Timeline of women's colleges in the United States

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The following is a timeline of women's colleges in the United States. These are institutions of higher education in the United States whose student population comprises exclusively, or almost exclusively, women. They are often liberal arts colleges. There are approximately 35 active women's colleges in the U.S. as of 2021.[1]

Colleges are listed by the date in which they opened their doors to students.

First and oldest[edit]

Many of the schools began as either schools for girls, academies (which during the late 18th and early 19th centuries was the equivalent of secondary schools), or as a teaching seminary (which during the early 19th century were forms of secular higher education), rather than as a chartered college. During the 19th century in the United States, "Seminaries educated women for the only socially acceptable occupation: teaching. Only unmarried women could be teachers. Many early women's colleges began as female seminaries and were responsible for producing an important corps of educators."[2]

The following is a list of "oldest" and "first" schools:

  • 1742: Bethlehem Female Seminary, (now Moravian University): established as a seminary for girls, it eventually became the Moravian Seminary and College for Women and later merged with nearby schools to become the coeducational school, Moravian College.
  • 1772: Salem College, North Carolina: Formed as the Little Girls' School by the Moravian Single Sisters and then renamed as the Salem Female Academy, it is the oldest women's educational institution to be in continuous operation.[3][4]
  • 1803: Bradford Academy (later renamed Bradford College) – First Academy in Massachusetts to admit women. The first graduating class had 37 women and 14 men. It closed in 2000.
  • 1818: Elizabeth Female Academy: first female educational institution in Mississippi; it closed in 1843
  • 1821: Clinton Female Seminary in Clinton, Georgia; later merged to become Georgia Female College (now Wesleyan College in Macon) chartered in 1836; the first college charted from its inception as a full college for women. Awarded the first known baccalaureate degree to a woman.
  • 1827: The Linden Wood School for Girls (now Lindenwood University): is the first institution of higher education for women west of the Mississippi River. It became coeducational in 1970.
  • 1833: Columbia Female Academy (now Stephens College): Originally established as an academy (for both high school and college-aged women), it later became a four-year college. It is the second oldest female educational establishment that is still a women's college.
  • 1837: St. Mary's Hall (now Doane Academy): Originally established as a female seminary by George Washington Doane 2nd Bishop of the Episcopal Church of New Jersey. First academic school founded on church principles in the United States. Now a PK-12 Co-educational day school.
  • 1837: Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College): It is the oldest (and first) of the Seven Sisters. It is also the oldest school which was established from inception (chartered in 1836) as an institution of higher education for women (teaching seminary) that is still a women's college.
  • 1838: Judson College for Women, Marion, Alabama. It was also intended as an institute of higher learning from inception. When it announced its closure in 2021, it was the fifth oldest women's college.[1]
  • 1842: Valley Union Seminary (now Hollins University): It is the oldest chartered women's college in Virginia.
  • 1844: Saint Mary's College (Indiana): Founded by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. The first women's college in the Great Lakes region (founded in southern Michigan, and moved to its present site in Notre Dame, Indiana in 1855).
  • 1845: Baylor Female College, now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Belton, Texas. Chartered by the Republic of Texas.
  • 1845: Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina. Limestone was the third private college in South Carolina and the first women's college, which it remained until becoming fully coeducational in the 1960s.
  • 1848: Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art and Design): It is the first and only art school which is a women's college.
  • 1850 "Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania" (now part of "Drexel University") trained and graduated the first female physicians in the country and the first black female physicians.
  • 1851: Cherokee Female Seminary: It is the first institute of higher learning exclusively for women the United States west of the Mississippi River. Along with the Cherokee Male Seminary, this was the first college created by a tribe instead of the US federal government.
  • 1851: Auburndale Female Seminary (now Lasell College): A private institution founded by Edward Lasell, becomes the first "successful and persistent" junior college in the United States, and the first junior college for women. It began offering four-year bachelor's degrees in 1989 and became coeducational in 1997.
  • 1851: Tennessee and Alabama Female Institute (later Mary Sharp College): It was the first women's college to grant college degrees to women that were the equivalent of those given to men; the college closed due to financial hardship in 1896.
  • 1851: "College of Notre Dame" (now Notre Dame de Namur University): This was the first women's college in California and the first in the state authorized to grant the baccalaureate degree to women. The university is now coed. It became a graduate school in 2021.
