Monday, January 10, 2011

Mary Baldwin College

Founded in 1842 as Augusta Female Seminary, Mary Baldwin College is one of the oldest institutions of higher education for women in the United States. The school was established as a Presbyterian seminary (teacher's college; at the time, only unmarried women could be school teachers) by Rufus Wm. Bailey, a minister and teacher from Maine. After plans for the school were approved by the ministers and members of the Presbyterian churches of Augusta County, the seminary opened with Bailey as principal, and the first charter was granted by the Virginia General Assembly in 1845. The school's first building, now the Administration Building, was built adjacent to the First Presbyterian Church of Staunton. In 1872 the church building and land were given to the school. Until it was demolished in 1962, the church building was known as Waddell Chapel, in which Thomas Woodrow Wilson, twenty-eighth President of the United States, was baptized in 1857. His father, Reverend Joseph Ruggles Wilson, was minister of the First Presbyterian Church at the time and also served as chaplain to the Augusta Female Seminary.

It is likely that the seminary would not have survived the Civil War period except for the efforts of Mary Julia Baldwin, who became principal in 1863. The courage and ingenuity of Baldwin and her assistant, Agnes McClung, enabled the school to remain open when nearly every other school in the Shenandoah Valley was forced to close because the area was a continual battlefield between Union and Confederate armies. The seminary became Mary Baldwin Junior College in 1916 and a four-year college in 1923, when the name was changed to Mary Baldwin College.

Associated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Mary Baldwin is today a private, independent four-year liberal arts women's college that also offers co-ed graduate and adult degree programs. It is unique for its Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership program for female cadets, affiliated with nearby Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, intended to satisfy non-discrimination laws that forced a legal challenge to all-male VMI. The state proposed that single-sex leadership programs, with opportunity for commissioning into the military, be offered at Mary Baldwin College and at VMI, while co-educational military opportunities be continued at Virginia Tech; funding to design the program was provided by VMI. Mary Baldwin also hosts the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, a program designed for girls 12–16 years of age to earn a bachelor's degree from the college.

The college now incorporates the buildings and grounds of the Staunton Military Academy that closed in the mid-1970s. The Mary Baldwin College Main Building (photo below), built in 1844, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 along with Hilltop, another campus structure.

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