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Photo of Randolph College in the early 1900s.

History and Legacy


Randolph College was founded as Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (R-MWC) in 1891 by William Waugh Smith, then president of Randolph-Macon College (R-MC) in Ashland, Virginia.

After his efforts to enroll women at R-MC failed, Smith searched the state for a place to create “a college where our young women may obtain an education equal to that given in our best colleges for young men and under environments in harmony with the highest ideals of womanhood.”

The institution opened for its first session in Lynchburg on September 14, 1893, with 36 boarding students and 12 professors. Both R-MC and R-MWC were named for John Randolph, who was born in Prince George County, Virginia, and Senator Nathaniel Macon of Warrenton, North Carolina. Both men were widely respected for their political roles in the early 19th century.

R-MWC was founded in 1891 under the charter of Randolph-Macon College, which was established in 1830. R-MC and R-MWC established separate boards of trustees in 1953.


The College received acclaim for its academic strength early in its history. In 1902, R-MWC was the first women’s college to be admitted to the Association of Colleges and Preparatory Schools of the Southern States. And in 1916, R-MWC was the first women’s college south of the Potomac to receive a Phi Beta Kappa charter. It was admitted to the membership in the American Association of University Women in 1919.

During its history, R-MWC stood among other regional single-sex colleges as “the academic” woman’s college. In the 1990s, the College earned distinction for its growing international focus. Enrollment was at its highest in the late 1960s, but that growth slowed as once-all male institutions opened more educational opportunities for women. The Board of Trustees made the decision to change the College name and go coed in September 2006, following several years of a strategic planning process, research, and deliberation. R-MWC became Randolph College on July 1, 2007, and the first fully coed class began in August of that same year.

Today, the campus has been revitalized, the student body is engaged, and faculty members remain devoted to providing students an individualized, liberal arts education. The College has seen consistent enrollment growth since 2009, as well as improvements in all areas, including alumnae and alumni giving and participation, overall giving, and academic qualifications.

Building on a strong heritage of rigor and academic challenge in a close-knit community, Randolph College continues to prepare students for Vita abundantior, the life more abundant.

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