of students from the United States have made Wesleyan one of the most diverse colleges in the region. In 2014, Wesleyan entered into a partnership with Guangzhou University to create a dual-degree program for students to earn degrees at both institutions with majors in business administration, economics, and psychology. This program brings dozens of Chinese students to Wesleyan each year and, along with the Confucius Institute at Wesleyan College and the American Cultural Center established by Wesleyan at Guangzhou University, offers opportunities for dozens of faculty and staff from the two institutions to exchange ideas and to travel to the partner institution. With increased diversity and internationalization of the campus, faculty, staff, and students, there continues to be changes in curriculum, activities, staffing, and programming to address the needs and challenges of the College’s changing demographics. The establishment of a diversity committee in 2011 led to the creation of a faculty liaison for diversity and inclusion (2016) and an assistant dean of students for diversity and inclusion (2016). Faculty, staff, and student development programming focuses on diversity, and with support from the Interactivity Foundation, the college implemented Diversity and Inclusion Dialogues.  

Wesleyan moved from intramural to collegiate athletics in the 1990s. Currently we are members of NCAA Division III, USA South Athletic Conference with teams competing in soccer, basketball, tennis, cross-country, and softball. Equestrian teams compete in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. The Mathews Athletic Center provides a fitness facility and activities to promote health and wellness for students, faculty, staff, and the community.

In 2018 the Wesleyan College board of trustees approved a new mission statement that affirms the College’s commitment to the undergraduate education of women and the graduate education of women and men. Guiding principles describe a community that is academically challenging, purposeful, inclusive, and connected. Using the slogan “One Wesleyan. Many Voices. Find Yours.,” the three-year strategic plan, focuses on recruiting and retaining students and securing the long-term financial health of the institution.

Black Americans in Wesleyan’s History

In 1965 two African American women were admitted to Wesleyan, but only one enrolled, Pat Brown. She left the College during her first year. In 1968, the five women who would become the college’s first Black alumnae began their first year at Wesleyan. Referred to as “The First Five,” Sonya Tomlinson Holland, Marvette Baldwin Jenkins, Christine Everett, Dyleane Tolbert Taylor, and Carolyn McClinton Woodard graduated in 1972.

However, the history of Black people at Wesleyan College stretches back long before the “First Five.” Black people have always been part of Wesleyan College. In the 1840 census, the college household lists the resident faculty, their families, more than one hundred students, and four enslaved Black persons. College records indicate that during the antebellum period the administration engaged in the practice of “hiring out” enslaved persons owned by other people to work at the College.  

After emancipation and throughout Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, Wesleyan continued to rely on Black employees to keep the College running. Yearbook photos, wage ledgers, and student scrapbooks provide glimpses of Black employees, often referred to as “domestic staff” and “Black servants” who kept the facilities clean, prepared students’ food, did the laundry, and served as porters, gardeners, and maintenance staff.  

In 2015, Wesleyan College students and faculty began a project to try to identify some of these early Black employees, free and enslaved, and recognize the contributions they made to the College. The researchers have been aided by library and archive staff who have begun a major digitization project that will make large portions of Wesleyan’s archives available to researchers around the world. Still an ongoing project, this research into “Blacks Before the First Five” has revealed some details about the lives of “Uncle” Thornton Johnson who worked at the College for more than fifty years and was laid to rest at the College’s expense in 1926; “Aunt” Cindy, whose image is preserved in an 1893 student painting and who was allowed to live at the College in her old age; and Israel, who worked as a college porter in the 1930s.

In 1999 Dr. Catherine Meeks was the first African American to become a full-time member of the faculty of Wesleyan serving as the Clara Carter Acree Distinguished Professor of Socio-cultural Studies, a position she held until her retirement in 2008. In subsequent years, additional African American faculty and staff have joined Wesleyan’s leadership, but racial diversity among faculty and staff lags far behind that of students.

