Who is Randolph Macon? (Or, Why is Randolph-Macon Hyphenated?)

​We get a lot of questions about our name, Randolph-Macon Academy. The first is always, “Are you connected to Randolph-Macon College?” In short, we used to be governed by the same board as both R-MC and Randolph-Macon Women’s College (now Randolph College)—indeed, Randolph-Macon Academy was founded to be a feeder school into the college. However, the three entities separated in the 1950’s, and each is now governed by a separate board of trustees and they operate independently of one another.

Randolph-Macon comes from the names of John Randolph and Nathaniel Macon.The next question is usually, “So who is Randolph Macon?”  Actually, they were two someones: John Randolph and Nathaniel Macon…hence the reason we have an hyphen in “Randolph-Macon.”  

I’m going to summarize quite a bit of history into a very short explanation. In the early 1800’s, early Virginia Methodists felt there were no colleges to which to send their children—the ones in existence were either secular or of a different Christian faith. The differences in the core beliefs of these other faiths were such that the Methodists wanted their children going to a Methodist college.

The Virginia Methodists decided to found a college of their own, but there was a roadblock. Thomas Jefferson—founder of the University of Virginia–believed in complete separation of church and state, and while he was governor of Virginia, he “established the principle that no theological college should ever again be chartered by the General Assembly.”1

How did the Methodists get around this dictate? Enter John Randolph, cousin and political adversary to Thomas Jefferson and U. S. Senator for Virginia, and Nathaniel Macon, North Carolinian and Speaker of the House of Representatives. With the names of these two non-Methodists attached to the college, no one realized the college was to be a Methodist school, not a secular one. The charter was approved.

It seems…incongruent, if you will, for group of Christians to act in such a manner. And yet, “…because of what these Methodists did, church-related colleges would again flourish in the Commonwealth, not only a rash of Methodist colleges, but Mennonite, Brethren, Disciples, Baptist, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic colleges as well.” 1

The establishment of Randolph-Macon College also eventually resulted in the establishment of Randolph-Macon Women’s College, Randolph-Macon Academy at Liberty (later called Bedford), the Randolph-Macon Institute in Danville, and Randolph-Macon Academy at Front Royal. 

Randolph-Macon Institute, also called the Randolph-Macon School for Girls, closed in 1930; the property became part of Stratford College. R-MA at Bedford closed in 1933, the faculty and student body merging with that of the Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal.

All three surviving institutions are now co-ed and continue to thrive under the United Methodist banner. As a parent whose son flourished at Randolph-Macon Academy and is now enjoying success at Virginia Tech, I have just one thing to say: Thank you, John Randolph and Nathaniel Macon, and all the Methodists who helped found the Randolph-Macon system.


(1) Dr. Roger Martin, College President and Professor of History at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA, in a speech to the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia, May 10, 2005.
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