North Carolina Education - Surry County

Year County Established

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Surry 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.


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