About Us: Past Presidents

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Historical Spelman

Audrey F. Manley, MD, C'55

Dr. Audrey Forbes Manley became the first alumna to lead her beloved alma mater when she was appointed Spelman College's eighth president in 1997. Dr. Manley's unwavering dedication, experience, and intimate knowledge of the institution served Spelman well as she successfully guided the College into the New Millennium.  

Dr. Manley was born in Mississippi in 1934. She spent her early years there before moving to Chicago, where she graduated from Wendell Phillips High School in 1951. She earned her bachelor’s degree as a member of Spelman's Class of 1955, and immediately continued her education at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. After receiving her medical degree in 1959, she returned to Chicago where she completed her residency at Cook County Children's Hospital in 1963. At 27, she was the first woman, second African-American, and the youngest person to be named chief resident physician at the hospital’s pediatric division.

After working at the North Lawndale Neighborhood Health Center, Dr. Manley served two years as the assistant medical director at the Woodlawn Child Heath Center; then relocated to San Francisco where she practiced pediatric medicine at Mt. Zion Medical Center. She also held several faculty positions at the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago, and the University of California.

In 1966, Dr. Manley was elected to Spelman’s Board of Trustees and served from 1966 to 1970. In 1991received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Spelman College.

In 1970, she married Dr. Albert Manley, Spelman College's fifth president, and became the first lady of her alma mater until her husband's retirement in 1976. As first lady, she initiated the Health Careers Office and chaired the Health Careers Advisory Committee. She also served as an organizer and consultant of the Family Planning Program and Initiative for College Personnel in Family Planning and as medical director of the Family Planning Program for the Atlanta University Center.

During this time, her medical career continued to flourish. She served as chief of medical services at Grady Memorial Hospital's Emory University Family Planning Clinic in Atlanta. In 1976, she became a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service and in 1987 earned a master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University. She was the first African-American woman appointed principal deputy assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Public Health Service. She served as deputy U.S. surgeon general in 1994, and acting U.S. surgeon general from 1995 to 1997. Following Dr. Albert Manley's death in 1997, she returned to Spelman – this time as president. She led the College for five successful years before retiring and becoming president emerita.  

Historical Highlights During Dr. Manley's Presidency

  • Under Dr. Manley's administration the College had a balanced budget and an increased asset growth of more than $30 million; and a physical plant growth of more than $50 million. The College endowment grew more than $63 million; and she raised more than $70 million in private and federal funds.
  • In 1998, Spelman was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's premier honor society. During the same year, the school became a provisional member of NCAA Division II in basketball, volleyball, cross-country, tennis, and track and field.
  • The College continued to receive several top rankings including No. 1 by Black Enterprise as best environment for Black collegians; No. 2 on the fifth annual list of Top Ten Activist Schools by Mother Jones Magazine in 1998; and No. 2 by the Association of Medical Colleges in placing African-American students in medical school.
  • In 2001, the Division of Media and Information Technology was established.
  • Professor Ayoka Chenzira, internationally noted filmmaker and visual artist, was the first recipient of the William and Camille Cosby Endowed Professorship in the Fine Arts in 2001. Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, C'70, cultural historian and founder of legendary a cappella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, was named the 2002 Cosby Professor in the Fine Arts and Dr. Shelia Walker, nationally known anthropologist and scholar became the 2002 Cosby Professor in the Humanities.
  • Spelman hosted the 25th International Association of Philosophy and Literature Conference in May 2001. The event marked the first time a historically Black college hosted the conference.
  • Several renovations took place on the campus including Upper and Lower Concourses and Dining Services in the Manley College Center, and The Albro Falconer Manley Science Center dedicated in 2002. The Science Center was named partly in Dr. Audrey Manley’s honor.