North Carolina Education - Forsyth County

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Forsyth County


Salem Academy and College (today administratively one unit) began as the “Little Girls’ School,” founded by the Moravians in late April of 1772. Moravians, who had founded the twon of Salem six (6) years earlier, were early advocates for equal education for females and had long nourished the idea of bringing children together, in a school setting, to help reinforce a strong religious foundation. The first teacher in the “Little Girls’ School” was Elisabeth Oesterlein. In the fall of 1802, the institution became a boarding school for girls. Young women from across North Carolina and surrounding states flocked to Salem to attend the school. The institution served a diverse array of young students, including girls of African American descent (as early as 1785) and the daughter of a Cherokee Indian chief (in the 1820s).

Salem College, with a founding date of 1772, claims to be the oldest women’s college in the nation (and the thirteenth oldest college overall) and is ranked as such by the American Council on Education. The issue as to which women’s college is the oldest is somewhat complicated. Stephens College in Missouri lays claim to being the second oldest, being founded in 1833. Yet, both schools evolved from institutions created to educate girls. Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts was founded as a college in 1837 and also lays claim to being the nation’s oldest.

During the 1860s, college-level courses were added to the curriculum. After the American Civil War, the school was incorporated by an act of the North Carolina General Assembly in 1866, and became known as the Salem Female Academy. The first college degrees earned were granted in 1890. The next milestone in Salem’s development occurred in 1933, when new and separate facilities for prep school students were erected along the eastern perimeter of the campus and the institution became known as Salem Academy and College.

When established in 1772, Salem Academy was in Surry County. In 1789, it was in Stokes County. In 1849, it was in Forsyth County and has been ever since.

The above write-up (with edits and additions) was provided by the North Carolina Highway Marker program. Click Here to read and view their sources.


In 1832, the Baptist State Convention purchased the 600-acre plantation of Calvin Jones, a physician and trustee of the University of North Carolina. Two years later, Wake Forest Institute, as it was called until 1838, opened in the plantation buildings with an enrollment of sixteen students. The dwelling house, which became the home of the first president Samuel Wait, is now known as the Wake Forest College Birthplace. At the conclusion of the first academic year, seventy-two students were in attendance. Designed to teach Baptist ministers and laymen, the school required students to spend half their day performing manual labor on the plantation.

In 1838, the school was renamed Wake Forest College, and the provision for manual labor was abandoned in favor of rigorous academic training. The village in Wake County that developed around the college became known as Wake Forest. The college closed in 1862, as a large portion of the faculty and student body enlisted in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

Wake Forest College reopened in 1866 at the conclusion of the Civil War. The school prospered over the next four decades and expanded considerably under the leadership of presidents Washington Wingate, Thomas Pritchard, and Charles Taylor. The School of Law opened in 1894, followed by the School of Medicine in 1902.

In 1905, William L. Poteat, known as “Doctor Billy,” a professor of natural sciences and Wake Forest alumnus, was elected president. Poteat caused great consternation for his support of the teaching of evolution and Darwinian concepts, but eventually won support from the Baptist State Convention for academic freedom.

The School of Medicine moved in 1941 to Winston-Salem and became Bowman-Gray School of Medicine. Wake Forest admitted its first female students the following year, as many male students enlisted for service in World War II. By 1949, the student body consisted of nearly 2,000 students.

In the 1950s, with the promise of major financial contributions by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, college trustees and the Baptist State Convention agreed to move the school to its present site north of Winston-Salem. Charles and Mary Babcock, the daughter of R. J. Reynolds, granted the school 350 acres near Reynolda House.

The old campus was sold to the newly formed Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1967, Wake Forest College became Wake Forest University. In recent years, the ties with the Baptist Church have been loosened. In 1979, the institution relinquished funding from the Baptist Convention and received more flexibility in the selection of trustees.

By the early 2000s, Wake Forest University had an enrollment of nearly 6,500 students and offered thirty-four academic majors. The University includes a school of medicine, school of law, school of business and accounting, graduate school in arts and sciences, and a school of divinity.

The above write-up (with edits) was provided by the North Carolina Highway Marker program. Click Here to read and to view their sources.


From its 1892 beginnings in a one-room structure with twenty-five (25) pupils and a single teacher, Winston-Salem State University has grown into a campus covering ninety-four (94) acres enrolling over 3,000 students. Slater Industrial Academy, as the institution was first known, was transformed by a North Carolina legislative appropriation in 1895 into a teacher training school. The institution was long known as Winston-Salem Teachers College. It gained university status in 1969. Today, education of teachers remains a core mission for the school, which is also noted for its nursing program, founded in 1953, and for the Diggs Art Gallery.

Simon Green Atkins was that original teacher and served as president of the school from 1892 to 1904 and again from 1913 to 1934. Under his leadership the school became the first historically African American institution in the nation to grant degrees for teaching the elementary grades. Since July 1, 1972, Winston-Salem State University has been one of the constituent institutions of the University of North Carolina system.

The above write-up (with edits) was provided by the North Carolina Highway Marker program. Click Here to read and to view their sources.


In 1963, the North Carolina General Assembly, during the governorship of Terry Sanford, designated funds “to create and provide for a training center for instruction in the performing arts.” As a result the North Carolina School of the Arts, which opened in September of 1965 in Winston-Salem, became the first such state-supported school. In 1971, it became one of the sixteen (16) constituent institutions of The University of North Carolina system.

Vittorio Giannini, an American composer, was the first president. Following Giannini’s death in 1967, Robert Ward, also a composer, served as chancellor from 1967 to 1974. During his tenure the school doubled its faculty and enrollment.

The School of the Arts enrolls over seven hundred (700) students in secondary school and college programs in dance, drama, film, music, design and production, and visual arts. They are led by over one hundred (100) faculty members, most of whom are artists who continue to perform in their fields. Admission to the school is by audition or portfolio.

The above write-up (with edits) was provided by the North Carolina Highway Marker program. Click Here to read and to view their sources.


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