First for Women

Which institution was the “first women’s college?” The answer depends on how you define “first.” Wesleyan College was founded at a time of profound change in the nature of higher education as well as women’s history, and several institutions have claimed to be the “first women’s college” based on varying definitions. Measures often cited include:

  • Date of chartering
  • Date of founding (often interpreted as date doors opened for business)
  • Whether or not the institution has remained in continuous operation
  • The institution’s status (secondary, academy, seminary, or college)
  • The institution’s curriculum (did it include a full program of classics, science, and math in addition to the humanities and fine arts?)
  • Age of students upon admission
  • Length of the program of study
  • Scope and qualifications of faculty
  • Type of diploma, certificate, or degree awarded by the institution

Early Years at Wesleyan College

On the earliest history of women’s colleges, see Samuel Luttrell Akers, The First Hundred Years of Wesleyan College; (Macon: Wesleyan College, 1976); Elizabeth Alden Green, Mary Lyon and Mount Holyoke: Opening the Gates; Barbara Miller Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women; Mabel Newcomer, A Century of Higher Education for Women; Thomas Woody, A History of Women’s Education in the United States. Also, Educating Women: a Select Bibliography on Women’s Colleges and Gender Equity in Higher Education is available from the Women’s College Coalition, Washington, DC.  Some frequently asked questions regarding Wesleyan’s early years include:

How did Wesleyan College’s academic standards compare to those of the most rigorous colleges of the time? Although the College did not require Latin or Greek for admission or graduation, it did offer the classics if elected, and it offered a full curriculum of math and science, unlike many other academies and finishing schools for women. (It is worth noting that the College of William and Mary at the time did not require Latin and Greek for the A.B.). According to Woody, Wesleyan’s four-year course of study, in contrast to the three-year course of the seminaries, clearly placed it in the league of colleges (165).

What was the minimum age for admission to Wesleyan? The Georgia Female College permitted entrance at age 12. This, too, was not an uncommon practice in other colleges, especially while higher education for women was still being established; the entrance age for men at the University of Georgia at the time was 14 (Woody 164).

At what point was Wesleyan designated a college (as opposed to academy or seminary)? The Georgia Female College was established with an expressed aim, right from the start, of granting the “power to confer all such honors, degrees, and licenses, as are usually conferred in colleges or universities,” as is stated in Wesleyan’s charter of December 23, 1836.

When did Wesleyan grant its first college degree? Wesleyan granted the first documented college degree to a woman (Catherine E. Brewer) on July 16, 1840.

How did Wesleyan’s earliest academic performance compare? Wesleyan’s earliest academic achievements were not always equal to those of its contemporaries among established colleges and universities, as Wesleyan’s first president, George Foster Pierce admitted; but he had made a noble start in setting as his purpose from the beginning a college education for women, which the Georgia legislature fully empowered him to recognize (Woody 167).

What were some other early institutions of higher learning for women?

  • Mississippi College was founded in 1827 in Clinton, Mississippi, as Hampstead Academy, a coeducational preparatory school. Its name was changed in 1830 to Mississippi College, and its first graduates were Alice Robinson and Catherine Hall, in 1831. However, there is no documentary proof that the women received college, rather than high school, diplomas.
  • Salem College in North Carolina was the earliest women’s school, originally established as a secondary school in 1772; it was chartered as a degree-granting college in 1890. The college currently calls itself “the 13th-oldest college in the nation — and the oldest dedicated to the education of women.”
  • Stephens College in Missouri was also founded as an academy, in 1833. Its current slogan is “the second oldest women’s college in the nation.”
  • Oberlin College in Ohio founded as a coeducational, racially integrated institution in 1833, admitted women to its non-degree programs in 1833, to its college course in 1837.
  • Mount Holyoke College, chartered in Massachusetts in February 1836 and opened November 8, 1837, as a non-degree-granting female seminary, did not award college degrees until 1888. The college’s current slogan is “the oldest continuing institution of higher learning for women in the United States.”
  • St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana was founded in 1840 as the first Catholic institution for educating women.
  • Mills College in California was founded in 1852 as the first women’s college in the West.
  • Spelman College in Georgia was founded in 1881 as the first historically black college for women.

Was Wesleyan’s primogeniture among colleges acknowledged? In Century Magazine, May 1890, author Harry Stillwell Edwards wrote about “The First Female College” at Wesleyan’s centennial celebration in 1936, Vassar president Henry Noble McCracken referred to Wesleyan as “the Magna Charta of higher education for women.”

