By the 1820s, clergy of the Virginia Conference of the Methodist Church had recognized a need to educate prospective clergymen in the fields of English, history, and geography, so that they could pass required examinations for entrance into the ministry. This growing need, coupled with the rise of more cities with more learned congregations, called for the establishment of a liberal arts college where prospective ministers could study and learn the art of communication with urban townspeople. In 1830, the Virginia legislature approved a charter for Randolph-Macon College, to be located in Boydton, Virginia, near the border of North Carolina. The names of John Randolph, a Representative and then Senator from Virginia, and Nathaniel Macon, a former Speaker of the House and Senator from North Carolina, were given to the college to dispel the notion that the school was to be only a sectarian one. Neither man was Methodist.

The college was moved to Ashland, Virginia, in 1868 after the railroads to Boydton were destroyed during the Civil War. The move to Ashland challenged the college’s spirit and stimulated new growth. The students themselves raised most of the funds for the first major building constructed on the new campus — Washington and Franklin Hall, a national historic landmark which was completely renovated in 1987.

In this century, Randolph-Macon’s campus has grown to more than 60 major buildings (three of which are on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register; three others are included in the Ashland Historic District) on more than 125 acres. The college’s second oldest building — Pace Hall — underwent renovation and reopened in mid-1998 as a center for the studio arts. The third historic building, the Old Chapel, is used for music, art history, and drama classes.

Throughout its history, Randolph-Macon College has attracted and educated students of all faiths. Founded as an all-male institution, the college has been coeducational since 1971. A Phi Beta Kappa college, Randolph-Macon offers more than majors, minors and concentrations, and opportunities for internships, study abroad, and independent study.