North Carolina Education - Wake County

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Wake County


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.

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Established in 1842 through the vision and fundraising efforts of Episcopalian minister Aldert Smedes and his wife, the school for women was converted from a similar institution for young men, which had opened in 1834. According to school tradition, the first class at St. Mary’s School, arriving in 1842, was comprised of thirteen women. The Reverend Smedes and his wife, Sarah, greeted the new students at the door, and from then on the couple acted more like family than faculty to the students. The rise of colleges and universities around the state eventually drew candidates away from St. Mary’s, and in 1897, the Carolina Diocese appointed a board of trustees and relinquished control of day-to-day operations.

By the early twentieth century, prominent families in both North and South Carolina sent their daughters to attend. Wealth was not always a pre-requisite for attendance, however, as the later rectors followed Smedes’s example. The Reverend personally interviewed each student for acceptance, and often would grant scholarships to girls whose families were unable to provide tuition. Smedes understood the education of young women, as well as the confidence and skills it confers, was essential for coming generations. In what he deemed the “true mission of women,” Smedes said: "If she will do what she can . . . she can do almost what she will for the moral and spiritual welfare of the world. But to accomplish this, she must understand her high and heavenly mission.” That mission, as interpreted by others since Smedes’s death in 1877, led to changes at St. Mary’s throughout the years. In 1997, the board of trustees decided to terminate the junior college program in order to focus on high school and college preparatory classes beginning in the fall of 1998.

While the entire twenty-three acre campus is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, of special interest is the campus chapel, designed in Gothic Revival style by architect Richard Upjohn in 1857. While St. Mary’s School remains dedicated to the changing landscape of women’s education in the twenty-first century, the goal of St. Mary’s—the same as in 1842—is the education of young women today to empower the generations of tomorrow.

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The Governor Morehead School, North Carolina’s school for the blind, opened in 1845 as the North Carolina Institution of the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind. The initiative, a state-supported educational program for children with disabilities, was one of the first in the South. The idea originated in 1843 when William D. Cooke, the head of Virginia’s School for Deaf and Dumb Instruction in Staunton wrote to Governor John Motley Morehead suggesting that North Carolina could start a school of its own. Morehead, known as an advocate for education and for the disabled, leapt at the idea, and offered to bring the matter to the attention of the Presbyterian Synod at its next annual meeting in Raleigh the following year.

After receiving the support of the Synod, Morehead turned his attention to the state legislature. On January 8, 1845, the legislature approved an Act “to provide for the education of the poor and destitute deaf-mutes and blind persons in this state.” Four months later, on May 1, the school opened in a building located two blocks west of the Capitol in Raleigh, with four teachers and 23 deaf students between the ages of 8 and 32. The pupils were given instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, history, geography, the arts, and the Bible. Four years later, a legislative appropriation allowed for the purchase of a new building on Caswell Square in Raleigh.

In 1851, blind students began enrolling in the school. William D. Cooke, who left the Virginia school to take charge of North Carolina’s institute, established vocational classes including shoemaking and sewing. His students became the first deaf students in America to produce a newspaper made for and by the deaf, the Deaf Mute Casket. By the end of 1858, the school had 39 deaf and 18 blind students. During the American Civil War, the school remained open. However, two faculty members left for service with the Confederate Army and for a brief time the pupils were employed in making musket parts. From June 1865 until January 1866, the school closed in part because of a lack of food for the students.

At the conclusion of the American Civil War, efforts were made to address the need for a school for African Americans with disabilities. The United States War Department offered to find and rent housing if the North Carolina Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind would supply teachers and instruction. The school opened on January 4, 1869, in a building rented from the American Missionary Association with 21 deaf and 7 blind students. It was the first institute in the nation for African American blind students.

By the late 1880s, enrollment at the white school exceeded the facility’s abilities, requiring the North Carolina General Assembly to appropriate funds for the establishment of a separate facility for the deaf students. The new school opened in Morganton in 1894. While white blind students remained at Caswell Square in Raleigh, the black deaf and blind students remained at their school on South Bloodworth Street. All three were overseen by John E. Ray, appointed principal of the North Carolina Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind in 1896. Under his tutelage, the school system became the largest of its kind in the United States, boasting 535 pupils in 1912.

In 1905, the institution changed its name to the State School for the Blind and Deaf. Eight years later, the General Assembly made appropriations to move the school for white blind students to the current location on Ashe Avenue in Raleigh. In 1929, the General Assembly appropriated more funds to move the school for African American blind and deaf students to Garner Road. Thirty years later initial talks were held about consolidating the two Raleigh schools, and in 1963 the name was changed to the Governor Morehead School in honor of John Motley Morehead.

