BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — In the basement of the Harwell Goodwin Davis Library at Samford University sits an old book.

In its brown, aged pages is a speech that was written by Mary Brown on July 1, 1858 as she was set to give the valedictorian address at Judson College, the first women’s college in Alabama. The title of the speech was simple: “Woman’s Mission.”

“It is now no longer a question whether or not women should be educated. It is no longer doubted that she is endowed with an intellect capable of indefinite expression and improvement,” Brown said. “I’ll admit that she possesses a mind stamped with the likeness of the Deity – ‘a mind formed of the finest mould, and wrought for immortality; and that she has a high and holy mission to fulfill.”

Brown’s speech is one of hundreds of historical artifacts from Judson College that are now part of Samford University’s special collections. Judson College, which closed its doors for good after 183 years due to dwindling enrollment in 2021, donated over 660 boxes of its history to Samford back in May.

Samples of the recent historical collection from Judson College that was recently donated to Samford University. (Courtesy Drew Taylor)

Jennifer Taylor, chair of Samford’s special collection and university archives department, said the collection is very important to Samford due to how both schools have a shared history. Not only do both have its roots in the Alabama Baptist Convention, but Julia Tarrant Barron, co-founder of Samford University, had helped found Judson College in 1838. In fact, her son, John Thomas, was one of Judson’s first students and had a part in Samford–then named Howard College– being founded in 1841.

“There’s a joke on campus that if Julia had had a daughter, Samford might not have ever existed because her son… needed a school to come to as well, so they decided that they needed a school for men to go to,” Taylor said. “So Julia’s son was one of the first students at Judson, but became the first graduating student at Howard College.”

Taylor said the collection, which includes yearbooks, photos, catalog records and student publications, was invaluable to Samford because it shed light on so many things that they did not previously have.

“As we were going through the Judson collection, we would get very excited because we would find some very unique history that we did not have in our archives, talking about the history of Sanford or Marion, Alabama or things happening in the state at that time that we didn’t have,” she said.

Taylor said she was particularly excited about the trove of pictures from Judson.

“I just got really excited about seeing the photographic history of Judson because they had so much preserved and saved for their photographs from late 1900s and early 20th century, 21st century,” she said. “I think that we just don’t have that much of it here. So seeing all the activities and traditions was really cool.” 

A photo of women dressed up for a party sometime in the 1930s at Judson College in Marion, Alabama. (Courtesy of Samford University)

Elizabeth Wells, a 1970 graduate of Judson who co-authored a book on the school’s history called “Daughters of the Dream,” said that the college took education very seriously.

“When Judson was founded, it was founded by four people that Christian heritage for women was very important,” Wells said. “Education for these Baptists was very important. Even in 1838, it was important for them to establish a female institution for learning.”

Wells said that unlike many schools exclusively for women, she felt that Judson gave her and so many others the tools to give back to the world.

“Judson wasn’t just a finishing school. It was a place for academics,” Wells said. “We learned what ladies are supposed to know, but at the same time, we were prepared to work in the world wherever our profession was.”

Wells said that while she is disappointed that future generations of women will not have the chance to become “Judson Girls” themselves, she is happy that the story of Judson College will live on in Samford University’s archives collection.

“The legacy won’t be lost, and that is so important,” she said.