Brenau University in Gainesville. Photo courtesy of Brenau University.

Shorter, Spelman and Brenau namesakes reflect their history

Q: A while back, you told us the namesake of Agnes Scott College. Who were the namesakes for these Georgia schools: Brenau University, Spelman College and Shorter University?

A: The names of these private, four-year institutions, which were all founded to educate females only, honor indidividuals or unique area characteristics.

Brenau was founded in 1878 as Georgia Baptist Female Seminary. Around 1890, the school’s second president dropped “Baptist” from the name, said David Morrison, vice president for communications and publications at Brenau.

Ten years later, Haywood Jefferson Pearce had purchased controlling interest in the school and wanted to change its name. Georgia’s gold rush had occurred in Dahlonega, about 20 miles away, and Morrison said Pearce wanted to make the name culturally and geographically relevant.

The first four letters are rooted in a German word, “brennen.” “It means ‘to burn,’ but it’s used to describe the refinement of precious metals,” Morrison said. The last two letters are the atomic symbol for gold, Au. “The motto for the school was, ‘As gold refined by fire,’” Morrison said.

Brenau College was born, and in 1992, the name changed to Brenau University. The school enrolls about 3,000 students at co-educational branches across Georgia, one location in Jacksonville, Fla. and the Women’s College in Gainesville.

Spelman College, a liberal arts institution for women, honors teacher and philanthropist Laura Spelman Rockefeller and her parents, who were abolitionists, according to the school’s website.

The institution began as Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, which opened in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church in 1881, founded by Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles. Two years later, the school moved to its present location near downtown Atlanta.

In 1884, the name was changed to Spelman Seminary. The name changed in 1924 to Spelman College ,which now has about 2,100 students, according to its website.

Shorter University, which has a main campus in Rome and locations across Atlanta, is a coeducational college affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. Luther Rice Gwaltney, pastor of Rome Baptist Church, opened the Cherokee Baptist Female College in 1873. His congregation included Col. Alfred Shorter, considered one of the late founders of Rome.

Gwaltney encouraged the colonel and his wife to financially support the school, said Dawn Tolbert, associate vice president for university communications. Col. Shorter originally made a $20,000 contribution.

Because of their support, the school was renamed Shorter College in 1877. The colonel and his wife made donations and supported new buildings and improvements for the rest of their lives, Tolbert said.

The university became coeducational in the late 1940s. In 2010, the college was renamed Shorter University. It enrolls about 1,800 students.

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