|Bennett School, Bennett Seminary
|Education for your future Sisterhood for Life
|Private Historically Black Liberal Arts College for Women
|August 1, 1873 and reorganized as an all-female institution in 1926
|United Methodist Church
|United Negro College Fund
|Suzanne Elise Walsh
|60 acres (24 ha)
|Royal blue and white
Bennett College Historic District
|Roughly bounded by E. Washington, Bennett and Gorrell Sts., Greensboro, North Carolina
|Gothic, Georgian Revival
|NRHP reference No.
|Added to NRHP
|April 3, 1992
Bennett College is a private historically black liberal arts college for women in Greensboro, North Carolina. It was founded in 1873 as a normal school to educate freedmen and train both men and women as teachers. Originally coed, in 1926 it became a four-year women's college. It is one of two historically black colleges that enroll only women, the other being Spelman College.
In 1956, Willa Beatrice Player was installed at Bennett College, becoming the first African-American woman president of an accredited, four-year liberal arts college. She encouraged her students to be activists in the issues of the day. Beginning in 1960, Bennett students took part in the ultimately successful campaign in Greensboro to integrate white lunch counters at local variety stores. The college expanded its academic offerings and classes related to women's leadership.
In December 2018, the college's regional accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, announced that it intended to revoke Bennett College's accreditation. The college had been on probation for two years due to its considerable financial challenges. The college launched an emergency funding campaign, Change and Progress for Bennett, to raise at least $5 million. By February 2019, the campaign raised $8.2 million. That same month, SACS withdrew accreditation from the college despite fundraising efforts; however, Bennett College filed a lawsuit against the accreditor and the court ordered the accreditation to remain in place pending the legal challenge.
On June 27, 2019, Bennett announced that Suzanne Walsh would be its new president.
Bennett College was founded on August 1, 1873, as a normal school for teacher training. It opened with seventy African-American men and women (freedmen, or former slaves). The school's founder, Albion W. Tourgee, was an Civil War veteran and jurist from Ohio who worked in North Carolina during Reconstruction and championed the cause of racial justice.
The school held its inaugural classes in the basement of Warnersville Methodist Episcopal Church North (now St. Matthew's United Methodist) in Greensboro. Bennett was coeducational and offered both high school and college-level courses, to help many blacks compensate for their previous lack of educational opportunity. The year after its founding, the school became sponsored by the Freedman's Aid Society and Southern Education Society of the northern Methodist Episcopal Church (like the Baptists, the Methodist churches had split in the years before the war over the issue of slavery, and established two regional conferences). Bennett remained affiliated for 50 years with the Freedman's Aid Society.
In 1878, freedmen purchased land for a future college campus (which was developed as the current site). Hearing about the college, New York businessman Lyman Bennett (1801–1879) provided $10,000 in funding to build a permanent campus. Bennett died soon after. The college was named Bennett Seminary. Hearing of Bennett's philanthropy, his coworkers commissioned a bell to be made in his honor and continued his mission by donating the bell to the school.
In 1888, Bennett Seminary elected its first African-American president, the Reverend Charles N. Grandison. Grandison spearheaded a successful drive to have the school chartered as a four-year college in 1889. Two of the first African-American bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church were graduates of the college, including Robert Elijah Jones, an 1895 graduate. His brother was the future Bennett College president David Dallas Jones. Under the direction of Reverend Grandison and succeeding President Jordan Chavis, Bennett College grew from 11 undergraduate students to a total of 251 undergraduates by 1905. The enrollment leveled out in the 1910s at roughly 300.
In 1916, a survey conducted by the Phelps-Stokes Foundation recommended Bennett College be converted to a college exclusively for women. The Women's Home Missionary Society, which had supported women at the college since 1886, had found that there was no four-year college exclusively for African-American women, and they wanted to establish such a college. The North Carolina Board of Education offered Bennett College for that purpose.
