Converse College, a women’s liberal arts college in Spartanburg, was founded in 1889 and opened in 1890. It is named for textile magnate Dexter Converse, who helmed several area cotton mills such as Glendale Mill and Clifton Mill. Converse was especially interested in establishing a local women’s college, so his daughter, Marie, could continue her education. His financial contributions led to the school being named in his honor.
On January 2, 1892, just two years after Converse College opened, the campus’s main building burned. Construction on the present building, seen above, began that April. In 1929 the building was named Wilson Hall for the school’s first president, the Reverend B.F. Wilson. The Reverend Wilson had previously served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Converse College had earned a reputation as a competitive women’s college, and the campus expanded with other buildings, including a Carnegie library, seen below. Though many students studied teaching, the prominent Petrie School of Music at Converse College received national recognition during this time and became a charter member of the National Association of Schools of Music.
Converse College added a graduate program in 1964, offering a Master of Arts in Teaching; today the school’s graduate school includes degrees in education, music, counseling, creative writing, and liberal arts. Undergraduate programs are numerous, including aforementioned courses in education and music as well as business, media technology, health sciences, and a host of other disciplines. While the undergraduate school maintains its tradition as a private women’s college, the graduate school at Converse College is coeducational.
Wilson Hall and the Carnegie Library, as well as several other buildings, are listed in the National Register as part of the Converse College Historic District:
In 1889, citizens concerned with the lack of educational opportunity for young women in the Spartanburg community spearheaded a movement that led to the establishment of Converse College. Included among these interested citizens was Dexter E. Converse, and influential leader of the textile industry and the benefactor for which the college is named. Designed to provide a liberal arts education for young women, Converse was founded during the years in which the importance of education for women was being supported in the South. Although located in an urban area and within a modern campus complex, the district preserves the character of the original campus. The district contains eight buildings, including the oldest structure built on the campus, Pell Annex, as well as other buildings that reflect the school’s early history. Representative architectural styles include Romanesque Revival, Gothic Revival, and Classical Revival. Dates of construction on buildings within the district range from 1891 to 1915. All but one are of brick. Situated in a carefully landscaped area, the district possesses compatibility of scale and material.