Wesleyan Firsts

As the first college in the world chartered to grant degrees to women, Wesleyan was founded on December 23, 1836; classes began January 7, 1839 with 90 students; our first baccalaureate degree was awarded on July 16, 1840, to Catherine E. Brewer (Benson), first in alphabetical order in a graduating class of 11. How did our first class graduate so quickly? Many in this first group of students had already completed two years of work at the nearby Clinton Female Seminary under Professor Thomas Bogue Slade.

Wesleyan’s “Firsts” for the World

  • First professorship in English literature to be established in America (1844, held by the Rev. Josiah Fletcher Andrew).
  • First secret societies for women (sororities), Alpha Delta Pi (began as the Adelphean Society, 1851), and Phi Mu (began as the Philomathean Society, 1852).
  • First alumnae association, founded 1859. The first organizational meeting of the alumnae took place on July 11, 1859 and in July 1860, during commencement week, the first annual reunion was held—and thus was established the first alumnae association of a degree-granting college.
  • First formal inauguration of a college president in Georgia (Dr. Dice Robins Anderson, 1932).
  • First Phi Kappa Phi chapter at a college in Georgia (1969; although chapters had previously been established at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia).
  • First Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award for Campus-Community Collaboration awarded in November 2000 to the college for “Aunt Maggie’s Kitchen Table” resource center; accepted by executive director and Wesleyan professor Catherine Meeks.
  • First women’s college to join the Confucius Institute worldwide network (2013).
  • First dual degree liberal arts program established in China. (2013. The first class of dual degree students graduated in May 2018 at Guangzhou University)
  • First foreign dignitaries invited to participate in opening ceremonies at Guangzhou University, China. Dignitaries from Wesleyan College joined Guangzhou University Chinese officials on the platform as more than GU 8,000 students were welcomed to the new academic year. (Friday, September 12, 2014)
Wesleyan's Alumnae “Firsts” & Other Notable Alumnae
  • First woman in Georgia to receive the Doctor of Medicine degree (Mary McKay, class of 1878).
  • First woman elected to the Tennessee legislature (Sara Ruth Frazier, class of 1894).
  • First woman to argue a case before the Georgia Supreme Court (Viola Ross Napier, class of 1901).
  • First Chinese women to be educated in America. The Soong sisters: Soong E-ling (Madame H. H. Kung), class of 1909. Soong Ching-ling (Madame Sun Yat-sen), class of 1913. Soong May-ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek) came to Wesleyan with her older sisters in 1908; later completed degree at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, 1917.
  • Ellamae Ellis League, class of 1920, founded the Macon Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1957 and served as its first president. In 1963, she served as the first president of the Georgia Council of Architects. In 1975, League became the first Macon architect to receive the AIA-Georgia Association’s Bronze Medal for service to the profession. Seven years later, the Georgia Association bestowed upon League its first-ever Bernard B. Rothschild Award in recognition of most distinguished service to the profession of architecture.
  • First American woman explorer to enter the rugged Tibetan-Himalayan area (Adelaide Su-Lin Chen Young, class of 1933), was part of the expeditions that led to the arrival of the first giant pandas in the United States.
  • First woman in Georgia to be issued a commercial pilot’s license (Hazel Jane Raines, class of 1936), in 1938.
  • First woman chair of the Press Institute of the Georgia Press Association (Adelaide Wallace Ponder, class of 1946).
  • Founder of Georgia’s first organic farm (Shirley Lanier Daughtry, class 1952), in 1991.
  • Georgia’s first Miss America (Neva Langley Fickling, class of 1955), in 1953.
  • First woman to be appointed poet laureate of North Carolina (2005) (Kathryn Stripling Byer, class of 1966).