After ten years, during which it studied other locations and conducted fundraising, the Women's Home Missionary Society and the NC Board of Education decided to develop the college in its current location. Bennett fully transitioned to a women's college in 1926. (Note: The Women's Home Missionary Society's on-campus involvement with Bennett women dates back to 1886.) Around this time, Bennett alumni were nicknamed the "Bennett Belles" and the school gained a reputation as an institution of quality.
In 1926, David Dallas Jones was installed as president of the new women's college and served. Under his leadership, the college expanded, reaching an enrollment of 400. It became known in the black community as the Vassar College of the South, and Jones recruited faculty, staff, and students, from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The school was expanded to a 42-acre campus with 33 buildings, and its endowment increased to $1.5 million. Although he had major achievements, Jones's tenure was also marked with controversy.
In 1937, Bennett students protested downtown Greensboro movie theaters because of their segregation, which was state law at the time, and the depictions of black women in films they were showing. Frances Jones, daughter of the college president, led the protest; she was in her first year. This protest during the Great Depression and under Jim Crow conditions in the South, resulted in President Jones being investigated by the FBI and other government agencies. They were concerned about communist and leftist activities, as these groups were politically active in the United States. They ordered him to prohibit the students from protesting. Jones refused.
At his invitation, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt came to the college on March 22, 1945, to meet with an integrated group of schoolchildren from Greensboro. Other visitors to the campus included Benjamin Elijah Mays, former Morehouse College president; poet Robert Frost, and writer James Weldon Johnson. Jones led the college for almost 30 years until he became ill in 1955, when he named Willa B. Player interim president. Player was the first female president of Bennett College, and the first black female president of any accredited four-year college in the United States. During Player's tenure, Bennett became the first black college to be fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Note: (Bennett's brother college is Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. This relationship developed through the historic friendship of David Dallas Jones and Benjamin E. Mays.)
In October 1956, Willa Beatrice Player was inaugurated as President of Bennett College. She was the first African-American woman to be president of a four-year, fully accredited liberal arts college or university. During Player's tenure, Bennett in 1957 was one of the first historically black colleges to receive accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). On February 11, 1958, Player allowed civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at the school; he was prohibited by the city from speaking publicly anywhere else in Greensboro. His speech was entitled "A Realistic Look At Race Relations," and was delivered to a standing-room-only audience at Annie Merner Pfeiffer Chapel on campus. Player said about this visit, "Bennett College is a liberal arts college where 'freedom rings,' so King can speak here." King, Howard Thurman and Benjamin Elijah Mays inspired Bennett students to begin protests, and they became known as "Bennett Belles".
Civil rights activism at Bennett increased throughout the Civil rights movement. In February 1960 students from Bennett College and North Carolina A&T began a civil rights protest in downtown Greensboro that sparked the Greensboro sit-ins. Bettye Davis, class of 1963, committed to sitting at the white-only lunch counter of F. and W. Woolworth's variety store with students from A&T, and to keep returning until the store integrated the facility. On February 4, 1960, close to a dozen "Bennett Belles" were arrested due to their continuing protest at Woolworth's.
On April 21, 1960, Bennett and A&T students were arrested for trespassing at the white S.H. Kress & Co. lunch counter. On April 22, 1960, The Daily News of New York broke the story of the arrests nationally, with front-page headlines and a picture of well-dressed female students entering the back of a paddy wagon without any help from the police officers surrounding it. It reported that Greensboro police were surprised that the "Bennett Belles" had protested, as they were considered refined young women from an "elitist finishing school." At the peak of the sit-in movement, more than 40% of Bennett's student body was jailed. President Player personally visited the students in jail, carrying assignments to them so they would not fall behind in their studies.
Willa B. Player led Bennett until 1966. She was succeeded by Isaac H. Miller. His father had been an administrator at Bennett during President Frank Trigg's tenure. Miller maintained the "Bennett Ideal," despite the social changes of the late 1960s. Students protested the strict dress codes, disciplinary policies, and curfew. During the 1967–1968 school year, freshwomen walked out of dormitories one minute before curfew. Students took over the student union while demanding change to college policies. Miller surrounded the buildings with campus security, and brought in family and sleeping bags, changing the protest to a campus-wide "sleepover". Students were required to wear dresses or skirts, and hats and gloves until the early 1970s.