Four years later, in 1967, the General Assembly approved moving black deaf students to the traditionally all-white deaf school in Morganton, and the following year began the consolidation of the schools for the blind in Raleigh. The consolidation of the black and white blind students school at Ashe Avenue was completed in 1977, and the Garner Road campus was shuttered. The modern Governor Morehead School remains the state’s premier institution for the education of the blind in North Carolina, and provides both education and residence for visually impaired students from preschool through age 21.

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William Peace and his brother Joseph, among Raleigh’s first residents, became successful merchants, opening a store on Fayetteville Street in 1796. Peace oversaw the construction of the Governor’s Palace in 1816 as Raleigh’s town commissioner. Over time, he became more active in religious progress in the capital city. Peace, along with a panel of Presbyterians, organized an educational institution for women in 1857. They envisioned the school, according to Mrs. S. David Frazier, “to have for its object the thoro (sic) education of young ladies, not only the substantial branches of knowledge, but also in those which are elegant and ornamental.” The institution is named in Peace’s honor due to large monetary and land donations.

Although Peace Institute obtained its charter in 1857, the American Civil War and its repercussions would delay opening for fifteen years. Working from a Thomas J. Holt (who also designed the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad) design, his brother Jacob Holt began construction in 1859. Construction was suspended in June of 1862, when the building was utilized as a Confederate hospital. During the early stages of Reconstruction, the structure served as a Freedman’s Bureau for two years. Final construction was completed and Peace Institute officially opened in 1872.

Peace College often led the way in women’s education. School administrators opened a school of art and painting in 1872, the first in the South. Eight years later, Peace operated the first kindergarten in North Carolina. Serving as the sole governing body, the board of trustees at Peace is responsible for incorporating progress into an institution renowned for its adherence to tradition. In 2011, the trustees unanimously voted to transition Peace's day program to co-educational and to rename the college William Peace University. The university's first male students attended in the 2012-13 academic year.

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Henry Martin Tupper, a graduate of Amherst and veteran of the Union Army, in 1865 was commissioned to come to Raleigh as a missionary by the American Baptist Home Mission Society. He arrived in October and “commenced his work among the colored people,” according to an 1890 tract published by that organization. By December, he had convened a theological class which met in the old Guion Hotel immediately north of the Capitol grounds. This marked the beginning of Shaw University.

The school initially was called the Raleigh Institute, but in 1870, on receipt of a gift of $5,000 from Elijah Shaw of Wales, Massachusetts, the name was changed to Shaw Collegiate Institute. In 1875, the North Carolina General Assembly granted a formal charter to Shaw University. That act of incorporation specified that “no pupils ever be excluded from the benefits arising therefrom . . . on account of race, color, or previous conditions of servitude.”

Shaw University is often referred to as the oldest historically black institution of higher learning in the South. In North Carolina others soon followed. Biddle (Presbyterian), Saint Augustine’s (Episcopal), and Scotia (Presbyterian) all were established in 1867. Shaw and Saint Augustine’s historically have been the hubs for the education, cultural, and recreational life of African Americans in the Capital city.

From 1882 to 1918, Shaw operated Leonard Medical School which, during that period, educated over 400 African American physicians. In 1960, the Shaw campus hosted the organizational meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an outgrowth of the sit-ins movement destined to play a major role in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.

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Saint Augustine’s College was chartered in 1867 and classes began on January 13, 1868. Episcopal Bishop Thomas Atkinson pressed for the creation of St. Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute “for the purpose of educating teachers for the colored people of the state of North Carolina and elsewhere in the United States.” Bishop Atkinson said, “Such a school seems altogether indispensable to the effectual accomplishment of the good work on which the Church has entered,” meaning the work with freedmen.

J. Brinton Smith, who had come to North Carolina from New Jersey in 1866 to work with the Freedmen’s Commission, was hired as the school’s first principal. On his death in 1872, he was succeeded by John E. C. Smedes. The principal’s residence was located in the center of present Blount Street at its junction with North Street, facing southward. When Blount Street was extended, the house, also known as the Polk or Rayner House, was moved.

St. Augustine’s began to offer junior college courses in the early 1920s and in 1928 gained four-year college status. Despite persistent financial difficulties, St. Augustine’s ten years later “had become and remained the country’s major college for blacks sponsored by and supported by the Episcopal Church.”

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Shaw University was founded in 1865 by Henry M. Tupper, a white minister from Massachusetts. Tupper, the school’s first president, decided to try to establish a medical school. He secured a pledge for $5,000 from his brother-in-law Judson Wade Leonard and raised another $3,900. With the funds, a thirty-four-room dormitory for medical students was built on campus. In 1881, the North Carolina legislature donated an acre adjacent to Shaw that had been part of the old Governor’s Palace property. There a classroom building was constructed and Leonard Medical School opened in 1882.

