First for Women

The first college in the world chartered to grant degrees to women.
Wesleyan was chartered on December 23, 1836; classes began January 7, 1839 with almost 100 students; our first baccalaureate degree was awarded to a woman on July 16, 1840, to Catherine E. Brewer (Benson), first in alphabetical order in a graduating class of 11. How did our first class graduate so quickly? Many in this first group of students had already completed two years of work at the nearby Clinton Female Seminary under Professor Thomas Bogue Slade.

Other Wesleyan “Firsts”

  • First Alumnae Association, founded 1859.
  • First sororities, Alpha Delta Pi (begun as Adelphean Society, 1851), and Phi Mu (begun as Philomathean Society, 1852).
  • First professorship in English Literature to be established in America (1844, held by the Reverend Josiah Fletcher Andrew).
  • First formal inauguration of a college president in Georgia (Dr. Dice Robins Anderson, 1932).
  • First Phi Kappa Phi chapter at a college in Georgia (1969; chapters had previously been established at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia).
  • First Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award for Campus-Community Collaboration awarded in November 2000 to the college for "Aunt Maggie's Kitchen Table" resource center; accepted by executive director and Wesleyan professor, Catherine Meeks.

Some “Firsts” Among Wesleyan’s Alumnae

  • First woman in Georgia to receive the Doctor of Medicine degree (Mary McKay, class of 1878).
  • First woman elected to the Tennessee legislature (Sara Ruth Frazier, class of 1894).
  • First woman to argue a case before the Georgia Supreme Court (Viola Ross Napier, class of 1901).
  • First Chinese women to be educated in America. In 1908, sisters Soong E-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) freshman in class of 1916, came to Wesleyan. Soong May-ling later completed her degree at Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1917. For more information on the Soong Sisters, see the “History of the College.”
  • First woman in Georgia to be issued a commercial pilot’s license (Hazel Jane Raines, class of 1936), in 1938.
  • First woman chair of the Press Institute of the Georgia Press Association (Adelaide Ponder, class of 1946).
  • Georgia’s first and only Miss America (Neva Langley Fickling, class of 1955), in 1953.
  • First women to be appointed poet laureate of state of North Carolina (Kathryn Stripling Byer, class of 1966) in 2005.
  • First woman to serve as staff counsel and director of House Ways and Means Committee (Janice Mays, class of 1973).
  • First woman to be ordained Bishop of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Conference (Charlene Payne Kammerer, class of 1970), in 1996.
  • First woman president of the Florida senate (Antoinette “Toni” Jennings, class of 1971), in 1996.