Wilson College (Pennsylvania)

Wilson College
(Arts, Sciences and Religion)
Type Private
Established 1869
Affiliation Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
President Dr. Barbara K. Mistick
Academic staff
40 full-time
Students 1,098
Location Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Campus Nearly 300 acres (121.4 ha)
Colors Silver and Blue
Athletics 9 NCAA teams
Nickname Phoenix
Mascot The Phoenix


Wilson College

Wilson College Harry R. Brooks Complex
Location 1015 Philadelphia Ave., Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
Area 55 acres (22.3 ha)
Built 1870
Architect Larson, Leslie; Furness, Evans & Co., et al.
Architectural style Second Empire, Colonial Revival, Late Gothic Revival
NRHP Reference # 95000888[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP July 21, 1995
Designated PHMC October 10, 1952[2]

Wilson College, founded 1869, is a private, Presbyterian-related, liberal arts college located on a 300-acre (121.4 ha) campus in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, United States. It was founded by two Presbyterian ministers, but named for its first major donor, Sarah Wilson of nearby St. Thomas Township, Pennsylvania. For 144 years, Wilson operated as a women's college. In 2013 the college's board of trustees voted to make the college coeducational beginning in the 2013-2014 academic year with male residential students beginning in fall 2014.

Wilson College has 1,098 students from 18 U.S. states and 16 foreign countries. At the time the Board of Trustees made the decision to go coed, the college had 316 undergraduate and 379 graduate students.[3] It is known for its Single Parent Scholars program (formerly known as the Women with Children program), which allows single parents to bring their children to live with them on campus, as well as for its veterinary medical technician and equestrian programs, and the Fulton Center for Sustainability Studies, which operates a 7-acre (2.8 ha) organic farm and a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program that supplies community families and others with fresh, organic produce.


The college was founded by the Rev. Tryon Edwards and the Rev. James W. Wightman, pastors of Presbyterian churches in nearby Hagerstown, Maryland, and Greencastle, Pennsylvania. The original charter was granted by the Pennsylvania Legislature on March 24, 1869. Wilson was one of the first colleges in the U.S. to accept only female students and was named for Sarah Wilson (1795–1871), who gave two large donations used to purchase the campus land. Anna J. McKeag served as Wilson’s first woman president from 1911 to 1915.

In 1967 the Wilson College sailing team won the first Intercollegiate Sailing Association national championship held in a women's event (dinghy).[4]

In the 1970s, two tropical storms, Agnes in 1972 and Eloise in 1975, caused flood damage to low-lying buildings on campus.

Although it nearly closed its doors in 1979, a lawsuit organized by students, faculty, parents and an alumnae association succeeded in allowing the college to remain open, making it one of the few colleges to survive a scheduled closing. (It subsequently adopted the Phoenix as its mascot, to symbolize the college's survival.) Wilson remained open as a women's college until 2013, despite the trend toward turning women's colleges into coeducational institutions.

In 1982, Wilson began offering a continuing studies program (now known as the Adult Degree Program) to meet the needs of adults seeking post-secondary education. In 1996, the college was one of the first in the nation to offer an on-campus residential educational experience for single mothers with children. Beginning in summer 2006, Wilson offered its first graduate-degree program, a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) for certified elementary school teachers. The college currently offers six graduate degree programs.

The first men to attend and to graduate from Wilson entered at the end of World War II. Men later became able to earn degrees from Wilson through the Adult Degree Program, although the traditional undergraduate college remained a College For Women. In January 2013, the college's board of trustees voted to extend coeducation across all programs; male commuter students were admitted in fall 2013, with the first male residential students beginning in fall 2014.[5]


Main building, 1921

The Wilson College campus is located at the edge of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on both sides of the Conococheague Creek. The property was originally bought from Alexander McClure, whose home Norland, had been burnt in 1864 by Confederates under the orders of General Jubal Early. The home was rebuilt before being sold to the college.


The college offers 34 majors, 40 minors, master's degrees in education, management, the humanities, fine arts, accounting, nursing and healthcare management for sustainability, and a state-certified Teacher Intern Program. Majors include Accounting, Biology, Business and Economics, Chemistry, Elementary Education, English, Environmental Studies, Equestrian Studies, Exercise and Sports Science, Fine Arts, Foreign Language, History and Political Science, International Studies, Mass Communications, Mathematics, Nursing, Philosophy and Religion, Psychobiology, Psychology, Sociology and Veterinary Medical Technology.

Facilities include the newly renovated John Stewart Memorial Library with new Lenfest Learning Commons, Penn Hall Equestrian Center, Helen M. Beach Veterinary Medical Center, and Fulton Center for Sustainability Studies, which operates a USDA-certified organic farm and demonstrates and educates about ways to live a sustainable life.

Student life

The college offers almost two dozen organized student groups ranging from Black Student Union to the Muhibbah ("unity among nations") Club. The modern dance troupe, Orchesis, puts on a performance every spring and fall, and there are periodic performances from the Kittochtinny Players (KP), the drama club, usually including a spring production. The People's Republic of Art, the college's art club, takes frequent field trips to see art shows in the surrounding areas.

Additionally, the college provides students with opportunities for various volunteer activities through its Alternative Spring Break and the Curran Scholar program.


Wilson College teams participate in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division III. The Phoenix are a member of the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC). Women's sports include basketball, field hockey, soccer, volleyball and softball. The men's athletic programs include basketball, soccer, volleyball and golf.


Traditions are an important part of student life at Wilson. Sarah Wilson Week, held early in the fall semester, is a sort of spirit week in which freshmen are inducted into either the Evens or the Odds (according to their graduation years) and form bonds with their "Big Sisters" in their sister class and their "Sophomore Buddies" in a rival class. The Evens and the Odds are rivals, who participate in such things as color wars (Odds colors are red and black, Evens colors are green and blue) and song wars, led by Even and Odd songleaders.

A formal dinner and dance are held each winter (White Dinner) and spring (Spring Fling), and both have their own traditions. On one of the first warm days of spring, the Dean of Faculty calls Dean's Day by ringing the Edgar Hall bell to let students know that classes are cancelled so they can enjoy the warm weather.

The evening before the last day of classes is known as Senior Night. According to the tradition, if the professors cannot get into their offices, then they will not be able to hold their last day of classes. Students first "decorate" the campus and their professors' offices, and then barricade themselves in the academic buildings, armed with waterguns and water balloons. Professors arrive the next morning armed with their own water weaponry and storm the office buildings, trying to get into their offices so that they can hold classes. Due to water damage sustained by the structure of Warfield Hall, water battles are no longer allowed in the building. Students instead devise a series of mental and physical challenges for professors to overcome, before they are allowed into their offices.


Notable graduates


  1. National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. "PHMC Historical Markers". Historical Marker Database. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Retrieved December 20, 2013.
  3. "Seeking Enrollment Boost, Wilson College Will Admit Men". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  4. "ICSA Championships". Retrieved 2009-09-01.
  5. awrence Biemiller (January 13, 2013). "Seeking Enrollment Boost, Wilson College Will Admit Men". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 13, 2013.

Coordinates: 39°56′53″N 77°39′11″W / 39.948°N 77.653°W / 39.948; -77.653

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