Bennett College

This article is about the historically black women's college in Greensboro, North Carolina. For the women's college in Millbrook, New York which existed from 1890 to 1978, see Bennett College (New York).
Bennett College

Official Bennett College seal
Former names
Bennett School, Bennett Seminary
Motto Education for your future Sisterhood for Life
Type Private Historically Black Liberal Arts College for Women[1]
Established August 1, 1873 and reorganized as an all-female institution in 1926
Affiliation United Methodist Church[2]
Endowment $15 million
President Interim President Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins
Academic staff
Students 650
Location Greensboro, North Carolina, United States
Campus 60 acres

Navy Blue and White

Affiliations United Negro College Fund
Bennett College Historic District
Location Roughy bounded by E. Washington, Bennett and Gorrell Sts., Greensboro, North Carolina
Built 1878
Architectural style Gothic, Other, Georgian Revival
MPS Greensboro MPS
NRHP Reference # 92000179[3]
Added to NRHP April 3, 1992

Bennett College is a private four-year historically black liberal arts college for women located 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 women only. Today it serves roughly 780 undergraduate students.

In 1956 Willa Beatrice Player was installed as the first African-American woman president of an accredited, four-year liberal arts college.[4] She encouraged her students as activists in 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. Since the late 1960s, they continued with other efforts. The college expanded its academic offerings and classes related to women's leadership. In the 21st century, the curriculum and students reflect global interests and the African diaspora.


The bell once served as a clock for the student body, letting them know class and meal times.

Bennett College was founded August 1, 1873 as a normal school for seventy African-American men and women (freedmen or former slaves). The school's founder Albion W. Tourgee was an activist in the second half of the 19th century who championed the cause of racial equality. 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, in an effort to compensate for the lack of educational opportunity for many blacks. 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. Bennett remained affiliated for 50 years with the Freedman's Aid Society. In 1878, freedmen purchased land for a future college campus (this is the current site). Hearing of what was being done, New York businessman Lyman Bennett provided $10,000 in funding to build a permanent campus. Bennett died soon thereafter, and the school was named Bennett Seminary and a bell was created in his honor. Hearing of Bennett's philanthropy his coworkers continued his mission by providing the bell for the school.[5]

In 1888, Bennett Seminary elected its first African-American president, the Reverend Charles 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 and brother of future 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 not a four-year college for African-American women only, and sought a school for that mission. The Board of Education of North Carolina offered Bennett College. 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 as a women's college in 1926. Note: The Women's Home Missionary Society's on-campus involvement with Bennett women dates back to 1886.[6]

In 1926, David Dallas Jones was installed as president of the new women's college. 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 student body, from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Although his leadership of the college was very accomplished, it was also marred with controversy.

In 1937, Bennett students protested downtown Greensboro movie theaters because of the depictions of black women in film and segregation of movie theaters (the latter required by state law of the time). President Jones' daughter Frances Jones, a freshwoman, led the protest. This protest during the Great Depression, with Jim Crow ruling in the South, was a catalyst for Jones to be visited by the FBI and other government agencies. They were concerned about communist and leftist activities and 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 school children 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.[5] 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 she 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 was delivered to an overpacked 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 students to lead civil rights protests in Greensboro.[5]

Civil Rights Movement

Bennett students picketing the segregated National Theatre.

In February 1960 students from Bennett College and North Carolina A&T began a civil rights protest in downtown Greensboro. 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 return until it was integrated. On February 4, 1960, close to a dozen "Bennett Belles" were arrested due to their continuing protest at Woolworth's.[7]

On April 21, 1960, Bennett and A&T students were arrested for trespassing at the "white" S.H. Kress & Co. lunch counter.[7]

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 awkwardly entering the back of a paddy wagon without assistance from the police officers surrounding it. It reported that Greensboro police were surprised by the behavior of "Bennett Belles," who were considered refined young women from an "elitist finishing school" in the Greensboro community. At the peak of the sit-in movement, more than 40% of Bennett's student body was jailed.[7] Player personally visited students in jail, carrying their assignments to them so they would not fall behind in their studies.[8]

Willa B. Player, the activist president, led Bennett until 1966, after passage of important federal civil rights legislation in the previous two years, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Isaac H. Miller was selected as the 11th president. His father had been an administrator at Bennett during former president Frank Trigg's tenure.

