A History of Change
Sprung from the ambition of local businessmen in 1839, Farmville Female Academy was one of a number of small seminaries that flourished in Central Virginia. A flagging economy in the region after the Civil War spelled the end for the small, religious schools. With its Methodist roots, the Farmville Female Seminary had a firm foundation in a strict Christian education—but the model was unsustainable. Not content to see the end of the school they had spent decades supporting, the Farmville community, resilient through the restlessness of Reconstruction, propped up the college and helped remold its purpose so it could once again flourish.
When William Henry Ruffner, recommended by Robert E. Lee, was appointed to the post of state superintendent of instruction in 1869, he brought with him the ambition to reshape the public school system in Virginia. By the early 1880s, he was ready to introduce the concept of a normal school— the European model for teacher preparation—to the state and found a willing candidate in Farmville Female College.
In 1884, now a public institution with a new name, new mission and under the guidance of Ruffner himself, the State Female Normal School began to thrive, and its focus on teacher education remained unchanged for the next 80 years.
From an ever-changing institution with ever-changing leadership—15 presidents served over the first 63 years of Longwood’s history—the first half of the 20th century brought stability and sustained growth. The stability was reflected in the 44-year tenure of Joseph L. Jarman, perhaps the institution’s best-loved president.
Jarman took the helm of the State Female Normal School in 1902 and transformed it into an efficient, growing teachers college that focused on the entire student, not just training for a career. Critical of the curriculum from the beginning—claiming that the training teacher candidates received was on a high-school level—Jarman took it upon himself to facilitate not only campuswide construction but also an improvement of the curriculum.
Within 15 years, the commonwealth granted the institution the ability to grant degrees, including a four-year Bachelor of Science in Education. More degree programs followed as the school’s reputation grew. The college transformed from a career-oriented training academy to a full-fledged institution of higher learning.
Of course, the most noteworthy of all the changes came in 1949, when the school was renamed Longwood College. No longer simply an institution for future teachers, the college boasted a number of degree programs—in music, business education, science and drama. Longwood continued to grow as an all-female institution until the turmoil of the civil rights movement in the mid-1950s—especially the Prince Edward County school closings in 1959. Though the association with the closings was merely geographic, the college had a hard time attracting high-quality faculty members. Coupled with its resistance to "going coed," Longwood faced myriad challenges.
Fortunately, the college found its champion in Henry I. Willett, who was inaugurated in 1968 amid turmoil on college campuses across the nation. Willett was beloved almost from the beginning and led the school through several major changes: The first African American graduate, Nancy "Cookie" Scott, was admitted in 1968; in 1976, Longwood became fully coeducational. Enrollment was on its way to 2,000, but admissions standards had been cut to push the numbers higher. In 1981, Willet resigned, and the board named the first female president of the public institution, Janet D. Greenwood, to the helm.
The financial standing of the college improved under Greenwood’s leadership and its academic profile was consolidated and streamlined into the structure that is still in place. The resurgence of the school continued under the next two presidents, as the country’s economy grew rapidly. Under William F. Dorrill, admissions standards began to rise while undergraduate enrollment rose by 12 percent. Academic growth continued its rapid rise under Patricia P. Cormier, who led the college for 14 years and through the Great Fire of 2001. Not only the academic standards saw improvement: The campus underwent a major beautification effort with the installation of Brock Commons in place of Pine Street, which had formerly run through the center of campus.
In 2002, Longwood College became Longwood University, signifying a new set of aspirations. At the ceremony, then-Gov. Mark Warner praised the institution as "a thriving, vibrant institution that has prevailed over adversity."
Enrollment continued to grow throughout the first decade of the new century, and today stands at just under 5,000. A mid-sized university with a wide array of undergraduate and graduate programs, including an emphasis on preparing students to fill the needs of emerging and underserved job markets, Longwood is poised to make its next step forward.