The History of Brenau University, 1878 – 2013 A Study of Student, Faculty, and Staff Negotiation to Shape the Collegiate Experience By Charles H. “Trey” Wilson III


Around 1950, roughly 300 women’s colleges scattered throughout the United States offered thousands of young women access to higher education. By 2012, only 47 remained, the rest having closed or become coeducational. Located in north Georgia, the Women’s College of Brenau University, a private, non-denominational liberal arts institution, endures and has educated students since its founding in 1878. The History of Brenau University, 1878 – 2012: A Study of Student, Faculty, and Staff Negotiation to Shape the Collegiate Experience tells Brenau’s story. This book locates the Women’s College in the higher education universe by examining such themes as the historical demographics of Brenau’s students and personnel, the evolution of academics at the College, the development of policies on desegregation, the evolution of physical space on campus, the history of student organizations (including secret societies) and rules at Brenau, and the development of athletics at the College. Inquiries into these themes are framed around a concept of college as being a “negotiated space.” This idea suggests that the overall experience of any college or university is constructed in a process of informal, at-a-distance negotiation between two key groups, an institution’s students and its personnel.

Compared to other topics within the field of the history of higher education, relatively few institutional histories shed light on Southern women’s colleges. Moreover, of the handful of such studies that do exist, few are truly recent and none emphasize student agency. The History of Brenau University 1878 – 2012 asks and answers many questions important to better understanding a women’s college. In addition, this book also serves as a case study for observing the process of student, faculty, and staff negotiation to shape the collegiate experience.

The History of Brenau University, 1878 – 2012 makes several unique and important contributions to the history of higher education. College and university histories are popular since they tend to utilize rich archival sources to explain how and why these crucial institutions within American society have become what they are. This book is the first such comprehensive history written about Brenau, despite the fact that the institution is 135 years old and has long figured prominently in the life of its region. The book’s insights are particularly important because Brenau is not just any institution—it is one of only a few thriving women’s colleges. Better understanding such schools may help kindred institutions to prosper. Moreover, some insights about Brenau are important because they represent “firsts” for a women’s college in the region. Brenau innovated when it came to intercollegiate athletics, student governance, and curriculum development, among other things. Finally, The History of Brenau University, 1878 – 2012 is a refreshingly unorthodox history because it places students and their interactions with College personnel at center-stage and avoids presenting an arid, decade by decade chronology of the life of a place. This book is organized instead around themes encompassing all aspects of the college experience.