Wilson College was founded in 1869 by the Revs. Tryon Edwards and James W. Wightman—pastors of Presbyterian churches in nearby Hagerstown, Md., and Greencastle, Pa. The two submitted plans for a women’s college to the Presbytery of Carlisle and received its endorsement in April 1868. The Pennsylvania Legislature granted the original charter on March 24, 1869. Sarah Wilson, a resident of nearby St. Thomas, Pa., provided two generous donations used to secure property formerly owned by Col. A.K. McClure—a close friend and adviser of President Abraham Lincoln—in Chambersburg, Pa., for use as a campus. In gratitude for Wilson’s gifts, the Trustees voted to name the new institution in her honor. Instruction at the new institution began on Oct. 12, 1870.

Since its inception, the College has fostered a rigorous liberal arts academic program that features close faculty-student interactions. Wilson has continued to build upon this foundation by growing the curriculum, improving research opportunities and bringing distinguished visitors and lecturers to campus. In 1950, a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa—the nation’s oldest and most prestigious academic honorary society—was established at Wilson College, a measure of the institution’s intellectual strength.

In the years since 1931, the College has recognized outstanding contributions to society by awarding honorary degrees. Recipients have included U.S. Rep. Margaret Chase Smith, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, anthropologist Margaret Mead, author and activist Rita Mae Brown, news correspondent Walter Cronkite, Vice Adm. Patricia A. Tracey (U.S. Navy) and astronaut and physician Mae Jemison.

Throughout its long history, Wilson has responded to changing times while staying true to its liberal arts mission. In 1982, the College became one of the first in the region to offer a continuing studies program to meet the needs of a growing population of adults seeking a 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. Since the program’s inception, it has won national attention and Wilson has established a National Center for Single Mothers in Higher Education. In January 2013, the Board of Trustees voted to admit men to Wilson’s residential undergraduate program as of fall 2014, making the program fully coeducational.

Today, students of all ages and backgrounds study at Wilson, earning master’s, bachelor’s and associate degrees and teaching certification. To make a Wilson education available to adults, many courses are offered not only during the day, but also in the evening and during the summer and January terms, and at convenient off-campus sites. In addition, classes are offered online and in some cases, a degree can completed solely online. The former Women with Children program is now the Single Parent Scholars Program and is open to both female and male single parents.