Mills is an independent liberal arts college for women with graduate programs for women and men. The College educates students to think critically and communicate responsibly and effectively, to accept the challenges of their creative visions, and to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to effect thoughtful changes in a global, multicultural society.
Mills encourages openness to experimentation in the context of established academic disciplines. Programs are designed to reflect the importance of global issues, provide an understanding of the natural world, and enhance opportunities for women in their developing roles throughout society. The curriculum combines traditional liberal arts with new educational initiatives that recognize the value of cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity.
Inspired by a teaching philosophy that grows out of its longstanding dedication to women’s education, Mills provides a dynamic learning environment that encourages intellectual exploration. The faculty of nationally and internationally respected scholars and artists is dedicated to developing the strengths of every student, preparing them for lifelong intellectual, personal, and professional growth.
Founded in 1852 as the Young Ladies’ Seminary in Benicia, California, Mills College boasts a rich history as a leader in women’s education. Mills was founded two years after California was admitted to statehood and the same year the city of Oakland was established. The University of California and Stanford had yet to exist, and miners, farmers, and merchants wanted to educate their daughters without sending them on the perilous journey to East Coast schools.
The Young Ladies’ Seminary was established by nine citizens in what became the state capital, and it gained a strong reputation under the direction of Oberlin graduate Mary Atkins. With a vision of equal education and opportunity for women, missionaries Cyrus and Susan Mills bought the Seminary in 1865 for $5,000, renamed it Mills College, and moved it in 1871 to its current 135-acre oasis. At the time, Oakland was a bustling metropolis of about 10,000.
The student body quickly grew, with students of diverse faiths and backgrounds enrolled from many states and countries. Among the first institutions for the higher education of women, Mills has become the oldest women’s college west of the Rockies.
Over the decades, Mills “firsts” have been numerous: the first women's college west of the Rockies (chartered 1885); the first laboratory school west of the Mississippi for aspiring teachers (1926); the first women’s college to offer a computer science major (1974) and a bachelor's to master's BA/MBA accelerated degree program (2001); the first business school in the West for women (2005); and the first MFA program in book art and creative writing in the nation (2009).
Always a leader in the arts, Mills was among the first liberal arts colleges to offer a modern dance degree (1941), and it became the national center for modern dance outside New York City. The Center for Contemporary Music, dedicated in 1967, is a preeminent center for electronic music.
Many of the world’s foremost artists, politicians, and scholars have taught, lectured, and performed at Mills, including Isabel Allende, John Cage, Don Ed Hardy, Dolores Huerta, Darius Milhaud, Joyce Carol Oates, Nancy Pelosi, Gertrude Stein, and Gloria Steinem. Mills continues to draw people interested in experimentation, leadership, social responsibility, and creativity—the hallmarks of a 21st-century Mills education.