UNC is widely known for being the first state chartered institution of higher learning in the United States. The inspiration for its founding came in the late eighteenth century from Revolutionary War military officer and future governor of North Carolina, William Richardson Davie. Backed by the ideals of backcountry settlers of the Piedmont region and plantation federalists from the coastal plain, UNC became an official state chartered university in 1795. Today, Davie is recognized as the “Father of the University.” ; he received the institution’s first honorary degree in 1811.
Initially, Carolina served as a collegiate training center for local state leaders during the antebellum period. Due to financial burdens during this period, the university was forced to remain dormant during Reconstruction. With the help of Kemp P. Battle who later became North Carolina State Treasurer and President of UNC in the nineteenth century, the university opened its doors once again in 1875. Following its reopening, the university began vital improvements and innovations. In the years spanning from 1885 to 1887, the university incorporated a teacher training program and a law school and admitted women for postgraduate curriculum. In 1890, Sallie Walker Stockard was awarded with a masters degree in history and became the first woman to graduate from UNC.
In the early twentieth century, UNC grew as it shifted to a liberal-arts based curricula and established the first academic honor society, Phi Beta Kappa in 1904 and a University Woman’s Club in 1907. In the year 1921, UNC’s expansion led to the consolidation of the Women’s College at Greensboro, (now UNC Greensboro) and the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering at Raleigh (now NC State University). These schools joined the University of North Carolina school system, maintaining headquarters in Chapel Hill. Continuing its growth during the 20th century, UNC began to attain not only state but national prominence. The university added more and more facilities including, the School of Government in 1942, becoming the first school of public policy in the United States. Furthermore, the UNC School of Public Health was chartered in 1936 giving the school the preeminence of five health profession sectors: nursing, medicine, pharmacy, public health, and dentistry.
In the mid twentieth century, UNC added the Playmakers Theatre for theatrical studies in 1925, the Auckland Art Museum in 1958 and radio station and public television stations in 1953 and 1955. In 1955, African American students were admitted after a 1951 federal court order, and in 1963 the school became a coed university with only one female dormitory on campus. The 1960’s campus was filled with protest and civil disobedience. Dissidents to racial segregation lined Franklin Street with fervent campus activism, leading demonstrations in resistance to racial inequality.
As of 2012, the University of North Carolina offers a vast range of courses and fields to study, granting 77 bachelor’s degrees, 109 master’s degrees and 66 doctoral degrees, including professional degrees in business, medicine law, pharmacy and dentistry. The school maintains 18,579 undergrads, with total enrollment peaking at 29,137. According to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, as of February 2012, UNC was ranked first among the 100 best U.S. public colleges that offer students high quality academics at an affordable price. The magazine also rated UNC for providing the best value for out of state students.
“University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006)
Snyder, William. Light on the Hill: A History of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
. "About UNC." The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb 2012. <http://www.unc.edu/about/index.htm>.
By Shane Williams, North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Colleges and Universities