Miller collaborated with other colleges and universities in Greensboro to form a consortium that expanded Bennett's academic program by giving students access to other local universities. His administration developed the biomedical research and interdisciplinary studies programs, along with a bridge program in conjunction with Meharry Medical College of Nashville, Tennessee. He collaborated with other HBCU presidents to establish the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, serving on the first board of directors. Miller's plans were supported by alumnae, who donated material and fiscal resources.
Miller increased Bennett's endowment and also completed the construction of four new buildings on campus. He served as president for 21 years, the second-longest presidential tenure in Bennett College history, and during a period of considerable social change. He retired in 1987. Gloria Randle Scott became Bennett's 12th president and its second woman in that position.
Gloria Randle Scott started as President of Bennett College on July 1, 1987. She established the Women's Leadership Institute and the Center for African Women and Women of the African Diaspora. Bennett admitted new African immigrants as well as students who were African nationals. In 1989, poet and activist Maya Angelou was installed as a member of the board of trustees. Scott was President of Bennett for 14 years before retiring in 2001.
Bennett underwent numerous changes under Sister President Emerita Johnnetta B. Cole, who was inaugurated in July 2002. In her first year at Bennett, Cole erased the school's $3.8 million deficit and raised an estimated $15 million in funding. Before Cole's tenure, Bennett College had been under SACS probation for two years, which was finally lifted in 2002. The school was revitalized and much-needed renovations were made to campus buildings; new buildings were built. In total, she led a $50 million campaign.
Numerous prominent figures spoke at the campus and some helped raise funds for its operations. Former President Bill Clinton, former US Senator Robert Dole, trustee emerita Maya Angelou, and Oprah Winfrey have all assisted in fundraising. The campaign closed successfully at the end of Cole's tenure on June 30, 2007.
On July 1, 2007, Julianne Malveaux became President of Bennett College. She led a $21 million expansion and renovation project for the college. She increased enrollment, added four new buildings, including a multimedia center, and renovated additional buildings. Malveaux enhanced the overall academic curriculum, which focuses on women's leadership, entrepreneurship, communications, and global studies.
On July 1, 2012, Esther Terry '61 became the first alumna to lead the college. Already serving as the college's provost, Terry was made interim president for a full academic year. In 2013, the Board of Trustees announced Terry would be the sixteenth president of Bennett College.
Former provost Phyllis Worthy Dawkins assumed the presidency on August 15, 2016. Dawkins focused on faculty/staff recruitment and reinvigorating living-learning communities; she launched a leadership institute. She was replaced in 2019 by Suzanne Walsh, who was previously deputy director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Postsecondary Success division.
Since 1930, Bennett has graduated more than 7,000 students.
In 1930, on the graduation of its first four women with a four-year bachelor's degree, the "A" rating was granted to the college by the North Carolina State Department of Education. This same rating was granted to the college in 1936 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the college's regional accreditor. Today, the college is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
In 1957, Bennett was one of the first and the only private black college to be admitted into full membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. It has also been a member of the American Association of Colleges, The Commission on black Colleges of the University Senate, the American Association of Registrars and Admission Officers, the American Council of Education, the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, the College Fund/UNCF, the Council on Independent Colleges, the Women's College Coalition, the North Carolina Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the NCB Piedmont Automated Library System (NCBPALS), the Greater Greensboro Consortium, and the New York University Faculty Resource Network.
The college lost its accreditation from SACS on February 18, 2019. It was on probation for two years in the early 2000s because the college was struggling with significant financial challenges. In 2016, SACS placed the college on probation again for the same reason. In December 2018, SACS voted to withdraw the college's accreditation. The college launched a fundraising campaign and appealed the SACS decision.
In February 2019 it lost accreditation although it had succeeded in building its financial resources. A court ordered the accreditation to remain upright while the college filed a lawsuit against the accreditor.
