The college is part of the Atlanta University Center academic consortium in Atlanta. Founded in 1881 as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, Spelman was the first historically black female institution of higher education to receive its collegiate charter in 1924. It thus holds the distinction of being America's oldest black college for women.
The Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary was established on April 11,1881 in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA, by two teachers from the Oread Institute of Worcester, Mass. Harriet Giles and Sophia Packard. Giles and Packard began the school with 11 African American women and $100given to them by a church congregation in Medford, Mass. In 1882 the two women returned to Mass. to bid for more money and were introduced to wealthy businessman John Rockefeller at a church conference in Ohio.
In April 1884, Rockefeller visited the school and decided that he liked what he saw, so he settled the debt on the property. The name of the school was changed to the Spelman Seminary in honor of Laura Spelman, an Oread student and wife of John D. Rockefeller who helped to fund the school, and her parents who were longtime activists in the anti-slavery movement. Rockefeller's gift precipitated interest from other benefactors.
Rockefeller also donated the funds for what is currently the oldest building on campus, Rockefeller Hall; in 1887 Packard Hall was also established. Packard was appointed as Spelman's first president in 1888, after the charter for the seminary was granted. The first college degrees were awarded in 1901.