Florence M. Read 1909 served as the fourth president of Spelman College, the historically black college for women in Atlanta, Georgia. During her 26-year tenure, Spelman’s enrollment nearly doubled and its identity as a distinguished liberal arts institution was established.
Read grew up in Delevan, New York. Her grandmother, Polly Jane Raymond, had studied at Mount Holyoke in 1848.
Read, who was named “most likely to succeed” by her classmates, spent the two years after graduation as the College’s alumnae secretary. In 1911, she moved to Oregon to serve as secretary to the president of Reed College. She held that post from 1911 to 1920; in 1918, Read took a leave of absence to volunteer for war service at the Council of National Defense in Washington, D.C. and then with the YMCA in France.
From 1920 to 1927 Read worked as the executive secretary for the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Division—this first worldwide health organization provided the model for the contemporary World Health Organization. It was during those years that she became acquainted with Spelman College (named in honor of Laura Spelman Rockefeller, whose parents were activists in the antislavery movement).
Read became Spelman College’s president in 1927. In 1929, she signed the agreement of affiliation with Morehouse College and Atlanta University that expanded and strengthened Spelman’s mission. She also served as acting president of Atlanta University during 1936–1937. Read is credited with strengthening Spelman’s courses, enlarging its faculty and staff, and enhancing the convenience and beauty of its campus facilities.
In 1939, Read was awarded an honorary degree from Oberlin College. The only woman among the group of six honorees, she was hailed for “reaffirming (our) democratic faith in the right of every person to the fullest opportunities for development of mind and spirit.”
Upon retiring from Spelman in 1953, Read was elected president emeritus. She spent the summer of 1955 in South Hadley, gathering data for The History of Spelman College, which was published on the occasion of Spelman’s 75th anniversary. She was awarded an honorary degree from Reed College in 1961 and received Mount Holyoke College’s prestigious Alumnae Medal of Honor in 1962. Read died in 1973.