A confluence of factors brought higher education to Montevallo toward the close of the 19th century. These included the town’s location at the center of the state, a rail line, buildings empty and ready to be used, the need to educate young women for practical and technical careers, motivated merchants and townspeople, and some legislative assistance. All of these came into play by 1893 when the Alabama State Legislature passed a bill to establish the Alabama Girls’ Industrial School (AGIS). . While the early curriculum did focus on technical skills such as typewriting, dressmaking, and scientific cooking, the school’s leaders wisely broadened the coursework to include English, History, Art, and Mathematics. Enrollment quickly rose to over 400 by 1900, requiring many young women to live off campus until adequate dormitory space could be built. A second phase of growth began in 1910. The president moved and the Board of Trustees agreed to change the name to the Alabama Girls’ Technical Institute (AGTI), starting in 1911. Four new buildings arose in the next decade, providing more space for classes and campus services. As the state of Alabama required more teachers, the institution responded, providing certification for its graduates as the decade came to a close. Continuing this growth and academic transformation, the institution became Alabama College in 1923.
By 1955, facing declining enrollment, the president and board made a crucial decision: the college would allow men to attend in the fall of 1956. This change and the fruits of the baby boom in the 1960s witnessed all-time high enrollments at the school and another massive wave of campus building.
In 1969, Alabama College became the University of Montevallo and the state's only mandated public liberal arts institution. The mission of the university, however, remained constant, with its goals for much of the century to “provide students from throughout the State an affordable, geographically accessible ‘small college’ public higher educational experience of high quality with a strong emphasis on undergraduate liberal studies and with professional programs supported by a broad base of arts and sciences, designed for their intellectual and personal growth in the pursuit of meaningful employment and responsible, informed citizenship.” Despite the university’s growth, the class sizes remained small and the institution prided itself on close faculty mentoring of students. The 1990s saw the school join the prestigious Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, a consortium of 26 institutions that “drives awareness of the value of high-quality, public liberal arts education in a student-centered, residential environment.” At the same time the university joined Division II of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Meanwhile, despite the construction over the century, the university remained true to the original Olmsted development plan as campus streets and buildings remained mostly brick. Spring days on campus are more than lovely with wisteria and azaleas in bloom and an accompanying canopy of majestic oak and pecan trees, making the campus one of the loveliest in the Southeast. The following images will give the reader a sense of both the transformation and the continuity that this academic institution has participated in over the last 40 years. (adapted from Montevallo, p. 41, 61, and 83)