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Historical Spelman

Florence M. Read

Florence ReadFlorence Matilda Read exemplified and embodied the audacious leadership skills necessary to continue the vision of Spelman College's previous presidents. Her determination and strategic thinking continued to catapult the College into unprecedented territory.

Born in 1886, Read grew up in Delevan, N.Y., a small city near Buffalo. She followed in her grandmother’s footsteps and attended Mount Holyoke College, one of the country's leading institutions in the cultivation of women's education. Her promising future was recognizable early on as her classmates named her most likely to succeed. Read graduated from Mount Holyoke in 1909 and spent the following two years as the college's alumnae secretary. In 1911, she traveled to Oregon where she joined the faculty of Reed College and served as secretary of the college until 1920.

Read began working as the executive secretary for the Rockefeller Foundation's International Health Division in 1920. It was during this time that she learned of Spelman College via the Rockefeller affiliation. She held her position at the Foundation until 1927 when she became Spelman College's fourth president.

In 1936, during her Spelman presidency, Read who was treasurer of Atlanta University, was appointed acting president for the university for more than a year after the death of the president John Hope. Also during her Spelman administration, Read along with the 19 other presidents of historically Black colleges and universities established the United Negro College Fund in 1943. She was elected to serve as the organization's first secretary. 

After 26 years, Read retired from Spelman College in 1953. She was named president emerita and chronicled a comprehensive history of the institution in the book, "The Story of Spelman College," published in 1961 during the College's 75th anniversary. Read received numerous awards for her career as an educator and administrator including accolades from Oberlin College, Reed College, and the Alumnae Medal of Honor from her alma mater – Mount Holyoke. Florence Read died in 1973.

Historical Highlights During Read's Administration

  • Upon accepting the presidency in 1927, Read insisted the Spelman College Board of Trustees establish an endowment fund that would eventually grow to more than $3 million.
  • The Spelman College Glee Club was organized and the First annual Spelman-Morehouse Christmas Carol Concert took place on Dec. 21, 1927, in Sisters Chapel, dedicated the same year.
  • Major changes in the school’s organization and offerings occurred, including the closing of the elementary school, high school and the Nurse Training Department; and the opening of the Nursery School and the Morehouse-Spelman Summer School.
  • In April 1929, the Agreement of Affiliation was signed with Morehouse College and Atlanta University creating the foundation of the Atlanta University Center. This agreement provided the Colleges immediate access to graduate programs during a time when Black graduates were often denied in the South.
  • The school received an "A" rating given by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1932; and joined the list of approved institutions of the Association of American Universities in 1947.
  • During the Read administration, the campus' physical plant continued to expand, including the dedication of historic Sisters Chapel (1927), Read Hall (1951), Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Hall (1953), Trevor Arnett Library and the acquisition of Chadwick Hall from Atlanta University.