Gordon State College is a four-year state college in Barnesville, fifty-five miles south of Atlanta and thirty-five miles northwest of Macon. Part of the University System of Georgia, Gordon offers bachelor and associate degrees in specific areas, prepares students for transfer to other four-year institutions, and provides educational and cultural opportunities for the local community.
In 1852 the Barnesville Male and Female High School opened as a private school. In 1872 the name changed to Gordon Institute in honor of General John B. Gordon, and its scope was extended to the elementary grades. In 1875 Alice Wooten of Monroe County became Gordon Institute’s first graduate. Students, faculty, family, and friends attended the first commencement exercises, as did General Gordon, who commented that schools shouldn’t be named after living men.
Gordon has ties to both North Georgia College and State University and Woodward Academy in Atlanta through one individual—J. C. Woodward. An alumnus of North Georgia Agricultural College, Woodward was hired in 1890 to start the first military program at Gordon Institute. A few years later he started his own military school, Georgia Military Academy, now known as Woodward Academy. Gordon Institute cadets often went on to other colleges or to military academies like the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.
Gordon Institute’s name officially changed to Gordon College in 1907. In 1916 the U.S. Department of War named Gordon College a junior military unit, and during World War I (1917-18), 450 Gordon alumni served, 160 of them as commissioned officers. Gordon suffered eighteen casualties during World War I.
In 1928 Gordon added the first two years of college to its program and five years later was named an honor military school. One advantage of this designation was that a cadet, after completing the course work of the junior college department, could enter the military with the rank of a commissioned officer. In 1933 the state of Georgia offered the former Georgia Industrial College campus to Gordon College. The high school and junior college departments moved to the new campus, while the elementary school moved into the former high school building. Gordon College was unofficially known as Gordon Military College from the mid-1930s until 1972.
World War II (1941-45) saw numerous Gordon alumni serving in Europe and in the Pacific. After World War II, Gordon Military College experienced a growth in student enrollment that required the addition of five new buildings, including two dormitories. However, with no endowments or public funds and increasing competition for student enrollment, the school began to have financial problems in the 1960s. A fund-raiser for Gordon Military College raised $70,000, but that was not enough for the college to pay its $1.8 million debt; the trustees approached the state in 1970 about making the college part of the university system. The Board of Regents was in favor, and on July 2, 1972, Gordon Military College officially became part of the University System of Georgia as Gordon Junior College. After joining the university system with 425 students and no endowment, Gordon College grew to 3,703 students and an endowment of nearly $7 million by 2007.
Twenty-first Century Growth
The student body—more than 5,000 students were enrolled by 2011—comes primarily from Lamar County and the surrounding counties but also draws people from out of state as well as from around the world. Most students begin at Gordon immediately after high school, but a growing percentage of students are older people who have decided to return to school, thereby contributing their wide range of experiences to a diverse student body.
Two of Gordon’s strengths are the nursing and prepharmacy programs. In 2002 Gordon College led the state’s two-year nursing programs with a 100 percent passing rate on the national licensing exam. Gordon offers a wide variety of associate degree programs as well as several bachelor’s degree programs, including biology, education, English, history, mathematics, and nursing.
Notable alumni of Gordon College include U.S. senator Richard B. Russell Jr.; Rufus C. Harris, president of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana; and Prentice Miller, dean of alumni at Emory University.