Miller maintained the "Bennett Ideal", despite social changes of the late 1960s, during which students protested strict dress codes, disciplinary policies, and curfew. During the 1967-68 school year, freshwomen walked out of dormitories 1 minute before curfew. Students took over the student union demanding change. Miller surrounded the buildings with campus security, and brought in family and sleeping bags, changing the protest to a campus-wide sleep over. Students were required to wear dresses or skirts, hats and gloves until the early 1970s.[5]

Miller collaborated with other colleges and universities in Greensboro to form a consortium which expanded Bennett's academic program offerings 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 increased material and fiscal resources. Bennett's endowment grew and four new buildings were constructed on campus. Miller 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.[5]

Gloria Randle Scott started as President of Bennett College on July 1, 1987. She developed offerings with additional programs. 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 residents of Africa. 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.[5]

Bennett today

In June 2002 came big changes for Bennett College. The school was revitalized and much needed renovations were made to campus buildings under the leadership of Sister President Emerita Johnnetta B. Cole who spearheaded a $50 million campaign. Also under her leadership the New Academy – an academic program, the Johnnetta B. Cole Diversity and Inclusion Institute, and an art gallery were added to expand the culture of the college. Dr. Cole also enhanced the study abroad program. Health and fitness were added to encourage students to learn to lead healthy lives. 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 assisted in fundraising. The campaign closed successfully at the end of Cole's tenure on June 30, 2007.[5]

On July 1, 2007, Julianne Malveaux became President of Bennett College. She has led a $21 million expansion and renovation project of 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. During the May 2013 commencement ceremony, the Board of Trustees announced Terry would be officially termed as 16th President of Bennett College.

Rosalind Fuse-Hall assumed presidency on July 1, 2013. She focuses on the importance of increasing enrollment and retention.

Since 1930, Bennett has graduated more than 7,000 students, affectionately known as "Bennett Belles." The college is also known for its intense spirituality, sisterhood and a wide range of school traditions.

Accreditations and memberships

In 1930, on the graduation of its first four women with a 4-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 the college in 1936 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Today, the college continues with its SACS accreditation; it is also accredited by the Council of 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.[5]

Bennett College

  1. W.J. Parker (principal) (1874–1877)[9]
  2. Edward O. Thayer (1877–1881)[9]
  3. Wilbur F. Steele (1881–1889)[9]
  4. Charles N. Grandison (1889–1892)[9]
  5. Jordan D. Chavis (1892–1905)[9]
  6. Silas A. Peeler (1905–1913)[9][10]
  7. James E. Wallace (1913–1915)[9]
  8. Frank Trigg (1915–1926)[9]

Bennett College for Women

  1. David Dallas Jones (1926–1955)
  2. Willa Beatrice Player (1955–1966) – Bennett's first female president[8]
  3. Isaac H. Miller, Jr. (1966–1987)
  4. Gloria Randle Scott (1987–2001)
  5. Althia F. Collins (2001–2002)
  6. Johnnetta B. Cole (2002–2007)
  7. Julianne Malveaux (2007–2012)
  8. Esther Terry (2012 – June 30, 2013) – Bennett's first alumna president
  9. Rosalind Fuse-Hall (July 1, 2013 – 2016)
  10. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins (August 15, 2016 -- present) -- Interim President.


Bennett college offers 24 majors and 19 minors under 3 divisions: Division of Natural and Behavioral Sciences and Mathematics, Division of Social Sciences and Education, and 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.

Bennett has incorporated three new programs to increase students' awareness of the struggles and accomplishments of all women, especially those of African descent; and others related to today's globally integrated society: Womanist Religious Studies, Global Studies, Africana Women's Studies, and The New Academy.

The Early/Middle College at Bennett College

The Middle College at Bennett has the distinction of being 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.

Today, the Early/Middle College is nationally recognized as an honor school. In 2012 it was named a National Blue Ribbon School. In 2011 and 2013 it was one of 25 schools across the United States and Canada to receive a Project Ignition grant to implement its "no texting and driving" campaign. In June 2013 the high school was announced as one of the top ten under the Project Ignition campaign; they were awarded additional funding to continue the program.


Student life

There are over 60 campus social, service, religious, and the student government association organizations. Bennett College also has collegiate sports.

Honor societies

Alpha Lambda Delta, Alpha Kappa Mu, Beta Kappa Chi, Iota Iota Iota, Psi Chi, Sigma Tau Delta

Student publications, media and alumnae publications

Bennett Banner, Belle Vision TV, Bennett College Association of Black Journalist, Belle Ringer Alumnae Magazine

Student academic and enrichment clubs

American Civil Liberties Club, Belle Business Club, Biology Club, Chemistry Club, Foster Friends Club, HBCU-UP Club, Mathematics and Computer Science Club, Psychology Club, Social Work Club, Journalism Club, Minority Association for Pre-Med Students (MAPS).

Student council

Barge Hall Council, Cone Hall Council, Jones Hall Council, Pan Hellenic Council, Pfeiffer Hall Council, Player Hall Council, Reynolds Hall Council, Pre Alumnae Council or PAC.

Student Government Association (SGA)

Serves as the official governing body for students.

Student Union Advisory Board (SUAB)

Provides educational, cultural, social recreation, entertainment and community building.

Student North Carolina Association of Educators (SNCAE)

Aids in making a smooth transition for education majors from classwork to first year teaching.