Four medical schools for African Americans predated it. Leonard was the first such school in the United States to offer a four-year graded curriculum of the sort used today. The four-year course of study was made the standard in 1893, eleven years after Leonard had instituted it. In North Carolina medical schools for whites contemporary to Leonard were the University of North Carolina School of Medicine (1879), the Davidson College School of Medicine (1887, later called the North Carolina Medical College until it closed in 1918), and the University Medical Department at Raleigh, a branch of UNC offering clinical instruction at Raleigh hospitals (1902 to 1910).

In January of 1885, Leonard Hospital opened, providing twenty-five beds for the local black community and valuable experience for the students. In 1886, the first six students completed their studies and exam. Cost of attending Leonard Medical School was never more than $100 per year, including living and tuition expenses, a sum that was one-half the cost of comparable programs for whites. Scholarships were awarded yet the cost still was often prohibitive. Historian Todd L. Savitt discovered letters begging for further financial aid and letters of withdrawal from students who could no longer afford the payments. Most of the approximately 400 physicians who graduated from Leonard Medical School practiced in the rural South and therefore were unable to support their alma mater. Due to financial difficulties and inability to keep up with modern medical standards, Leonard closed its hospital in 1914 and the medical school followed in 1918. All but two of the nation’s black medical schools were closed by 1924.

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In 1862, U.S. Congressional legislation, specifically the Morrill Land Grant Act, provided states with land to develop institutions of higher education. Over two decades passed before North Carolinians took advantage of the opportunity. Through the influence of agricultural leaders and of the Watauga Club, a group of local businessmen, the state legislature chartered the North Carolina State University of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1887. A & M, as it was commonly known, was North Carolina’s first land grant college. Four years later, what is now North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in Greensboro, established in 1891 to serve African Americans, became the second.

A & M opened its doors in October of 1889 with seventy-two students, a single building, and six staff members, among them the first president, Alexander Q. Holladay. A & M was founded to provide “theoretical and practical training in agriculture and the mechanic arts.” The North Carolina constitution of 1776 stated that North Carolina should establish one or more institutions of higher education where “all useful learning shall be encouraged.” The University of North Carolina opened its doors in 1795 and followed a traditional English style of learning, teaching its students Greek, Latin and philosophy, leaving the mechanical and agricultural goal unfulfilled until A & M opened its doors.

By the turn of the century, A & M had around 300 students and five additional buildings. During the first several decades of the twentieth century, the institution was known as State College. On March 27, 1931, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Consolidation Bill making it one of three universities, along with the University of North Carolina and the Women’s College at Greensboro, to be combined administratively to deal with inefficiency and redundancy in higher education.

In 1965, the General Assembly approved North Carolina State University at Raleigh as the official name of the school. The Consolidated University system lasted until 1971 when it was changed to the sixteen-campus University of North Carolina system. Present-day North Carolina State University (NCSU) is an acclaimed university with a student body numbering around 30,000 and a faculty of nearly 2,000. Known as the “people’s university,” it is a national leader in science, engineering, veterinary medicine, design, and technology and ranks in the top ten institutions for industry sponsored research.

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At the North Carolina Baptist State Convention in 1835, a member, whose name has gone unrecorded, suggested that a female seminary “of high order” be considered in North Carolina. A group of four Baptists, led by Thomas Meredith (1795-1850), founding editor of the Biblical Recorder (est. 1833) and charter member of the state convention, regretfully decided to postpone further action until more financial resources were available. It was not until 1889 that Leonidas Polk, an advocate of religious education, echoed the long ignored sentiment and the convention approved the Baptist Female University program in 1891. Eight years later, in 1899, the university, by then called the Baptist Female Seminary, opened an opulent main hall, designed by A. G. Bauer in the Queen Anne Style on North Blount Street in Raleigh. The first students to cross the threshold graduated in 1901, and were christened the “immortal ten.” In 1909, the university was renamed Meredith College, in recognition of Thomas Meredith, who according to North Carolina historian J. W. Moore, “surpasses all others in importance” in Baptist history of North Carolina.

In 1926, Meredith College relocated to its present site at 3800 Hillsborough Street, despite concerns of close proximity to North Carolina State University. Although the institution originally offered a preparatory school from first through sixth grades, by 1918, the college limited degrees to undergraduate. Masters’ degrees were issued in music, education and business studies, beginning in 1983. In early 1997, Meredith trustees removed the college from the Baptist State Convention, citing concerns about academic freedom. In 2000, Maureen Hartford became Meredith’s first female president, a landmark event in the college’s history. Meredith College is currently the largest private college for women in the Southeast, with majors and concentrations in over sixty areas of study.

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Sarah Hunter, wife of St. Augustine College’s (see above) fourth principal, saw the need for a hospital for Raleigh’s black community and realized that the opportunity was there to provide training for black medical professionals. At the general convention of Episcopal Church in 1895, she raised enough money to convert a house on campus into a rudimentary hospital, typical of school infirmaries in the nineteenth century.