  • 1852: Young Ladies Seminary (now Mills College at Northeastern University): It was the first women's college in United States west of the Rocky Mountains
  • 1853: Beaver Female Seminary (now Arcadia University) settled in Jenkintown, PA after its establishment in Beaver, PA. It admitted boys for a short time at the turn of the 20th century before ultimately returning to an all women's school. By 1907, its name had changed to Beaver College, moving to its current location (Glenside, PA) in 1962. In the Fall of 1972, the college became co-educational. The college changed its name for the final time in July 2001 and became Arcadia University.
  • 1853: Mt. Carroll Seminary (now Shimer College): A women's seminary started by Frances Shimer, became coeducational in 1950.
  • 1854: Columbia Female College (now Columbia College): Located Columbia, South Carolina. The college has survived the march of General Sherman and 3 campus fires. Georgia O'Keeffe taught for a year before she created her own artistic way. The college's day program is still all-female, but its evening program is coed.
  • 1855: Davenport Female College (later Davenport College): Founded in Lenoir, North Carolina. Merged with Greensboro College in 1938.Davenport College history
  • 1855: Elmira Female College (now Elmira College): It is the oldest college still in existence which (as a women's college) granted degrees to women that were the equivalent of those given to men; the college became coeducational in 1969.
  • 1861: Vassar College: One of the Seven Sisters which was established from inception as a college for women; it became coeducational in 1969. Student Right to Know Information
  • 1867: Cedar Crest College: Established in 1867 in the basement of a church, it now is one of the top modern female colleges.
  • 1867: Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College): It was the first historically black female institution of higher education established after the American Civil War and became a women's college in 1946. It became coeducational school in 1954 and lost its accreditation in 2004.
  • 1868: Wells College: Located in Aurora, N.Y. Went coed in 2005.
  • 1869: Wilson College: Located in Chambersburg, PA. Chartered in March 1869 and began instruction in October 1970. It became coeducational in 2014.
  • 1869: Chatham University: Located in Pittsburgh, PA. Established as Pennsylvania Female College, renamed Pennsylvania College for Women in 1890 and to Chatham College in 1955. Chatham gained University status in 2007.
  • 1870: Wellesley College chartered; opened in 1875. One of the Seven Sisters which was established from inception as a college for women and remains such to this day.
  • 1871: Smith College chartered; opened in 1875. One of the Seven Sisters which was established from inception as a college for women and remains such to this day.
  • 1871: Ursuline College was established from inception as a college for women in Cleveland, Ohio by the Sisters of Ursuline. The Sisters of Ursuline had come to Cleveland from France and were granted a charter by the state of Ohio. Ursuline College is still a women's focused institution of higher education with less than 10% men in attendance. Known as the 2nd best college for Nursing in the state of Ohio and is nationally recognized for its BSN, MSN & PDN programs.
  • 1878: Georgia Baptist Female Seminary (now the Brenau University Women's College): Despite its name, the college was never formally associated with any church or religious group. Founded in Gainesville, Georgia, it became Brenau College in 1900 and Brenau University in 1992. The university still boasts its robust Women's College on its historic Gainesville campus today, educating women to be, as its motto states, "as gold refined by fire."
  • 1881: Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary (now Spelman College): It was the first historically black female institution of higher education to receive its collegiate charter in 1924, making it the oldest historically black women's college.
  • 1884: Industrial Institute & College, (now Mississippi University for Women): It was the first public women's college; became coeducational in 1982 as a result of the Supreme Court's Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan case, but maintained its original name.
  • 1884: Vernon Seminary (Now Cottey College) was founded by Virginia Alice Cottey in Nevada, Missouri. The college was transferred ownership to the P.E.O. Sisterhood in 1927.
  • 1885: Bryn Mawr College founded. One of the Seven Sisters which was established from inception as a college for women and remains such to this day. The college's mission was to offer women rigorous intellectual training and the chance to do to original research, a European-style program that was then available only at a few elite institutions for men. The college established undergraduate and graduate programs that were widely viewed as models of academic excellence in both the humanities and the sciences, programs that elevated standards for higher education nationwide.
  • 1893: the Woman's College of Frederick (now Hood College): The Potomac Synod purchased the building and equipment from the failing Frederick Female Seminary (in Frederick, MD) to move the women's department from Mercersburg College in Pennsylvania to a spot below the Mason-Dixon Line.
  • 1895: College of Notre Dame of Maryland (now Notre Dame of Maryland University): First Catholic women's college in the United States to offer the four-year baccalaureate degree.


