Past Presidents

"Historically, the Presidents of Agnes Scott have personified the ideals, the hopes, and the dreams of this College. They have set the pace; they have pioneered the new paths; they have inspired and led." 

- Hal L. Smith, May 18, 1974

Frank Henry Gaines

Frank Henry Gaines

1896-1923

The Reverend Frank Henry Gaines, within a year of his arrival in Decatur at age 36 as the pastor of Decatur Presbyterian Church, saw the need for an elementary school in the community. There was such enthusiasm for his vision to create a school for girls under the auspices of the church that he called together members of the session in July 1889. Within six weeks, Decatur Female Seminary was chartered, and in September, classes began with 63 students and four teachers. Rev. Gaines served as chair of the Board of Trustees until 1896, at which time he resigned his pastorate and became the college’s first president serving in that role until he died in 1923. During his 27-year presidency, he ensured stability and success for the school, including the transition to the collegiate level, accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, acquisition of 20 acres of land and 21 buildings and an increase in assets from $5,000 to $1.5 million. Born in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, he was a graduate of Cumberland University (Tenn.) and Union Theological Seminary (Va.) and the recipient of an honorary DD from Davidson College.

Dr. James Ross McCain

James Ross McCain

1923-1951

Dr. James Ross McCain was the second president of Agnes Scott College. After graduating from Erskine College and earning a JD from Mercer University, he practiced law for two years but did not find it satisfying. Dr. McCain then turned to teaching and education. While headmaster of the Darlington School in Rome, Ga., he completed an MA from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Columbia University. Dr. McCain initially came to Agnes Scott in 1915 as registrar and professor of Bible and progressively assumed greater responsibilities as vice president and trustee; therefore, he was a natural successor to President Gaines. During his presidency from 1923 to 1951, he focused on campus planning, developing the college’s first master plan and overseeing construction of the buildings that still define the campus today. Under his leadership, the endowment tripled, a pension plan was provided to faculty and the college created an honors program. He advocated for greater collaboration among Atlanta’s colleges and universities and perhaps did more than any other single person to raise institutional academic qualifications in the South.

Reverend Dr. Wallace McPherson Alston

Wallace McPherson Alston

1951-1973

The Reverend Dr. Wallace McPherson Alston was the third president of Agnes Scott College and the first to be formally inaugurated. A native of Decatur, he grew up playing on the Agnes Scott campus. A minister at heart, he came to Agnes Scott after serving Presbyterian churches in Kentucky, West Virginia and Atlanta. During his presidency, he molded every aspect of the college, employing each faculty and staff member and actively selecting every trustee. Under his leadership, enrollment increased 35 percent and the faculty by nearly 50 percent. Additionally, the endowment market value grew of the college grew 12 times more prominent during Alston's tenure. During these years, Robert Frost made his annual visits to Agnes Scott and that the college enrolled its first African-American student. President Alston held five degrees, including a BA and an MA from Emory University, a BD from Columbia Theological Seminary and a ThM and a ThD from Union Theological Seminary.

Marvin Banks Perry Jr.

Marvin Banks Perry Jr.

1973-1982

Dr. Marvin Banks Perry Jr. became the fourth president of Agnes Scott College in 1973. He came to Agnes Scott from Goucher College, where he had served as president for six years. During his tenure at Agnes Scott, the college improved benefits for faculty and staff, implemented a policy on faculty sabbatical leaves, strengthened shared governance by placing responsibility for academic policy with the faculty, admitted women beyond the traditional college age in the Return-to-College program, offered scholarships based on merit rather than need, approved the first dual-degree program and a preparatory program for business and relaxed regulations that impacted students’ social lives. A scholar of English literature, he earned a BA from the University of Virginia and an MA and PhD from Harvard University. 

Ruth A. Schmidt

Ruth A. Schmidt

1982-1994

Dr. Ruth A. Schmidt was the first woman to serve as president of Agnes Scott College. Previously, she taught Spanish at Mary Baldwin College, served as an academic dean at the State University of New York at Albany and was provost at Wheaton College (Mass.), where she was acclaimed for establishing a gender-balanced curriculum. To ensure that Agnes Scott offered a well-rounded student experience, she supported intercollegiate athletics and the construction of the Woodruff Physical Activities Building and Gellerstedt Track and Field. She was deeply committed to women’s issues, community diversity, international education and service-learning. During her tenure, the college celebrated its centennial with the renovation of the college’s oldest residence halls and the placement of a bell in the “Main” Hall tower, transitioned to the semester system, launched its first graduate degree program and created the Global Awareness program and an interdisciplinary program in women’s studies. She received her BA from Augsburg College, an MA from the University of Missouri and a PhD from the University of Illinois. 

Sally Mahoney

1994-1995

Sally Mahoney was interim president of Agnes Scott College during the 1994-1995 academic year, during which the college completed academic and administrative reviews. She graduated from San Francisco College for Women with a BA in English. After enrolling in Stanford University as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow to study English, she moved to the administration and, as a Sloan Fellow, earned an MS in management. After serving Stanford in various positions over more than 30 years, she retired as senior associate provost and university registrar emerita. Following her year at Agnes Scott, she was interim president of Mount Mary College and president of Our Lady of the Lake University.
Mary Brown Bullock

Mary Brown Bullock '66

1995-2006

Dr. Mary Brown Bullock ‘66 was the first alumna president of Agnes Scott College. Before returning to Agnes Scott as president, she was director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and director of The Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China at the National Academy of Sciences. Under her leadership, the college increased enrollment by 50 percent and faculty by one third, revised teaching loads to provide faculty with more time for research, emphasized science and global learning, implemented new strategic and master plans with a $120 million building program, completed a $70 million comprehensive campaign, created a new graphic identity program and worked to raise its national visibility. A scholar of U.S.-China relations, she received a bachelor’s degree in history from Agnes Scott, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and an MA and PhD in Chinese history from Stanford University. She later was the inaugural executive vice chancellor of Duke Kunshan University in Kunshan, China.

Elizabeth Kiss

Elizabeth Kiss

2006-2018

Dr. Elizabeth Kiss, the college’s eighth president, came to Agnes Scott College in 2006 from Duke University, where she was the Nannerl O. Keohane Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics and a professor of the practice of political science and philosophy. Specializing in moral and political philosophy, she had taught at Princeton University, Randolph-Macon College and Deep Springs College. During her presidency, Agnes Scott broke records for enrollment and retention and was named the #2 Most Diversified College in America by Time; launched a signature experience SUMMIT, which provides every student with a core curriculum focused on global learning and leadership development, and new programs in public health, human rights and business management; completed a $116 million comprehensive campaign; and emerged as a leader in campus sustainability. The college was named the #2 Most Innovative School by U.S. News & World Report. The daughter of Hungarian refugees, she earned a BA from Davidson College and an MPhil and DPhil in philosophy from Oxford University in England. A Rhodes Scholar herself, Dr. Kiss subsequently became warden and CEO of Rhodes Trust in Oxford, UK.

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