A Brief History: Greensboro College, 1930-1941

A Relatively Short History of Greensboro College from 1830-1941

To learn more about specific topics, click on the provided links below or visit the Online Collections or Exhibit pages. Please keep in mind, however, that some of those links may take you to information contained within the Museum portion of this website. To get back to the College’s Beyond Books and Buildings project site when that navigation bar is not present, click on the “Our Collections” link in the Museum navigation bar then click on the Beyond Books link.

Modest Beginnings

The Rev. Peter Doub , the Methodist pastor of the Guilford Circuit at the time, oversaw the construction of the first Methodist Church in Greensboro, N.C., in 1830. Not long after the completion of the Church, Rev. Doub saw the need for a school to educate the children of his Methodist parishioners, in particular the female children. By early 1833, Greensboro Female School was in operation.

Out of those modest beginnings grew an increasing interest during the mid-1830s to create a true “college” for women, and in 1837, a committee of three headed by Rev. Doub petitioned the Virginia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, asking that a female college be established in Greensboro under the auspices of the denomination. On December 28, 1838, members of the Methodist North Carolina Conference (having separated from the Virginia Conference in 1837) secured a charter for Greensboro Female College from the State Legislature.

Before the College was even formally chartered in 1838, a few of the Trustees who had been appointed by the Virginia Conference in 1837 purchased 210 acres (in two parcels – 110 acres & 100 acres) of land lying west Greensboro for the sume of $3,350. Once the College was chartered, they, in turn, sold the land to the College. Of the 210 original acres, 40 were reserved for the College proper, and the rest were gradually sold off piecemeal as a means of recouping the original investment.

To see early land deeds, click here .

Due to a recession in the late 1830s and early 1840s, sufficient funds could not be raised to begin the construction of Main Building until 1843. Completed in 1845, Main Building was a three story brick structure that cost around $20,000. The west and east wings were added in 1856 and 1859 respectively.

Main Building 1
1st Main Building – circa 1860

To learn more about the history of Main Building, click here .
Click to see selected images of Main Building and Other Campus Buildings .
Click to see selected images of Early College Postcards .

Or click to see early College View Books .

Educating Young Ladies

The College first opened its doors for classes on April 15, 1846. Eighty-seven young ladies were in attendance at that time. Prior to the actual opening of the College, Greensboro Female Academy, which had begun as the Greensboro Female School in 1833, continued to operate and educate young Methodist ladies. In June of 1848, six young women became the first graduates of Greensboro Female College.

Upon arriving at the College, each young lady was tested in a number of areas (reading, math, writing, knowledge of specific topics, etc.) according to her interests, and based on her performance she was placed into one of four classes – first, second, junior, or senior. Consequently, it was possible for the young ladies to graduate from the College in as little as one year if their prior schooling had been sufficient to prepare them for the entrance tests at the College. Classes taught here at the College included arts, sciences, foreign languages, religion, and philosophy, in addition to music, art, and sewing.

Upon their graduation, each young woman received either a certificate of proficiency or a diploma depending upon her course of study. It was not until 1886 that the College began offering a true collegiate course of study that required four years of study regardless of how well the ladies tested upon their admittance. And it was not until 1913 that the College granted its first A.B. degree. In 1926, the College (then Greensboro College) underwent another major educational development when the College was admitted to membership in the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools of the Southern States.

During the College’s early years, the movement and behavior of the young ladies was rather restricted and closely monitored. As the time between, 1846 and 1941 passed, the young women gradually gain more rights and privileges.

4 Girls 1912
Four young ladies from the Class of 1912

To see selected early annual catalogues, click here .
To see Dr. Deems’ treatise “What Now? A Present for Young Women,” click here .

A Test of Faith – The Fire of 1863

On August 9, 1863, a fire severely damaged Main Building and forced the closure of the College. For a short time after the fire, classes were held in buildings in the surrounding community. When it became apparent, however, that the College could not be rebuilt immediately due to a lack of money and the on-going Civil War, classes ended. The College’s president at the time, the Rev. Dr. Turner M. Jones, tried unsuccessfully for two years to raise sufficient funds to rebuild Main Building before leaving Greensboro and teaching at several other schools around the state.

Interest in the rebuilding of the College remained strong, however, and by the late 1860s, sufficient funds had been raised to begin the process of rebuilding the College. In 1869, a new charter was granted, and in 1871, restoration of Main Building began. The College officially reopened on August 27, 1873 with an enrollment of 200.

