Apply Now to Elmira College buttonVisit Elmira CollegeRequest Info button

The Story of Elmira College


One of the great small colleges of the nation.


Elmira College, co-educational since 1969, is one of the great, small colleges of the nation and was the first institution of higher learning in the world founded as a college to award baccalaureate degrees to women with a course of study comparable to contemporary men’s colleges. For this reason, Elmira is characterized in most histories of higher education as “the mother of women’s colleges.” 

Long noted for the quality of its academic and student life, Elmira College was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1940. While undergraduate liberal arts education in a residential setting has always been its major emphasis, Elmira began awarding the Master’s degree in the nineteenth century and began offering evening courses to men as well as women as early as 1922.

Simeon Benjamin, known as "The Founder," was instrumental in the College's location in Elmira, the growing commercial and cultural center of the Finger Lakes region.

Benjamin also played a substantial role in the selection of Elmira's first president, Dr. Augustus Cowles, after whom the College's original building subsequently was named.

Jervis Langdon, a member of the founding Board of Trustees, purchased the East Hill property that became Quarry Farm. Elmira College alumna Olivia Langdon (Class of 1864) married Samuel Clemens and later, the Clemens family enjoyed many summers at Quarry Farm. During those summers, Clemens, writing as Mark Twain, penned the American classics The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and many great works. In 1952, Professor of English Literature Dr. Ida Langdon, on behalf of her family, presented the Mark Twain Study to Elmira College. In 1983, the Langdon family gave the study and the historic Quarry Farm to Elmira College

Now Quarry Farm is used as a residence for visiting Twain scholars from all over the world. The Center for Mark Twain Studies at Quarry Farm offers year-round educational programs.

Elmira College, born of idealism and nurtured in success, remains a place where leaders come to learn.