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 of Roanoke, 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 under the charter of Randolph-Macon College, which was established 61 years before with the encouragement and financial support of the Methodist Church. Although R-MC and R-MWC established separate boards of trustees in 1953, both colleges have maintained their historic ties to the United Methodist Church.
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 began a slow decline as once-all male institutions opened more educational opportunities for women. Enrollment continued to be a concern in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2003, the College began a strategic planning process with the intention of identifying key strategies that would best position the institution for the future. After two years, of study, research, discussion, and deliberation, members of the Board of Trustees began seriously considering coeducation. “We believe women’s colleges offer an important choice for young women,” said Ginger Worden ’69, interim president for 2006-2007 before the Board’s historic vote in 2006. “The College has focused much time and effort into examining different options that would allow the institution to remain single sex. Given R-MWC’s circumstances, we are firmly convinced that we cannot continue as both a college exclusively for women and a college of excellence. We have chosen to go forward and flourish as a college of excellence.”
In 2007, R-MWC changed its name to Randolph College and admitted its first coed class. After a difficult transition, which included the negative effects of an economic recession, lingering damage from two lawsuits won by the College at the Virginia Supreme Court level, and the success of earning full reaccreditation after an initial warning in 2006, Randolph College has experienced consistent enrollment growth since 2009. In addition, the College has seen improvement in all areas, including alumnae and alumni giving and participation, overall giving, and academic qualifications.
Today, the campus has been revitalized, the student body is engaged, and faculty members remain devoted to providing students an individualized, liberal arts education. 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.