Bennett College offers 24 majors and nineteen minors under three divisions: the Division of Natural and Behavioral Sciences and Mathematics, the Division of Social Sciences and Education, and the Division of Humanities. These disciplines include degrees in Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts and Science in interdisciplinary studies, bachelor of Social Work, and the Bachelor of Fine Arts. Bennett also offers five dual degree programs including Chemistry/Chemical Engineering with NC A&T, Chemistry/Pharmacy with Howard University, Mathematics/Mechanical Engineering with NC A&T, Mathematics/Electrical Engineering with NC A&T, and Mathematics/Industrial Engineering with NC A&T.
The Middle College at Bennett is one of only two all-female high schools in the state of North Carolina. It began in 2003 as a "middle college", serving female 11th- and 12th-grade students who were at risk of dropping out of high school. By 2006, with the help of The New Schools Project Reform Initiative, The Middle College expanded to include 9th and 10th graders and began offering dual enrollment. With dual enrollment, students take college courses and earn transferable college credit as they earn their high school diploma. Students begin taking college courses in their 9th-grade year and may earn up to two years of transferable college credit hours by completion of their senior year.
There are over sixty campus social, service, religious, and student government association organizations. Bennett College also has collegiate sports.
|Dorothy L. Brown
|First African-American woman surgeon from the Southeastern United States and first African-American woman to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly, Brown was also the first African American woman to be made a fellow of the American College of Surgeons
|Actress and educator. Maidie Norman's most famous role came in the 1962 horror and suspense film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? alongside veteran actresses Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Norman is also widely known in Hollywood for fighting against stereotypical movie roles of African Americans.
|Carolyn R. Payton
|Tapped by President Jimmy Carter as the first woman, first African American, and first psychologist to head the Peace Corps. She is also a pioneer in women's psychology
|Author of the widely acclaimed White Women's Christ and Black Women's Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response. Jacquenlyn Grant is the first African American woman to earn a doctoral degree in systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary. She is also an author, theology professor and minister.
|African-American artist whose works include painting, sculpture, video, and land art. Buchanan is noted for her exploration of Southern vernacular architecture through her art.
|First African American Mayor of Greensboro, NC and Educator.
|Gladys A. Robinson
|Democratic member of the North Carolina Senate representing the 28th district.
|Belinda J. Foster
|First African American female District Attorney in the State of North Carolina.
|Talia Melanie McCray
|Professor and noted research scientist.
|Sara Lou Harris Carter
|First African American model to be featured in a national poster advertisement campaign in the 1940s for Lucky Strike cigarettes. She was also an Actress, Educator and Humanitarian.
|I. Patricia Henry
|First African American woman to manage a major American brewery, making her a master brewer for Miller Brewing Company now MillerCoors.
|noted African American Physicist
|Frances Jones Bonner
|First African American woman to train and to become a faculty member at Massachusetts General Hospital. She also led a successful protest and boycott of downtown Greensboro, NC movie theaters in 1937.
|Linda Beatrice Brown
|Author, Civil Rights Activist, Willa Beatrice Player Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Bennett College for Women.
|Miriam Higgins Thomas
|food chemist for the United States Army at Natick Laboratories
|Joyce Martin Dixon
|Businesswoman and Philanthropist
|Superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools
|Nelle A. Coley
|Famed educator and civil rights activist in Beaufort, North Carolina. She taught at the James B. Dudley Senior High for over thirty years.
|Served as President from 2002-2007
|R. Nathaniel Dett
|Visiting Director of Music. Advisor to Frances Jones Bonner during 1937 downtown Greensboro, NC boycott and protest.
|Helen Elise Smith Dett
|wife of R. Nathaniel Dett, taught piano.
|African-American economist, author, liberal social and political commentator, and businesswoman. Began as a visiting professor of economics before serving as president 2007–2012.
|Was elected to North Carolina House of Representatives in 1994. Served as professor of art and former director of Steele Hall Art gallery.
|Department chair of Social Science and professor.
|Willa Beatrice Player
|Served as President from 1955-1966
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