Spalding to mark 100 years in downtown Louisville

A banner commemorating Spalding University’s 100th year in downtown Louisville hangs on the side of the Egan Leadership Center on S. Fourth Street. Spalding is set to mark the centennial with a slate of activities on Founders’ Day Weekend Oct. 1-4. (Record Photo By Jessica Able)

When the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth established Nazareth College — now Spalding University — in downtown Louisville in 1920, just one student had enrolled. Today, 1,600 undergraduate and graduate students attend the university.

Spalding is set to mark the beginning of the school’s 100th year in downtown Louisville with a slate of activities during its annual Founders’ Day Weekend Oct. 1-4.

The activities include a series of free, public “Alumni College” mini-workshops led by Spalding faculty; a live-streamed Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz at the Spalding Mansion Chapel; and the university’s annual 24-hour Day of Giving fundraiser on Oct. 1.

There will also be virtual reunions for the five- and 10-year anniversaries of each graduating class since 1950.

The Alumni College mini-workshops are hour-long virtual sessions featuring Spalding faculty from a range of academic disciplines. Topics will include “historical and current-affairs topics related to social and racial justice, politics, health care, Kentucky literature and design thinking,” a news release from the university said.

Dr. Kurt Jefferson, dean of graduate education, will lead a session titled: “From Nazareth Academy to Spalding University: A brief history of a great university” on Oct. 3 at 11 a.m.

Jefferson said that when the Sisters of Charity established then-Nazareth College, it was intended to provide education for women, “especially Catholic women who faced a lot of obstacles at that time, including bigotry and overt discrimination because they were both women and Catholic.”

Jefferson called the sisters “real visionaries” as well as practical educators.

“There was a dual focus on providing a liberal arts and practical education to give women the tools to seek jobs in Louisville, to compete in the economy,” he said in an interview earlier this week.

The history of the university, he said, is about “empowering women and also the importance of Catholic identity tied to women’s education.”

Spalding is a private, Catholic institution that was founded in 1814 as Nazareth Academy by Mother Catherine Spalding and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Nazareth, Ky., located 40 miles south of Louisville.

In the fall of 1920, the sisters established the downtown Louisville campus at the Tompkins-Buchanan-Rankin Mansion at 851 S. Fourth Street and called it Nazareth College — the first four-year Catholic college for women in Kentucky.

Men were later fully admitted and the first male students graduated in 1969.

Spalding became the first college or university in the city to admit Black students in 1950 following an amendment to the Day Law, which allowed individual colleges to decide whether to admit African Americans.

Thirty-five Black students were admitted that year, making up 35 percent of the freshman class. The University of Louisville and Ursuline College immediately followed.

In 1973, the university — then called Spalding College — was incorporated as an “independent, urban, coeducational institution in the Catholic tradition for students of all traditions,” the release said. It was later designated Spalding University in 1984 in recognition of the range of academic programs it offered.

Today, Spalding’s campus includes nearly 25 acres, with university buildings located primarily along South Second, South Third, South Fourth, West Kentucky and West Breckinridge streets. The campus also includes a seven-acre athletic complex that opened in 2019 west of the main campus, between South Eighth and South Ninth streets.

The Founders’ Day Weekend events will begin a yearlong celebration to mark Spalding’s 100th year downtown. The university will host community service projects, feature alumni and historical stories on Spalding’s website and plan other events through Founders’ Day 2021 “in accordance with public health guidelines during the pandemic,” the release said.

The full schedule of events and links to register, as well as the Giving Day donation link, can be found at

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