About Us: Past Presidents

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Historical Spelman

Lucy Hale Tapley

Elected Spelman College's third president, Lucy Hale Tapley's love, dedication, and service to Spelman spanned 37 years and continued to elevate the founders' mission of educational opportunity and academic excellence for Black women. 

Lucy Tapley was born in Maine where she attended school in Brookville and then at Buckport Seminary. In 1890, she assumed her first role at Spelman Seminary as an English and arithmetic teacher. She became principal and led the elementary school before she took the reins of the Teachers Professional Course in 1903. Her work in teacher training and influence in rural communities was well-known and heralded throughout the South. Tapley also served Spelman as superintendent of the Normal Department and as the dean of the Seminary. In 1910, she was appointed Spelman Seminary president by the school's Board of Trustees following the death of President Harriet Giles in 1909.

Spelman continued to flourish during the 17 years Tapley was in office. When the public sector began to provide more primary and secondary schooling for Black children, it afforded Spelman the opportunity to focus on higher education. Tapley was instrumental in eliminating the school’s debt and grew the annual budget from less than $35,000 to nearly $140,000. She championed for Spelman’s independence by recommending a treasure to the trustees as well as the transfer of the financial administration from the American Baptist Home Mission Society to the school. Also, with the addition of Tapley Hall, the institution could operate solely on Spelman's campus.

After a stellar career at Spelman, Tapley retired in 1927. She was named President Emerita by the Board of Trustees and returned to her home in Maine. She died in 1932.

Historical Highlights Under Tapley's Leadership

  • In 1910, the Granddaughters Club was organized.
  • There were three buildings dedicated during Tapley's presidency – Bessie Strong Hall dedicated in 1917; Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Building dedicated in 1918; and Tapley Hall dedicated in her honor in 1925.
  • The Department of Home Economics was introduced in 1918.
  • The student publication, The Campus Mirror, was created.
  • Spelman Seminary officially became Spelman College in 1924.
  • Spelman received an "A" rating from the State of Georgia and the Association of Colleges for Negro Youth.
  • More than 1,000 students received degrees and diplomas.