Colonial-era schools[edit]

Moravian College, originally the Bethlehem Female Seminary founded in 1742



Mount Holyoke College (Mount Holyoke Female Seminary) in 1837


  • 1841: Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College: The college was founded as an academy for young women in 1841 by a French nun, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is the nation's oldest Catholic liberal arts college for women. In 1846, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College was granted the first charter for the higher education of women in the state of Indiana. SMWC conferred its first bachelor of arts degree in 1899. The College's campus program remains an all-female institute. However, SMWC became fully co-educational in 2015.
  • 1841: Academy of the Sacred Heart (now Manhattanville College) founded in New York City
  • 1842: Fulton Female Academy (now Synodical College): Founded in Fulton, Missouri, it closed in 1928
  • 1842: Valley Union Seminary (now Hollins University): Established in Roanoke, Virginia as a coeducational school, it became a school for women in 1852, and was renamed Hollins Institute in 1855, Hollins College in 1911, and Hollins University in 1998
  • 1842: Augusta Female Seminary (now Mary Baldwin University): Founded in Staunton, Virginia, it became the Mary Baldwin Seminary in 1895, Mary Baldwin College in 1923, and Mary Baldwin University in 2016. While the school has had a coeducational adult degree program since 1977, and later added coeducational graduate degree programs, its undergraduate college for traditional students, the Residential College, was not open to men until 2017. The Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership (VWIL) cadet corps at Mary Baldwin, as its name states, remains women-only.
  • 1843: Memphis Conference Female Institute (later Lambuth University): Became coeducational in 1923. Closed in 2011; the former Lambuth campus now houses a branch campus of the University of Memphis.
  • 1843: Port Gibson Female College: closed in 1908
  • 1844: Saint Mary's College (Indiana): Founded by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. In the mid-1950s, it became the first college in the United States to grant advanced degrees in theology to women.[10]
  • 1845: Baylor Female Department (established alongside Baylor University as the Female Department. Obtained separate charter in 1866, moved to Belton, TX 1886. Later names were Baylor Female College, Baylor College for Women, Mary Hardin-Baylor College, and now known as University of Mary Hardin–Baylor.
  • 1845: Limestone Springs Female High School (now Limestone University): Founded in Gaffney, South Carolina, it began accepting a few male students in the 1920s (who did not live on campus) and became fully coeducational in the late 1960s.
  • 1846: Greensboro Female College: Charted in 1838 in Greensboro, North Carolina; it is now the coeducational school Greensboro College
  • 1846: Illinois Conference Female Academy: It is now the coeducational school, MacMurray College
  • 1847: Kentucky Female Orphan School (now Midway University): The school's day program at its main campus became fully coeducational in 2016; evening, weekend, and online classes and programs had been coeducational for many years. It planned to open a coeducational pharmacy school at a separate campus in 2011, but withdrew that school's accreditation application for unknown reasons.
  • 1847: Academy of Mount Saint Vincent (now College of Mount Saint Vincent): Founded by the Sisters of Charity of New York; moved from Manhattan to current Riverdale, Bronx site in the 1850s and began service as degree-granting, four-year liberal arts college in 1911. Became coeducational in 1974.
  • 1848: Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art and Design): It is the first and only art school which is a women's college
  • 1848: Chowan Baptist Female Institute; it is now the coeducational school Chowan University.
  • 1848: Drexel University College of Medicine: It is now, after several changes including becoming co-ed, Drexel University's medical school.
The Oread Institute was founded as a college in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1849