Belle awareness and encouragement groups

Belles Against Domestic Violence, Belles of Peace, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Political Pacesetters, HIV/AIDS Prevention Taskforce

Religious organizations

Bennett College Choir, Belles of Harmony Gospel Choir, The Millennium Mentors, Spirit of David Dance Ministry, Student Christian Fellowship, United Methodist Women, Catholic Campus Connection.

Sisterhood organizations

Ringers, Liberty Belle New York Connection, Sister to Sister, Native Sister, Mid West Belles Club, Southern Belles Club, West Coast Connect

International organizations

Caribbean Connection, International Club

National Pan-Hellenic Council

Active Sororities on Bennett College campus

Alpha Kappa Alpha , Delta Sigma Theta , Zeta Phi Beta

Other organizations

Belles in Media, Blue Blaze Dancers, Bennett College Ambassadors Association, Class Governments (Freshwomen, Sophomore, Junior, Senior), Ecentrique Modeling Troupe, Ladies of Essence Dance Team, Queens Association, Students in Free Enterprise.

Bennett College for Women Athletics

Basketball, Golf, Soccer, Swimming, Softball

Health, wellness and fitness

Outdoor Tennis Courts, 1/2 Mile Walking Track, Fitness/Weight Room

Notable alumnae

Name Class year Notability Reference(s)
Dorothy L. Brown 1941 First African American woman general surgeon in the south and to serve on the Tennessee General Assembly, Brown was also the first African American woman to be made a fellow of the American College of Surgeons
Maidie Norman 1934 Actress and educator. Maidie Norman's most famous role came in the 1962 horror and suspense film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? along side veteran actresses Joan Crawford and Betty Davis. Norman is also widely known in Hollywood for fighting against stereotypical movie roles of African Americans.
Carolyn R. Payton 1945 First woman, first African American and first psychologist tapped by President Jimmy Carter to head the Peace Corps. Payton also defined the meaning for what it is to be a First Class Citizen. She is also a pioneer in women's psychology
Jacquelyn Grant 1970 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.
Beverly Buchanan 1962 Noted artist for her exploration of Southern vernacular architecture. She went on to Columbia University where she received a master's degree in parasitology(1968) and public health(1969). Beverly decided not to attend medical school in order to pursue her dream as an artist.
Yvonne Johnson 1962 First African American Mayor of Greensboro, NC and Educator.
Gladys A. Robinson 1971 Democratic member of the North Carolina Senate representing the 28th district.
Belinda J. Foster 1979 First African American female District Attorney in the State of North Carolina.
Talia Melanie McCray 1990 Professor and noted research scientist.
Sara Lou Harris Carter 1943 First African American model to be featured in a national poster advertisement campaign in the 1940's for Lucky Strike cigarettes. She was also an Actress, Educator and Humanitarian.
I. Patricia Henry 1969 First African American woman to manage a major American brewery, making her a master brewer for Miller Brewing Company now MillerCoors.
Hattie Caldwell 1971 noted African American Physicist
Frances Jones Bonner 1939 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.
Cynthia D. Brown 1991 Former Durham, North Carolina City Councilwoman and Candidate for U.S. Senate in 2002.
Linda Beatrice Brown 1961 Author, Civil Rights Activist, Willa Beatrice Player Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Bennett College for Women.

Notable faculty

Name Department Notability Reference
R. Nathaniel Dett Visiting Director of Music. Advisor to Frances Jones Bonner during 1937 downtown Greensboro, NC boycott and protest.
Julianne Malveaux African-American economist, author, liberal social and political commentator, and businesswoman. Began as a visiting professor of economics before serving as president 2007–2012. [12]
Alma Adams Was elected to North Carolina House of Representatives in 1994. Served as professor of art and former director of Steele Hall Art gallery.
Merze Tate Department chair of Social Science and professor.
Willa Beatrice Player Served as President from 1955-1966

See also


  1. "About Us". Bennett College. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  2. "Student Affairs". Bennett College. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  3. National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  4. Linda Beatrice Brown (1998). The Long Walk: The Story of the Presidency of Willa B. Player at Bennett College. Bennett College.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
  6. "Bennett College Concentrated on Educating Black Women". African American Registry. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  7. 1 2 3 "Bennett College's Civil Rights Timeline". Bennett's Sit-in Story. Bennet College Journalism and Media Studies Department. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  8. 1 2 "Willa Player Encouraged and Taught Many". African American Registry. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Bennett College, a haven for Education . . .". The African American Registry. 2005-08-01. Archived from the original on December 1, 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-30.
  10. Arnett, Ethel Stephens (1973). For Whom Our Public Schools Were Named, Greensboro, North Carolina. Piedmont Press. p. 274.
  11. Wallace, Rich (September 1996). "Ida Haslup Goode Leaves Legacy". Traveling Through Time. Shelby County Historical Society. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  12. "Julianne Malveaux Resigns as President of Bennett College". The Grio. February 28, 2012. Retrieved April 16, 2014.

External links

Coordinates: 36°04′03″N 79°46′43″W / 36.0674527°N 79.7785359°W / 36.0674527; -79.7785359

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