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Founders Day - Stronger Together Upholding Our Legacy

Spelman Trailblazers

In the face of opposition, challenge, and even danger, Spelman has always persevered. Since our founding on April 11, 1881, our students, alumnae, faculty and staff have persisted against all odds and remained ‘undaunted by the fight,’ as our hymn proclaims.

Though we are deeply saddened to be separated at this time, we prioritize the health of our entire community. We hope you and your loved ones remain safe, and encourage you to stay protected and uplifted. Despite our distance, we remain connected as Spelman family, and our bonds will unite us until we can be together again.

We still have so much to be grateful for, and so many reasons to celebrate our founding as a leader in the education of Black women. Our pride lives in every single student and alumna who has passed through Spelman’s gates and made a Choice to Change the World.

Trailblazer Spotlights

Nora A. Gordon, Class of 1888 and Flora E. Zeto, Class of 1915

Spelman College International Student Services

In 1908, Spelman Seminary’s student body included students from 127 different schools; and 19 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, were represented. The student body also included our very first international students who journeyed to the College from Africa. Spelman, now a global leader in the education of women of African descent, has a student body comprised of more than 2,100 students from 43 states and 13 foreign countries today.

Our dynamic community of over 18,500 alumnae currently reside in over 47 states and 56 countries around the world. Spelman has always encouraged our scholars to engage the many cultures of the world, and impact our community through both local and global service initiatives.

Spelman has also always upheld a long-standing commitment to both provide study abroad opportunities and host international students. This endeavor began in 1889 with the first Spelman student to travel to Africa, Nora A. Gordon, C’1888, and Flora E. Zeto, C’1915, the first African student to graduate from Spelman Seminary.  In honor of their dedication to enacting positive social change around the world, our Gordon-Zeto Center for Global Education is dedicated to them.

A Globally Minded Educator

Spelman Alumna Nora GordonNora A. Gordon was a passionate, diligent student, striving for excellence in all of her classes at Spelman. After graduating in 1888, she devoted her time to teaching and performing local missionary duties, awaiting an opportunity to fulfill her dream of traveling on a mission trip to Africa. She received her chance when the Women’s Foreign Missionary Board of Chicago invited her to voyage to the Congo.

On March 6, 1889, a farewell ceremony was held in the Spelman chapel to see Gordon off. A large audience of teachers, students, friends and family watched in awe as Gordon emphatically explained the importance of sacrificing her comfort zone and leaving her birthplace to serve her "native land."
After serving in the Congo for four years, she returned to the states in 1893. In 1895, she completed Spelman’s Missionary Training Class, and married Rev. S.C. Gordon of Jamaica. The pair sailed for the Congo where they worked congenially together for a mission until 1900, when Nora returned to the United States because of her declining health. She passed away at Spelman in 1901 at the age of 34.

In an obituary for Gordon published in "The Athenaeum" in February 1901, her dear classmate, Selena S. Butler, C’1888, wrote, “In the fall of 1881, Mrs. Nora A. Gordon and I met at Spelman Seminary. This institution was then in its infancy, and, like most new schools, was passing through many trials, privations and hardships, which formed a tie of loving sympathy and friendship between teachers and pupils that has grown stronger as the years have come and gone.”

Regarding Gordon, Butler expressed that she “loved to work for others, especially the poor and needy. Her life was not all sunshine – no missionary’s is. In the storm she was like the oak, in sorrow she was brave and tender.”

International Scholar, Missionary and More

Spelman Alumna Flora ZetoOriginally from Nyasaland (modern day Malawi), Flora E. Zeto was first brought to America by Clara Howard, C’1887, a member of Spelman’s first graduating class and second alumna to become a missionary to Africa. While on a mission  in the Congo from 1890-1895, Howard found an abandoned baby who was left to die in a bush in a war-torn territory. She rescued and adopted the child as her own, and affectionately named her Flora. Upon Howard’s return to the United States, Zeto journeyed with her to Spelman.
Zeto went on to enroll in Spelman Seminary high school and graduated in 1915. While at Spelman, she met Daniel Malekebu, a young fellow from her homeland, who had become acquainted with another Spelman woman, Emma B. Delaney, the fifth Spelmanite to venture forth on the missionary path to Africa.  Determined to receive an American education, Malekebu accompanied Delaney on her return to the states. Malekebu and Zeto discussed their goals of one day returning to their homeland and working towards affecting change.

After Malekebu received his medical degree, the two were married in Spelman’s chapel on March 22, 1919. A year later they set sail for Nyasaland, where they built a mission on the remnants of one Delaney previously established. Zeto fulfilled the duties of teacher and nurse, while her husband served as preacher and physician. Eventually, their facilities expanded to eleven buildings, one of which was affectionately named ‘Spelman Hall,’ in honor of a gift the Seminary made to fund the mission’s development.

Spelman Alumna Flora Zeto Malekebu

Today, our students are carrying on the legacy established by Gordon and Zeto by actively fulfilling our collective “Choice to Change the World.” This May, our students would have traveled to London, United Kingdom; Copenhagen, Denmark; Sydney, Australia; Legon, Ghana; Barcelona, Spain; Rabat, Morocco; Cape Town, South Africa; and more. Although we have suspended our study abroad program to protect our students in the midst of this global pandemic, we look forward to eventually re-engaging our students with invaluable international experiences, only after it is safe to do so. In the meantime, we feel fortunate to have technology that connects and unites us with our Spelman family and our global community. (Pictured: Flora Zeto Malekebu playing the piano for the National Baptist Assembly Session).

Learn More About the Gordon-Zeto Center