Reinhardt University is a liberal arts institution founded in 1883 and affiliated with the United Methodist Church. With its main campus in Waleska (Cherokee County) and the North Fulton Center in Alpharetta, Reinhardt is a coeducational academic, spiritual, and social community of teachers, learners, and supporters.
Aspiring to foster the spiritual and intellectual growth of young people in an area ravaged by the Civil War (1861-65), Captain Augustus M. Reinhardt and his brother-in-law, John J. A. Sharp, decided to start a school in Waleska in 1883. Reinhardt asked the North Georgia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, for support. The church sent a teacher/preacher, James T. Linn, and the school was named for Reinhardt's father, Lewis W. Reinhardt.
In January 1884 Reinhardt Academy welcomed forty students of elementary through high school ages to classes in an old cabinet and wood shop. The curriculum of language, mathematics, science, history, and religion was designed to train teachers and preachers. The first class graduated in 1888. In 1891 the state legislature issued a charter for Reinhardt Normal College. At that time approximately 200 elementary- to college-aged students were enrolled.
In the early days Reinhardt's extracurricular activities differed greatly from those of today. Early commencements involved the entire community, lasted several days, and included orations, plays, parades, and military drills. Military companies were established at Reinhardt in 1893, and in 1897 military training became mandatory for almost all males. Debating societies were also popular from the 1890s until the 1960s.
The college continued to thrive through the turn of the century. Additional farmland was purchased, bringing the total acreage to approximately 500. The farm employed students paying their way through school and produced most of the food needed in the dining hall. By 1910 more than 390 students were enrolled at Reinhardt, and by 1911 the word "Normal" was dropped from the institution's name. In 1920 a second year of postsecondary education was added to make the institution a full-fledged junior college.
The first college students graduated from Reinhardt in 1921. As the public schools developed, Reinhardt's early grades came under the jurisdiction of the county school system, though the elementary school remained at Reinhardt until 1948. Older students transferred to Cherokee High School in 1956.
The pressures of the Great Depression and World War II (1941-45) made prospects for growth dim during the 1930s and 1940s. After years of lean budgets and small graduating classes, James Rowland Burgess arrived at Reinhardt in 1944 to assume the presidency. He found the campus in a dilapidated state, with only ten freshmen and six teachers. In the ensuing twenty-nine years Burgess led the college with ingenuity and passion. A highlight of his tenure was Soil Conservation Day, May 18, 1949, when the vice president of the United States, Alben Barkley, visited the college, and volunteers completed more than $100,000 in improvements.
During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, funds remained tight, but Burgess and his successor, Allen O. Jernigan, found ways to meet the budget and to build community support and student enthusiasm for the college.
The institution has grown steadily since the 1980s. The main campus has expanded, including the addition in 1999 of the Funk Heritage Center, which offers exhibitions and programs related to Southeastern Indiansand European settlers. Off-campus centers in Alpharetta, Cartersville, and Epworth (Fannin County) brought services to new communities.
By the early 1990s enrollment had expanded to almost 800 students, and college planners, led by Reinhardt president Floyd A. Falany, began to explore adding baccalaureate (four-year) programs. Reinhardt introduced a bachelor of arts in business administration in 1992. Two years later, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredited Reinhardt to award bachelor's degrees. In 2003, under the presidential leadership of J. Thomas Isherwood, the college offered twenty-four four-year degree programs in thirteen areas (art, biology, business administration, communication, English, history, liberal studies, music, psychology, religion, sociology, sports studies, and education).
Reinhardt's first graduate degree program, a master of business administration, began in 2007, and in 2010 the college changed its name to Reinhardt University. Student enrollment was 1,124 in fall 2009.
Reinhardt continues to provide a "whole person" approach to education. Students are encouraged to develop intellectually, socially, personally, vocationally, spiritually, and physically. As a result, intercollegiate athletics, intramurals, residential life, student organizations, religious activities, service projects, leadership opportunities, internships, study-abroad experiences, and student work provide a rich complement to classroom instruction. The university also invites the community to enjoy its dining, meeting, athletic, and cultural facilities and programming.