Mary Baldwin History

It began in an era when the education of women was an unconventional notion. But idealism was rampant in the 1840s, and an unshakeable belief in the capacity of women to learn, to lead, and to make a difference in the world prevailed.

Founded as Augusta Female Seminary in 1842 by Rufus W. Bailey, Mary Baldwin University is the oldest institution of higher education for women in the nation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Among its first students, totaling 57 young women (paying as much as $60 per semester to attend), was Mary Julia Baldwin.

Lauded by the school’s board of trustees for her boldness, intellect, and philanthropic characteristics, Ms. Baldwin was given the challenge of leading the seminary through a turbulent era. In 1863, she was named principal of the seminary and saw the institution through the Civil War, even though all other schools in the area had closed due to the depressed economy and dangerous conditions of the wartime South.

Mary Baldwin University women in the sciences

During the war years, there were few men to offer protection from marauding soldiers, stragglers, and thieves. On at least one occasion, at night when the panicked cry of “A man, a man!” arose, Miss Baldwin chased the intruder into the yard, raised a poker which she was carrying as though it were a gun, and ordered him to leave. He did, speedily.
–From To Live in Time, a historical account of Mary Baldwin University by Patricia Menk

Augusta Female Seminary was renamed Mary Baldwin Seminary in 1895 in honor of Miss Baldwin, and became Mary Baldwin College in 1923. On August 31, 2016, the institution became Mary Baldwin University to reflect its growing range of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs.

Although much has evolved on campus since its early days in the mid 1800s (including the addition of men in our graduate and adult programs), Mary Baldwin continues to thrive as one of the finest residential colleges for women in the nation and a leader in personalized, transforming education.