When Mississippi University for Women was chartered in 1884, it made educational history as the first state-supported college for women in America. Her founding mothers had been persistent and tireless in their efforts, which had spanned over twenty years. Energetic campaigning in the 1860s and 1870s by activist Sallie Reneau had resulted in legislative approval, but no appropriations. A decade later Olivia Valentine Hastings and Annie Coleman Peyton joined forces to lobby legislators and journalists in support of a public women’s college. Originally known as The Industrial Institute and College (II & C), this institution was created by the Mississippi Legislature to provide a unique hybrid: a high quality collegiate education for women coupled with practical vocational training. As one legislator said, it was a “Godsend” for the “poor girls of Mississippi.” In a time when intellectual training for women was considered by many to have disastrous consequences, Mississippi had the foresight to recognize that her young women were going to have to be taught not only to think for themselves, but also to support themselves.
The first session began in October of 1885 in Columbus, a city that had won the college by virtue of its early interest in women’s education and its willingness to commit hard cash to the endeavor. The city donated to the state the buildings and grounds of the Columbus Female Institute, a private school founded in 1847, in addition to offering city bonds in the amount of $50,000 for any needed improvements to the property. That October, 341 girls embarked on this new educational experiment. Four years later the first graduates received their diplomas.
MUW has always shown an ability to adapt and change with the times. In 1920, shortly before newly enfranchised II & C graduates elected their former president Henry Whitfield Governor of Mississippi, The Industrial Institute and College became Mississippi State College for Women. This name more clearly reflected the institution’s merging of the professional training with four year collegiate degrees. By 1974, as all eight universities in Mississippi began adding and strengthening graduate programs, MSCW became Mississippi University for Women. But her alumni and friends affectionately call her The W. Admitting men since 1982, MUW still provides a high quality liberal arts education with a distinct emphasis on professional development and leadership opportunities for women.
The first board of trustees consisted of Governor Robert Lowry, James T. Harrison of Columbus, Dr. Lea Williamson of Como, John F. Smith of Vossburg, Dr. J.J. Gage of Grenada, T. M. Miller of Jackson, Mayor G.R. Higgins of Chotard Landing, Captain D.L. Sweatman of Winona, Dr. J.J. Thornton of Pass Christian, and Senator John McCaleb Martin of Port Gibson, author of the bill creating the college.
The university has been served by 13 persons in the position of president and 6 persons who served as acting or interim president (Mary J.S. Callaway served two terms as acting president). History was made when Dr. Clyda S. Rent became the first woman to serve as the university's president and the first woman to serve as the chief executive officer of a Mississippi university. Persons serving as the institution's chief executive officer:
RICHARD W. JONES, 1884-1888
CHARLES H. COCKE, 1888-1890
MARY J. S. CALLAWAY (Acting President), March, 1890-June, 1890
ARTHUR BEALS, 1890-1891
ROBERT FRAZER, 1891-1898
MARY J.S. CALLAWAY (Acting President), February, 1898-June, 1898
ANDREW A. KINCANNON, 1898-1907
HENRY L. WHITFIELD, 1907-1920
JOHN C. FANT, 1920-1929
NELLIE KEIRN (Acting President), November 1929-June 1930
R.E.L. SUTHERLAND, 1930-1932
BURNEY L. PARKINSON, 1932-1952
CHARLES P. HOGARTH, 1952-1977
JAMES W. STROBEL, 1977-1988
HARVEY M. CRAFT (Interim President), July, 1988-October, 1988
DELENE W. LEE (Interim President), October 1988-April, 1989
CLYDA S. RENT, 1989-2001
LENORE PRATHER, (Interim President), July, 2001-June, 2002
CLAUDIA LIMBERT, July, 2002-June 2010
ALLEGRA BRIGHAM, (Interim President), July, 2010-January 2012
JAMES B. BORSIG, January 2012-present