Huntingdon College in Montgomery is a small private liberal arts college of the Methodist Church that has endured by adapting to changing times. Originally serving only white women, the college now opens its doors to men and women of different ages, races, and religions from many parts of the world, though the majority are from Alabama and surrounding areas. Enrollment has varied significantly over time, but in the first decade of the twenty-first century stands at about 800 students, including traditional students and individuals enrolled in the Center for Professional Studies. Recognizing its ties with the Methodist Church, the college honors Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, and a major supporter of Methodism in England during the late eighteenth century.
The college currently consists of the School of Business and Professional Studies, the School of Science and Mathematics, and the School of Arts and Humanities, which together offer more than 20 academic majors. Huntingdon successfully places many graduates in professional and other advanced schools and assists its other graduates in finding meaningful employment.
Huntingdon was originally founded in 1854 in Tuskegee, Macon County, as Tuskegee Female College by Andrew Adgate Lipscomb, a Methodist minister and educator who went on to serve as chancellor of the University of Georgia and professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University. At various times throughout its history, the college has been financially unsound. The school was founded during a time of relative prosperity, as cotton was booming in 1854, but like many southern colleges fell victim to economic disruption during the Civil War and its aftermath. In 1872 Huntingdon teetered on the verge of collapse, but the Alabama Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church took control of the school, which was renamed the Alabama Conference Female College. Yet, later in that decade the school suffered from too-little funding and enrollment, but recovered under Dr. John Massey.
By the early twentieth century, however, the college could not continue to survive without increased enrollment. The board of trustees, in consultation with the Joint Educational Commission of Alabama and the North Alabama Conferences of the Methodist Church, agreed that Alabama Conference Female College should be moved to Montgomery, a city that would be able to provide more financial support and more students. The school acquired 58 acres in an area of Montgomery known as Cloverdale in 1907 and moved in 1909. Sadly, a 1910 fire destroyed the records of the school's years in Tuskegee.
The first building constructed at the new campus was John Jefferson Flowers Memorial Hall, named for a supporter of Methodist education whose heirs donated $50,000 to the school. The hall was to serve as the administrative center of the college and was opened for classes and many other functions in 1909, when the school was renamed the Woman's College of Alabama. Flowers Hall became and has remained for almost a century the symbol of the college and bears over its front entrance the school's motto: "Enter to Grow in Wisdom; Go Forth to Apply Wisdom in Service."
Flowers Hall is a beautiful Gothic style building, with soaring steeples and classic lines that raise the eyes skyward, while the motto aims to motivate students to work for a better world. Englishman H. Langford Warren designed Flowers in the collegiate style of Oxford and Cambridge, England, modeling Flowers Chapel (renamed Ligon Chapel in 1999) after St. James Cathedral at Cambridge. Famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. drew the original design for the campus, but died shortly thereafter. Additional landscaping and buildings, many Gothic as well, were added over the years, creating a beautiful campus of rolling hills, a natural amphitheater, and lush greenery. Flowers Hall faces a broad open space fondly referred to as "the Green" by alumni and current students and personnel. The campus was a setting for the movie Big Fish, standing in for Auburn University.
The Great Depression brought additional financial problems when endowments, investments, and building campaign pledges shrank or disappeared. Responding to its own needs and to those of men unable to attend schools outside of Montgomery, the college admitted the first male student in 1934 under president W. D. Agnew, and the school was renamed Huntingdon College the following year. In 1936, however, the school was placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools because of low faculty salaries and library spending and high debt.
In 1938 the trustees hired Hubert Searcy, a young and energetic president and financial genius who guided the college to pay off its debt. Searcy was able to regain the Southern Association's endorsement in 1940. After World War II, Searcy took advantage of educational opportunities under the GI Bill, thereby increasing enrollment, expanding the faculty both in number and degrees, and updating the curriculum. Also under his tenure, the institution went coeducational in 1946, enrolling veterans returning from World War II financed by the GI Bill. The number of male students grew slowly but today equals that of females.
The end of the twentieth century witnessed other transformations at the college. For the first time, a woman was chosen president. Wanda Durrett Bigham presided from 1993 to 2003 and raised funds for the purchase of the former Cloverdale Junior High School building and its 13 acres in 2002, landscaping improvements on the main campus, renovation of the Dining Hall, residential improvements, and a major renovation of Flowers Hall and its chapel. Bigham also encouraged travel and study abroad and had the college wired for computers.
The twenty-first century saw change in the focus of the school as well as in the administrative structure. President John Cameron West, inaugurated in 2003, advocated a return to a mission of service and to a more standard curriculum. He reestablished a religion major with tracks in both graduate and seminary preparation and in Christian education. In addition, West promoted new scholarships for Methodist students and appointed a director of campus ministries to encourage worship services, group bible studies, and organizations. The percentage of freshmen who were Methodists doubled from 19 percent in the fall of 2004 to 38 percent in the fall of 2005. He established a college-wide administrative structure to unite and coordinate academic affairs, student life, admissions, and athletics and closed the main campus to automobiles to promote wider use and enjoyment of the historic Green.
Huntingdon was placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 2004 because of financial problems, but conditions have since improved.
The college provides students and the community access to world-renowned lecturers in a variety of fields and recognized persons in the performing arts, as well as its own accomplished faculty and students. The faculty includes many instructors with terminal degrees, and small classes provide students the opportunity to interact with teachers and each other. Students may participate in school government and in many academic and social clubs and activities. While the college is associated with the Methodist Church, students of many faiths attend and partake in several spiritual organizations. Greek social organizations began in the late 1960s and now include two for men and three for women.
In sports, Huntingdon is represented by the Hawks and Lady Hawks clad in scarlet, white and pearl grey. The school fields
six varsity NCAA Division III intercollegiate teams for men and five for women in the Great South Athletic Conference. Students
also enjoy intramural sports, co-ed cheerleading, and a new marching band. Athletic activities and intercollegiate sports
pre-date the coming of males to campus, but the fielding of a football team in 2003 excited debate. Some supporters have questioned
the recent emphasis on football and accompanying activities, but President West backs it as a part of Huntingdon's holistic
philosophy of uniting preparation of mind, body, and spirit.
Ellison, Rhoda Coleman. History of Huntingdon College: 1854-1954. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1954.
Published August 7, 2009
Last updated October 23, 2012