campus overview

Mills Has Been Leading Change Since 1852.

Our History

Mills was founded in 1852 as the Young Ladies’ Seminary in Benicia, California—two years after California became a state. In 1865, missionaries Susan and Cyrus Mills (champions for equal education for women) bought the seminary and renamed it Mills College.

Six years later—the same year the city of Oakland was incorporated—Mills moved to our current 135-acre campus in Oakland with 125 students. The College grew quickly, with students of diverse faiths and backgrounds enrolling from many states and countries. In 1920, Mills broke new ground, adding graduate programs for women and men to our academic offerings.

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 accelerated degree program (2001); the first business school in the West dedicated to advancing women (2005); and the first MFA program in book art and creative writing in the nation (2009).

By 2014, we’d blazed a trail that others soon followed by introducing the first transgender admission policy in the country at a women’s college.

With a rich history rooted in tradition and emboldened by innovation, you have numerous ways to take part in what makes Mills unique, every day.

Our Traditions

Our most celebrated traditions focus on building community and encouraging self-expression. Here’s just a sample of some of our students’ favorite traditions.

Class Colors
students with class colors flag

Blue, green, red, or purple? When you become a Mills undergraduate student, you’ll be given a color that symbolizes your class year and helps you show your school spirit. When you graduate, your color will be handed down to the incoming class to carry on the tradition.

Mills Got Talent
student singing with guitar

From guitar to spoken word, interpretive dance to comedy, this unique event showcases not only the talent of the Mills community, but also the supportive and diverse atmosphere we foster.

Student Wishes
students writing notes

Incoming undergraduate students write what they hope to gain from their Mills journey on paper and hang these wishes from trees on campus. Legend has it that when a wish drops from the tree, the wish has come true.

Fires of Wisdom
students with candles

Alumnae and student leaders teach new students the College's alma mater “Fires of Wisdom” in a candle-lighting ceremony at the close of Orientation.

President’s Tea
college president

Celebrating our close-knit community, the President of Mills holds a special tea at her house to welcome new undergraduate students to campus every year.

Senior Wall
seniors painting wall

Each spring, the graduating class makes a statement on the senior wall. Seniors celebrate their successes, acknowledge the support they received at Mills, and share their dreams with paint—leaving a legacy of inspiration as they graduate.

Mills Has Always Been a College of Firsts. 

The first women's college west of the Rockies
(chartered 1885)
The first laboratory school west of the Mississippi for aspiring teachers
The first women’s college to offer a computer science major
The first (and only) women’s college to reverse a decision to go coed
The first women's college to offer a bachelor's-to-master's BA/MBA accelerated degree program
The first MFA program in book art and creative writing in the nation
The first women's college to launch a policy for admitting transgender applicants