In 1838, at a time when formal education for women was rare, several people of extraordinary faith and vision began garnering support for a school for young women in Marion, Alabama. Businesswoman Julia Tarrant Barron and General Edwin Davis King, with the support of other members of Siloam Baptist Church, enlisted the help of Dr. Milo P. Jewett, a recent graduate of Andover Theological Seminary, who had come to Alabama with the goal of establishing a school for young women that would provide them with the same quality of education that young men received at Harvard and Yale.
The founders believed that education for women provided them with the opportunity to discover and develop their God-given intelligence and talents, which resulted in the responsibility to use their awakened minds and hearts to make choices that glorified God and benefited society. The founders chose to name their school The Judson Female Institute after Ann Hasseltine Judson, the first American woman to serve as a foreign missionary, whose life they believed embodied these principles better than any other woman of their time.
“The Judson” first held classes on January 7, 1839. The nine students who attended met in a home rented by Julia Barron. Barron also gave the new school a nearby piece of land where Judson has now stood since 1840, when a grand, four-story building was constructed. A year later, the Alabama legislature granted Judson an official charter of incorporation.
From its earliest days, Judson alumnae were known as women who worked to improve society. Caroline Frances Smith, who became Judson’s first graduate in 1841, was later known for her efforts to improve conditions for plantation and factory workers. Emera Frances Griffin from the Class of 1860 became a women’s suffrage and temperance leader so widely known in Alabama that she was allowed to speak at the state’s Constitutional Convention of 1901, making her the first woman to address an Alabama legislative body.
“The Judson” survived the Civil War, Reconstruction, a smallpox outbreak, and the loss of its main building to a slow-burning chimney fire in 1888. Construction of a new and impressive Jewett Hall, named after the first President, began in 1889. A time of growth and expansion followed, and, in 1904, The Judson Female Institute changed its name to Judson College.
Judson students, faculty, and staff members demonstrated both their patriotism and benevolence during World War I and World War II. In 1914, Judson students contributed their Christmas money to funds raised by College employees to benefit people suffering in war-torn Belgium. On December 8, 1941, Judson students listening to a radio in the college chapel heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt announce that war had been forced on America by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Many Judson students and graduates served their country, including Atomic City girl Jane Greer Puckett ‘42, and many others who volunteered as WACS, WAVES, nurses, and Red Cross workers.
In the summer of 1947, Jewett Hall burned to the ground after lightning struck its dome. Judson administrators had only fifty days to erect temporary housing for students, who were eager to return to help their College. Incoming senior class president Carmen Botts sent a telegram expressing this desire. “Will live in pup tents, if necessary,” she wrote “until a new Jewett is built right where the old one stood.” Alumnae shared their commitment to rebuild, pledging $100,000 and organizing a campaign to sell bricks salvaged from the ruins to raise funds for the new Jewett Hall, which was completed in 1951. In 2003, a multi-million dollar renovation project was undertaken to create state-of-the art educational space in Jewett Hall, which remains at the heart of the campus.
For over 180 years, Judson College has stood “like a beacon on a hilltop, burning brightly through the night.” Judson remains affiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention. Christ-centered and student-centered, Judson continues to fulfill her mission of helping young women develop their God-given abilities and talents, equipping them to make intelligent choices, and encouraging them to spend their lives serving God and improving society.