In 1821, the South Carolina Baptist Convention was organized for the purpose of establishing an institution of higher education in the state to prepare young men for the ministry. On June 23, 1853, a committee chaired by Dr. William B. Johnson met in Greenville and recommended that the convention extend its concern to the education of women. Following the adoption of this report, a committee consisting of Rev. John G. Landrum, T. P. Brockman, and Peter C. Edwards, professor of Hebrew and Exegesis at Furman University, was appointed to "take into consideration the subject of female education as a denominational interest" and to report their findings to the next annual meeting of the convention.
The next year, the convention once again met in Greenville. The subject of establishing a female college was the most pressing item on the agenda. On Tuesday, June 25, 1854, the committee's report recommending the immediate establishment of a "Female College of high order" was adopted after lengthy debate. There were, of course, tacit conditions. The school must be of the same liberal arts tradition as Furman whose development it must not hamper, the curriculum used at Furman must be used and modified to meet the needs of women, and the school must not threaten the existing Baptist schools for young women, especially those in a close proximity to the college. After considering both Anderson and Greenville as sites for the institution, the convention selected Greenville because the town fathers offered $20,000 and the buildings and property occupied by the nearly defunct Greenville Academies.
Once the convention had the money in hand, it began erecting a building suitable for the use of the college and set January 1, 1855 as the opening date for the Greenville Baptist Female College. The convention expected the college to be supported by tuition and fees, so no thought was given to an endowment to provide operating capital. The convention placed the fledgling institution under the control of the Furman University Board of Trustees, which retained legal authority over the Female College until December 1908. In practice, the trustees appointed an executive committee which assumed responsibility for the college and reported to the trustees. There was never a unified administration for both Furman and Greenville Female College, although it was proposed at least once. The convention appointed the president, who ran the college on a day-to-day basis, appointed all teachers, and set the fees.
Beginning with the presidency of Reverend H. A. Duncan (1855-1861), the president of the college leased the facilities from the convention and operated it as a private enterprise. The president, however, still remained under the general direction of the Furman trustees. This system remained operative until 1894. Judson resigned and returned to teaching at Furman in 1878. In his years as president of the Female College, however, he had a lasting impact. Not the least of his contributions was bringing sister, Mary Camilla Judson, to teach at the school beginning in 1860. From 1860 until 1874, Miss Judson taught at the Female College periodically. In 1874, she returned permanently for 38 years, serving as Dean much of that time. Mary Judson, more than any other individual, was responsible for forging the character and traditions of the college. Almost single handedly, she pulled the school through some very difficult financial and administrative crises in the 1890's.
During these early years, the college consisted of a primary department offering 2 years of study, an academic department providing 3 years of study, and a collegiate department requiring 4 years of study. The curriculum consisted of the classics, English and French, literature and composition, and the arts (especially music and drawing). Upon the completion of the collegiate department a woman was awarded either a degree of "Graduate of the English Course" or "Degree of Full Graduate," the latter requiring study in classical languages. Certificates of proficiency documented work at a lesser level. The first class graduated in 1858.
Professor Alexander Sloan Townes, Dr. Judson's successor as president, took the first steps in modernizing this course of study when he introduced the Bachelor of Arts degree and instituted modern requirements for its attainment. The first B.A. degrees were awarded in 1893. In 1889, the Alumnae Association was organized. It served the college in many ways and was especially helpful when it came to raising funds to meet a crisis or take care of a specific need. Following Professor Townes' departure, several presidents followed in quick succession. One of these, Dr. Edward Carroll James, left his mark on the school by obtaining its independence from the control of the Furman Board of Trustees in December 1908.
In 1911, Dr. David Marshall Ramsay began his nineteen year tenure as president. A strong proponent of "standardization" in upper level education, Dr. Ramsay phased out the remnants of the original classical curriculum, as well as the primary and academic departments. He raised requirements for teachers, and by the time he left, most of the faculty had master's degrees. In 1914, he gained approval to change the name of the institution from Greenville Female College to Greenville Woman's College. By 1926, he had met all of the goals he had set for changing the course of the college except for an endowment. By 1929, enrollment was at a record high of 657, a figure which the college never exceeded.
The final years of Dr. Ramsay's presidency were marked by increasing financial difficulties. The period of the Great Depression was marked by declining enrollment and a corresponding decline in revenue. Painfully aware of the situation, the state Baptist convention began to look at other ways to meet the educational needs of its constituency. In 1930, a committee recommended merging Furman University and Greenville Woman's College into a single administrative unit while maintaining their separate locations and identities. Although it took several years to accomplish that goal, including an intense but unsuccessful campaign to liquidate debt in 1935-36, the legal steps affecting the merger were taken in 1938. In that year, the Greenville Woman's College officially became the Woman's College of Furman University.
By 1961, both institutions moved to the present Furman campus and any real distinction between them disappeared. In 1964, the old campus was sold to the City of Greenville and all the buildings were razed. The property, now known as Heritage Green, is the site of the Greenville County Library and the Museum of Art.