History and Mission

Hollins students

The plan and policy of this school recognizes the principle that in the present state of society in our country young women require the same thorough and rigid training as that afforded to young men.

Charles L. Cocke, 1857


Hollins was initially established in 1842 as Valley Union Seminary, a coeducational college. Charles Lewis Cocke, who devoted his life to “the higher education of women in the South” during an era when many women were denied the opportunity to earn a college degree, was named principal and business manager in 1846. Six years later, the male department was eliminated and the school became an institution for women. Cocke went on to earn designation as the school’s founder because the institution would not have survived without his leadership during financial crises, disease epidemics, the Civil War, and other challenges over the course of 55 years.

Others played an important role in Hollins’ institutional history. The school was founded during a time in America when slavery regrettably existed, especially in the South. Men and women worked at Hollins before and during the Civil War as enslaved people. Hollins remains grateful to members of what was known at the time as the Oldfields Community, who, along with its founder, helped Hollins become the institution it is today.