The Baptist Associations of Union County (N.C.) and Chesterfield County (S.C.) realized the need for schools in the Piedmont region mid-1870s North Carolina. Due to the destruction and poverty left by the Civil War, many schools were closed in the region, but the baptist organization authorized the construction of a church-backed school for those that lived in Union as well as for members of the association. After G.M. Steward donated ten acres of land to the Baptist Association, the Wingate School opened its doors in 1896.
Named in honor of Dr. Washington M. Wingate, a prominent educator and past president of Wake Forest College, Wingate School supplied Piedmont students from first to twelfth grade with a well-rounded education. Marcus B. Dry, the first principal of the school, along with Miss Polly Crowder taught the students during the school’s early years. Soon, other public schools in the area had opened and took students away from the Wingate School. In response to the outside pressures, Wingate began to consolidate and focus more on upper level grades in high school in the early 1900s.
In 1923, the Wingate School underwent two major changes. First, the Wingate School successfully transitioned to a two-year junior college. Soon after becoming Wingate Junior College, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina started to support the college. However, as with many colleges and universities in the state, Wingate endured several struggles during the Great Depression. The convention backed away from supporting the college, and many students dropped out because they could not afford to pay tuition. To further complicate things, the school’s financial situation grew more cumbersome with the burning of the administration building in 1932.
Despite the problems that Wingate faced, the college’s president, its willful teachers, and Baptist supporters sought to continue the institution. Eventually, the administration building was rebuilt and in 1949 the North Carolina Baptist Convention continued supporting the school. Several years later in the year 1952, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accredited Wingate College. Charles Cannon, a Kannapolis supporter, donated funds to the school in the 1950s. According to William Powell, “Cannon say Wingate as a place where the children of textile workers and others in the middle class might receive an opportunity to attain higher education” (Encyclopedia, p. 1215). After the influx of funds to the university, the student body had made it to the 1,500 mark by the end of the 1960s.
Wingate Junior College became Wingate College in 1977 after several majors were added to the curricula of the institution. In addition to becoming a a four-year school, Wingate instituted its innovative Winternational program in 1979. Winternational allowed every sophomore the opportunity to visit either London, Paris, or Amsterdam during the Christmas break period. After the addition of several other majors and graduate programs in both business and education, Wingate College became Wingate University in 1995.
Wingate University presently enrolls slightly more than 2,500 students, and the institution offers Bachelor of Arts, Science, Music Education, Fine Arts, and Liberal Studies. According to the school’s website, the student-to-faculty ratio is 14 to 1, and Wingate boasts in its nineteen athletic teams. Some famous alumni of Wingate include Anthony Dean Griffey (a Grammy Award singer of the Metropolitan Opera), Edward Walker (designer with the show “Trading Spaces”), and Leon Levine (founder of Family Dollar).
“Wingate.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).
“Wingate.” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. (accessed January 31, 2012).
“History.” Wingate University website. http://www.wingate.edu/about-wingate/history, (accessed February 2, 2012).
By Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Colleges and Universities