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The Georgia Female College was established in 1836 by citizens of Macon and members of the Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The college formally opened on Monday, January 7, 1839 with ninety students; by the end of the first term the student body numbered 168. The curriculum included natural philosophy, mental and moral philosophy, astronomy, botany, chemistry, physiology, geology, history, and ancient and modern languages.

Many students had some prior education at academies, making it possible to graduate the first class of eleven young women on July 18, 1840. With this graduation the college became the first chartered to offer regular baccalaureate degrees to women. The college president, George Foster Pierce, delivered the commencement address and told the young women, “Read history—biography—the essayists—philosophy, and I would add, strangely as it may sound upon a fashionable ear, theological works. The intellectual powers cannot be sustained and made vigorous upon dainties. Thought must be replenished…Now is your seed-time—improve it, and the harvest is sure.”

The first college building was on the outskirts of Macon. A four story building on four acres, it housed classrooms, offices, chapel, dining room, and dormitory. This building was later expanded.

In 1844 the school’s name was changed to Wesleyan Female College and in 1917 the word “Female” was dropped as an anachronism.

Wesleyan College stayed open throughout the Civil War, although it was forced to suspend classes for two weeks in 1864 and for two days in 1865. Refugees and family members boarded at the college, but classes continued.

The main college building was renovated in the 1880s and new buildings were then constructed. As the boundaries of Macon expanded, the college soon found itself without room for further expansion. In 1928, the campus moved six miles north to its present location on 200 acres.  The Wesleyan College campus is among the most extensive and intact early twentieth century-planned campuses in Georgia, with little if any incompatible new development or intrusive parking lots that characterize many other campuses. A unified design from the beginning, later additions have followed the original plan. The large, open, central quadrangle is a design that dates back to mid-sixteenth century Cambridge, England, reflecting the layout of monasteries of the time whose design became associated with education.

Approximately half the land included in the Wesleyan campus is a forest preserve/arboretum and remains undeveloped. This area, located at the back of the campus, is a native hardwood forest and home to a wide variety of native plants and wildlife and many species of birds. The “core campus” is set in the southeast corner of the property. The entire Wesleyan campus is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Wesleyan College Historic District. The designation was approved for Wesleyan in 2004 because the campus meets four areas of significance—architecture, landscape architecture, community planning and development, and education. The Wesleyan College Historic District includes the entire 200-acre campus and consists of approximately thirty buildings, the majority of which are Georgian Revival-style and historically significant.

The buildings on the original campus in downtown Macon burned in 1963 and the U.S. Post Office was built on the property.

Wesleyan is also notable as the founder of the first sororities for women, Alpha Delta Pi (originally Adelphean Society) in 1851 and Phi Mu (originally Philomathean Society) in 1852. Both became national organizations, but sororities were abolished at Wesleyan in 1914 as “contrary to the spirit of a democratic age.” The first organizational meeting of Wesleyan alumnae took place on July 11, 1859 and in July 1860, during commencement week, the first annual reunion was held—and thus was established the first alumnae association of a degree-granting college.

Points of interest at this Heritage Landmark: There is a marker at the site of the original campus, which is now the United States Post Office. The current campus is on 200 acres six miles north of the original location. The college is open to visitors. Willet Memorial Library displays various memorabilia related to the school’s history. The renowned China Museum includes memorabilia from Wesleyan alumnae the Soong sisters, the first Chinese women in history to receive an American education: Soong Ai-ling (Madame H. H. Kung), class of 1909, Soong Ching-ling (Madame Sun Yat-sen), class of 1913, and Soong May-ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek).

Many of the college buildings are named in honor of Methodists, including Candler Alumnae Center, given by Judge John Slaughter Candler in memory of his parents. The Porter Family Memorial Fine Arts Building, Porter Gymnasium, and the Olive Swann Porter building were gifts of James Hyde Porter, Georgia Methodist philanthropist.

Special events: On the evening before commencement in May, graduating seniors and faculty process in regalia from the Old Wesleyan campus site on College Street to Mulberry Street United Methodist Church for Baccalaureate ceremonies. The route followed today is the same that students took when walking to church services from the downtown campus.

Area attractions: John Wesley’s American Parish and St. Simons Island are also in the South Georgia Annual Conference. Macon itself has a number of historical and cultural attractions.

To visit:   The marker at the site of the original campus is accessible during daylight hours. Visitors who wish to see the current campus are welcome to visit: 4760 Forsyth Road, Macon, GA 31210; 800-447-6610.

Location: Within the boundaries of the South Georgia Annual Conference, in Bibb County. 4760 Forsyth Road, Macon. The original site of the college is just north of downtown Macon on U.S. 41. The present campus is six miles north of downtown Macon on Forsyth Road (US 41).

Food and lodging: Visitors may be able to arrange guest lodging on the college campus by calling (478) 757-5233. There are also numerous motels and restaurants in the city of Macon.

Directions: The original site of the college is on US 41, 1/2 mile north of Macon’s city center on College Avenue.

The site can also be reached via Interstate 16: exit at Spring Street; go west on Spring Street to Georgia Avenue (US 41); the site is two blocks north on US 41. Continue north from this site for six miles to reach the current campus.

Visitors can also reach the school via Interstate 475: exit at the Zebulon Road/Wesleyan College Exit; turn east on Zebulon Road and travel two miles to US 41; turn south and travel 1/2 mile to Wesleyan College.

For further information, contact: Kristie Peavey, Willet Memorial Library, Wesleyan College, 4760 Forsyth Rd., Macon, GA 31210; 478-757-6601.

To learn more about United Methodist history in this area:

The Arthur J. Moore Methodist Museum, P.O. Box 20407, St. Simons Island, GA 31522; Anne Packard, Director, 912-638-4050;

Samuel Luttrell Akers, The First Hundred Years of Wesleyan College, 1836-1936 (Macon: Wesleyan College, 1976).

Helen Glen, And So it Began (Macon: Wesleyan College, 1958).