The first students — 11 in all — were mostly former slaves who gathered in the basement of a Baptist church, determined to learn how to read the Bible and to write.
Their teachers, two white missionaries from Massachusetts, had been sent to the South to study the living conditions of freedmen three years before.
Taken aback by the lack of educational opportunities for black women, they raised $100 from a Massachusetts church and opened the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary on April 11, 1881 — laying the foundation for what would become Spelman College.
What began 125 years ago with just a handful of eager students has morphed into one of the most respected women’s colleges in the country.
Tucked onto 32 acres in the midst of the Atlanta University Center, just west of downtown, Spelman has one of the largest endowments of any historically black college in the country. Alumnae giving is at an all-time high, and the college is in the middle of a massive fund-raising campaign. Spelman will soon break ground on an additional residence hall and now receives more than 4,500 applications for a little more than 500 freshman slots each year, including many people with perfect GED and ACT scores . Sixty-four percent of Spelman women go on to graduate school.