In 1842, minister, educator, and abolitionist Rufus W. Bailey founded the Augusta Female Seminary in Staunton, Virginia, to advance his unshakeable belief in the capacity of women to learn, to lead, and to make a difference in the world. Among the seminary’s first class of 57 young women was the orphan daughter of a local doctor, a frail-looking girl named Mary Julia Baldwin, who graduated first in her class in 1846. A trailblazer even at her young age, Mary Baldwin went on to serve as a teacher for young women and African American children and taught her grandmother’s enslaved people to read and write.
At the outset of the Civil War, the Augusta Female Seminary faced a threat of closing, and Mary Baldwin was called back to Staunton to take on the role of principal. Confronting wartime shortages, she borrowed food, furniture, books, and supplies to keep the school afloat. As the war raged and raiding parties from both sides passed through the campus, Mary Baldwin and her students hid barrels of flour under cloths, stowed corn in students’ desks, and even had one girl feign illness so that several hams could be hidden under her bedsheets until the soldiers had passed by.
But Mary Baldwin saw more for her school than just survival. Under her guidance, the Augusta Female Seminary expanded its educational offerings from those of a Southern finishing school to the beginnings of a junior college. In 1895, the school was renamed the Mary Baldwin Seminary in her honor, and although she would not live to see it, the school was soon accredited by the Commonwealth of Virginia as a junior college and then as a four-year liberal arts institution, renamed Mary Baldwin College.
In the hundred years since, Mary Baldwin has continued to expand our vision of what we can be. In 2014, the university founded a new College of Health Sciences on our branch campus in Fishersville. On August 31, 2016, the institution became Mary Baldwin University to reflect our growing range of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs. In 2017, MBU welcomed men to campus as residential students for the first time.
An institution that began with a radical idea about the importance of education and persevered through determination and cooperation, MBU remains an innovator, an engine for change, and a home for all those who believe education can be life-changing.