  • First woman to be ordained Bishop of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Conference (Charlene Payne Kammerer, class of 1970), in 1996.
  • First woman president of the Florida senate, and first woman Lt. Governor of the State of Florida (Antoinette “Toni” Jennings, class of 1971), in 1996 and 2003 respectively.
  • First woman staff director for the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee (Janice A. Mays, class of 1973), first woman to serve in the roles of democratic chief counsel and chief tax counsel.
  • Caldecott Honor Book author Rebecca Caudill Ayars, class of 1920 (for A Pocketful of Crickets, 1964).
  • Eugenia Rawls Seawell, class of 1934, noted actress on stage and screen.
  • Sandra Deer, class of 1962, playwright and consultant for Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre.
  • Octavia Tripp, class of 1980, NASA Education Specialist.
Honorary degrees conferred by Wesleyan College
  • Mary Harris Armor, Doctor of Laws (1918)
  • Soong E-ling ’09 (Madame H. H. Kung), Doctor of Laws (1943)
  • Soong Ching-ling ’13 (Madame Sun Yat-sen), Doctor of Laws (1943)
  • Soong May-ling ’16 (Madame Chiang Kai-shek), Doctor of Laws (1943)
  • Dorothy Hinksman Farrar, Doctor of Letters (1956)
  • Ada Fort, Doctor of Humane Letters (1958)
  • Albert Trulock, Doctor of Divinity (1958)
  • Scott Appleby, Doctor of Laws (1959)
  • Elizabeth Bradley Turner, Doctor of Humanities (1961)
  • Doris Onderdonk Jelks, Doctor of Music (1964)
  • James Dickey, Doctor of Literature (1971)
  • Judge Griffin B. Bell, Doctor of Laws (1980)
  • Bishop W. R. Cannon, Doctor of Sacred Theology (1980)
  • Grace L. Hightower ’20, Doctor of Humane Letters (1980)
  • Reginald R. Trice, Doctor of Commercial Science (1980)
  • Teh-Ming Pao, Doctor of Humanities (1980)
  • Linda Anderson Lane ’19, Doctor of Fine Arts (1980)
  • Rt. Hon. Edward Richard George Heath, Doctor of Public Admin. (1980)
  • Fredrick Thomas Trotter, Doctor of Laws (1981)
  • Anne Cox Chambers, Doctor of Public Service (1982)
  • Eugenia Rawls ’34, Doctor of Fine Arts (1982)
  • Eleanor Richardson, Doctor of Public Service (1983)
  • Julia Munroe Woodward ’34, Doctor of Humane Letters (1984)
  • Neva Langley Fickling ’55, Doctor of Fine Arts (1984)
  • Boisfeuillet Jones, Doctor of Public Service (1984)
  • Rosalynn S. Carter, Doctor of Public Service (1986)
  • Elizabeth B. Ford, Doctor of Public Service (1986)
  • Senator Samuel A. Nunn, Jr, Doctor of Public Service (1987)
  • Valeria McCullough Murphey ’48, Doctor of Humane Letters (1989)
  • Elizabeth H. Dole, Doctor of Public Service (1990)
  • Shinichiro Kanai, Doctor of Humane Letters (1994)
  • Linda Harriet Lane, Doctor of Fine Arts (1995)
  • Linda Caldwell Fuller, Doctor of Public Service (1996)
  • Jane Goodall, Doctor of Science (2000)
  • Queen Noor of Jordan, Doctor of Public Service (2001)
  • The Honorable Toni Jennings, Doctor of Public Service (2003)
  • Nancy C. Panoz, Doctor of Commercial Science (2003)
  • Diane McWhorter, Doctor of Literature (2004)
  • Kathryn Stripling Byer, Doctor of Literature (2006)
  • Randolph William Thrower, Doctor of Laws (2006)
  • Charlene Payne Kammerer, Doctor of Divinity (2007)
  • Frank Cater Jones, Doctor of Laws (2007)
  • Lovick P. Corn, Doctor of Public Service (2009)
  • Michelle Nunn, Doctor of Public Service (2010)
  • Janice A. Mays, Doctor of Laws (2011)
  • Elizabeth (Betty) Turner Corn, Doctor of Humane Letters (2017)
  • Ruth A. Knox, (Wesleyan’s First) President Emerita (2017)

Calendar of Events

Wesleyan College is privileged to steward many arts and cultural events and share them with the community. Most are free and open to the public. Wesleyan art galleries are open M-F 1-5PM and on Wesleyan Market Saturdays from 10AM-2PM.

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NCAA Division III Athletics

Wesleyan College is home to five NCAA Division III sports: soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, and softball. In addition, we offer an award-winning Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Equestrian program.

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