Bryn Mawr College's Pembroke Hall




  • 1911: Pine Manor College: became coeducational in 2014. Boston College took over it in 2020, becoming the Pine Manor Institute for Student Success.
  • 1911: Connecticut College: became coeducational in 1969
  • 1912: Saint Joseph's College of Maine: became coeducational in 1970
  • 1913: College of Saint Benedict: Has been partnered with the all-male Saint John's University, located about 5 miles (8 km) away, since 1955, and the two schools have operated a common academic program with fully coeducational classes since 1961. CSB and SJU remain legally and administratively separate, with separate residential facilities and athletic programs.
  • 1914: Westhampton College: Founded as the coordinate college for Richmond College (1830) and a component of its growth into the University of Richmond (1920). Today, the academic operations of the two colleges are merged, but Westhampton College remains as the co-curricular program for undergraduate women and curricular women's studies.
  • 1914: Johnson & Wales School of Business: Started as a business school for women with one typewriter and one student. The mission "to teach a thing not for its own sake but for what lies beyond" is still in line with JWU's current mission. The school, through many name changes is now Johnson & Wales University.
  • 1916: Russell Sage College: became coeducational in 2020 after the merger with Sage College of Albany. Formerly a part of The Sage Colleges, which consolidated as one institution and rebranded Russell Sage.
  • 1916: St. Joseph's College for Women: became coeducational in 1970 and renamed St. Joseph's College, New York
  • 1918: New Jersey College for Women: Founded as the coordinate college for Rutgers University and became Douglass College in 1955. In 2007, it was merged with the other undergraduate liberal arts colleges at the main Rutgers campus, at that time becoming a non-degree granting unit of Rutgers and being renamed Douglass Residential College.
  • 1919: Emmanuel College, Boston: became coeducational in 2001



See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b Garrison, Greg (May 22, 2021). "'Nothing will ever be like Judson': women's college closing stuns those affected". al. Retrieved August 9, 2021.
  2. ^ "The Rise of Women's Colleges, Coeducation". Archived from the original on May 16, 2008.
  3. ^ "Our History | Salem College". salem.edu. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  4. ^ "A timeline of North Carolina colleges (1766–1861) - North Carolina Digital History". Anchor (NCpedia.org). Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  5. ^ "Moravian College history". Archived from the original on October 9, 2014. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  6. ^ "Mrs. Susanna Rowson's School & Myra Montgomery in Boston, 1805-1808". www.silkdamask.org. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  7. ^ "Stitching Together the History of Litchfield's Female Academy". Connecticut Explored. Summer 2007.
  8. ^ "Campus History & Description". Bradford Alumni Association. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  9. ^ "The Ipswich Female Seminary". Stories From Ipswich and the North Shore. April 3, 2014. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  10. ^ "Good Catholics". Good Reads.
  11. ^ Mary Medley, History of Anson County, N.C., 1760-1976 (1976)
  12. ^ "Columbia College History". Archived from the original on May 12, 2014. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  13. ^ Blandin, Isabella Margaret Elizabeth (1909). History of Higher Education of Women in the South Prior to 1860. Neale Publishing Company.
  14. ^ "The doors closed 38 years ago but Kee-Mar memories linger on". The Daily Mail. Hagerstown, Maryland. March 12, 1949. p. 6. Retrieved October 18, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  15. ^ Virginia State Council of Higher Education. The Virginia Plan for Higher Education, January 1974, p. 140.
  16. ^ "Ursuline College | The Leading Women's College in Ohio | Ursuline at a Glance". ursuline.edu. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
  17. ^ "A Guide to the Hartshorn Memorial College Reunion Collection 1976–1980". Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  18. ^ "Photos". Archived from the original on January 3, 2009.
  19. ^ "Justices scrutinize Newcomb's intent in opening college"[permanent dead link] The Times-Picayune. May 21, 2008
  20. ^ "Tulane wins appeal in Newcomb suit" The Times-Picayune. October 13, 2010
  21. ^ Tulane U. Wins Donor-Intent Lawsuit Over Closing of Women's College, The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 21, 2011.
  22. ^ Donor Intent vs. Current Realities, Inside Higher Ed, February 22, 2011.
  23. ^ "Mary Allen Seminary". Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  24. ^ Savage, Cynthia. "University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma," Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, Oklahoma Historical Society. Accessed September 2, 2015.