This Day in Black History: April 11, 1881

Spelman College, the premiere university for Black women in the United States, opened on this day.

Classes at what would eventually become Spelman College were first held in the basement of a church in Atlanta on April 11, 1881. Its original name was the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary and it was organized under the sponsorship of the American Baptist Women’s Home Mission Society. Ultimately, Spelman would become the premiere educational institution for African-American women in the nation. The school, which is part of the complex of colleges in the Atlanta University Center, is ranked among the top liberal arts schools in the country by the U.S. News and World Report. Forbes magazine ranks Spelman among the top 10 best women’s colleges in the country. The college received substantial support from the family of industrialist John D. Rockefeller, who donated money and built what is now the oldest building on the campus. The school’s name was changed in 1924, taking the name of Laura Spelman Rockefeller.

The college is ranked among the top 50 four-year colleges and universities for producing Fulbright Scholars and was ranked the second largest producer of African-American college graduates who attend medical school. Spelman graduates include actress Esther Rolle, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Alice Walker, opera singer Mattiwilda Dobbs and Marion Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children Defense Fund.

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