St. Agnes Hospital opened on October 18, 1896. The nursing school, offering the first professional training for black nurses in North Carolina, graduated its first students two years later. Much of the training was on-the-job, but there were also some lectures. The other two African American nursing schools in North Carolina were both established in 1903—at Charlotte’s Good Samaritan Hospital and Durham’s Lincoln Hospital.

A larger, more modern hospital was completed in 1909. Ms. Hunter again spearheaded the fundraising for St. Agnes. It was built by St. Augustine’s masonry students from stone quarried on campus. The shell of that building is part of the Saint Augustine's College Campus Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

The African American community in Raleigh depended on the hospital for health care. St. Agnes is said to have charged just enough for its services to let the patients keep their dignity but not so much as to keep them from seeking help. During a 1922 capital campaign, individuals and civic organizations from both the black and white communities, as well as the Episcopal Church, gave generously so that the hospital could continue to care for the underprivileged. In 1937, St. Agnes was accredited by the American Medical Association.

Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion boxer, died at St. Agnes Hospital on June 10, 1946, after a car accident in Franklin County. It was the closest hospital that would take him as a patient. St. Agnes Hospital closed in the wake of the civil rights movement. From 1896 to 1961 an estimated 687 nursing students were trained there.

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John H. Mills, father of the orphanage movement in North Carolina, in 1872 founded the Masonic Orphanage in Oxford, the state’s first, ushering in a “golden age” of the orphanage movement. Over the next thirty years the following institutions were established: Thompson Orphanage in Charlotte (Episcopal) in 1881, Central Orphanage in Oxford (Colored) in 1883, Thomasville Baptist Orphanage in 1885, Barium Springs (Presbyterian) in Iredell County in 1891, and Methodist Orphanage in Raleigh in 1899.

The Methodist Orphanage was established by the North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Church. The building was completed in 1900, and the first child, Cassie Bright, was admitted in January of 1901. By the end of that year the orphanage had twenty-eight children. Admission was granted to children by referral of Methodist pastors in the fifty-six counties of central and eastern North Carolina, the geographical boundary of the North Carolina Methodist Conference. In 1909, Children’s Home, a Methodist orphanage serving residents of the western counties, was established in Winston-Salem. Methodist Orphanage evolved by 1930 into a comprehensive residential facility and school. At the height of the Depression, enrollment peaked at 340 residents. In the early years of the facility, children lived in dormitories housing twenty-five to thirty individuals. The orphanage later shifted to a “house-parent” setup, with cottages housing up to twelve children under the care of a parental figure.

In 1955, Methodist Orphanage changed its name to Methodist Home for Children and restructured its facilities to meet the needs of children and families in America’s increasingly mobile society. Departing from strictly residential programs, Methodist Home for Children developed outreach programs and services. In 1979, the Home sold its central campus and established a series of youth homes and family-centered outreach programs across the state. Today twenty-one acres of the original campus, now called Fred Fletcher Park, are maintained by Raleigh Parks & Recreation Department, including two of the original buildings. The Methodist Home for Children is recognized as one of the state’s most distinguished child and family service agencies, working with more than 1,400 children and their families a year. Today the Methodist Home maintains an office on original campus property north of Fred Fletcher Park.

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Among the first rural high schools for African Americans in North Carolina, the Berry O’Kelly Training School on Method Road in Raleigh was established in 1910. Accreditation came in 1922-23, when black schools in Reidsville, Wilmington, and Durham were also enrolled. The boarding school provided students academic grounding along with training in the industrial and vocational arts. The benefit was to both blacks and whites. The school provided African Americans with a sound education and provided the entire community with skilled laborers, carpenters, seamstresses, and laundresses.

Berry O’Kelly (ca. 1861-1931), the school’s founder, was a leader in the Raleigh business community, owning a general store, a realty company, and q shoe company. In 1890, O’Kelly became the first postmaster of the post office in the town of Method, which is about half way between Raleigh and Cary. He also chaired the board of a life insurance company and was vice-president of the Raleigh branch of the Mechanics & Farmers Bank. O’Kelly wielded considerable political influence, encouraging those eligible to vote to support candidates and bond issues.

But his primary focus in his later years was education. An admirer of Booker T. Washington, O’Kelly also was a friend of Julius Rosenwald and hosted the Sears president whose philanthropic efforts established black schools across the South on a visit to Wake County. In 1917 the Manufacturer’s Record acclaimed the school at Method the “finest and most practical training school in the entire South.” In 1941, a total 250 students were enrolled and ten teachers were employed. The school closed in 1966. Although most of the buildings on the site were demolished in the late 1960s, the 1926
Agriculture Building survives. The site is now home to the Berry O’Kelly/Harveleigh White Community Center, which has a park, picnic area, playground and numerous recreational facilities that serve the Method community.

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