Agnes Scott College in Decatur honors benefactor’s mother

Q: Who was Agnes Scott of Agnes Scott College?

A: Scott was a devout Presbyterian, a fan of Shakespeare and Robert Burns, and a mother whose legacy lives on at the small, 128-year-old women's liberal arts college in Decatur.

Though she never visited Georgia, the Pennsylvania woman is the namesake of Agnes Scott College, whose 100-acre campus features Gothic-style academic buildings.

According to the college, Scott was born Agnes Irvine on June 13, 1799 in Ballykeel, Northern Ireland. Her parents, William and Mary Stitt Irvine, were poor, and at 15, Agnes was sent to the town of Newry to live with her uncle and study at a seminary. In 1816, at the age of 17, Agnes immigrated with her sister and her twice-widowed mother to Alexandria, Pa.

Nineteen days into the 36-day transatlantic voyage, her sister, Susanna Irvine Stewart, died.

At 22, Agnes married John Scott, a widower with five children, who owned a leather tanning and shoe manufacturing business. They had seven children together, the most notable being U.S. Sen. John Scott from Pennsylvania and Col. George Washington Scott, a successful businessman in Georgia and Florida.

In “The Story of Agnes Irvine Scott, 1799-1877: A Family Memoir,” close friend Dr. J.M. Gemmill described Scott as “a person of marked refinement of character, a lady of genuine kindness, a person of gentleness and true benevolence.” The book, written by Scott’s great great-granddaughter Betty Pope Scott Noble, was published in 1999 to commemorate the bicentennial of her birth.

So just how did Scott’s name end up on a college in Georgia?

Eleven years after her death, the Rev. Frank Gaines became pastor of Decatur Presbyterian Church. He opened the Decatur Female Seminary, an all-girls grammar school, in a rented house in 1889.

Col. George Washington Scott served as a trustee for Gaines’ school and donated $40,000 in 1890 to open a more permanent academy. In doing so, he requested that the school be named the Agnes Scott Institute, in dedication to his mother’s faith and love of learning.

“When the Decatur Female Seminary was re-named Agnes Scott Institute in 1891, fourteen years after her death, a delegation of community leaders from her hometown in Alexandria, Pennsylvania, traveled to Decatur, Georgia, to bear witness to the appropriateness of naming an institution in memory of their neighbor, Agnes Irvine Scott,” wrote college President Mary Brown Bullock in the introduction of “The Story of Agnes Irvine Scott, 1799-1877: A Family Memoir.”

In 1906, the school was chartered as Agnes Scott College.

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