Main Building 3
2nd Main Building – circa 1890s

The Sale (1882) and Repurchase (1884) of the College

By the early 1880s, the College was in serious financial difficulty, and the Trustees ordered the sale of the College in 1882. A group of prominent Methodist laymen, of whom one was J.M. Odell and of whom several were involved with the North Carolina Railroad Company, purchased the College on June 5, 1882. Through their support and management, the school was able to continue operating.

Two years later, the North Carolina Railroad Company resold the College to the Greensboro Female College Association (Alumni) which was established in 1884. Through “An Act For The Promotion of Female Education,” the College was able to secure the right to sells bonds, a financial move that helped in the short term.

To see selected materials relating to the sale (1882) and repurchase (1884) of the College, click here .

A Cultural and Social Coming of Age – The 1880s, 90s, and 00s

During the 1880s, 90s and 00s, the College underwent significant cultural and social development. Music performances were common, and in 1889, the Coney Club, which later became the Euterpe Music Club of Greensboro, was formed at the College. The first of the College’s many plays was one of Shakespeare’s. The Iriving and Emerson Literary Societies were, in 1882 and 1890 respectively, formed out of what remained of the older Sigourneyan and Philomathesian Societies. Begun in 1885, The College Message was a literary journal by the College’s young ladies that gave them a voice and opportunity to express themselves. And in 1903, the young ladies published the College’s first official yearbook, the 1903 Tattler.

The College’s Only Female President to Date

Mrs. Lucy H. Robertson , the College’s only female president to date took office in 1902, and her tenure lasted until 1913. Interestingly, she has also been the College’s only president to date who had neither a divinity degree nor a doctorate. Much beloved and valued though, she became the College’s first (and still only one of two) President Emeritus.

The Proposed Sale of the College in 1903

In 1903, the Board of Trustees decided to sale the College due to financial hardships. This decision did not sit well at all with the College’s many alumnae, one of whom was Miss Nannie Lee Smith , an alumna of the class of 1893. Miss Smith took the lead and was the driving force in raising the necessary $25,000 (primarily in pledges) in thirty days to keep the College open. Several years later, Miss Nannie Lee Smith became the first woman to sit on the College’s Board of Trustees.

To see selected materials relating to the proposed sale of the College in 1903, click here .

Another Fire

On February 18, 1904, the College suffered its second major fire, but was able to reopen by October 12 of the same year. Main Building’s new rotunda porch quickly became a favorite spot of the young ladies and the College’s alumnae.

Main Building 14
3rd Main Building – circa 1920s

Two Name Changes

In 1912, the faculty, administration, and alumnae successfully petitioned the Trustees of the College to change the College’s name from Greensboro Female College to Greensboro College for Women because they felt that the term “female” used in conjunction with “college” demonstrated a lack of progress in terms of educational development. And in 1920, the young women of the College and the alumnae successfully petitioned the Trustees to change the College’s name from Greensboro College for Women to simply Greensboro College because they felt that the term “for women” was unnecessary.

To see selected materials relating to the College’s name changes, click here .

The Merger

In 1932, the Western North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Church recommended the merger of Davenport College (another school under the auspices of the Methodist Church) in Lenoir, N.C., with Greensboro College. The decision was chiefly a financial one, and the process of working out and negotiating the details took several years.

To see selected materials relating to the 1930s merger with Davenport College, click here .

A Centennial Celebration

With a record enrollment approaching 400, Greensboro College celebrated the centennial of its original chartering in 1938. As a part of the celebration, an elaborate pageant/production with a cast of 130 was performed that traced the College’s history from its foundings to that time. The Centennial Celebration was also the platform that the College used to launch a financial campaign aimed at developing additional campus infrastructure.

The Fire of 1941 and a Few Other Comments

On September 9, 1941, lightning struck the top of Main Building’s rotunda at around midnight. The College’s Treasurer and Business Manager, Mr. Henry McEntire, was killed while trying to save some documents. Restoration of Main Building was completed a year.

Men were not admitted to the College as degree-seeking students until 1954.

For a larger timeline of the College’s history, click here .

To learn more about the history of the College, continue exploring the Museum website and Greensboro College’s Beyond Books and Buildings project website.