The origins of Duke University date back to 1841. Methodist and Quaker families in Randolph County, under Brantley York’s leadership, chartered Brown’s Schoolhouse to become the Union Institute Academy. With further support from the Methodist Church, the Union Institute Academy was renamed Normal College in 1851 and Trinity College in 1859. In 1887, John F. Cromwell became the president of Trinity and directed revisions in the curriculum, founded the school’s first research library, and convinced the trustees that an urban location would attract more students, faculty, and donors. In 1892, Trinity College moved to Durham with endowment and construction costs paid by wealthy tobacco industrialists and Methodists, Julian S. Carr and Washington Duke. By World War 1, Trinity College emerged as one of the leading liberal arts universities in the south.
In December of 1924, Washington Duke’s son, James B Duke, an industrialist and philanthropist, founded the Duke Endowment. It established a $40 million trust fund to support college and hospitals in North and South Carolina and to fund construction for the new urban campus. In response, the President of Trinity College William Preston Few, decided to change the university’s name to Duke University; The name change emphasized the Duke family’s philanthropy and separated the school from numerous others named, “Trinity.”
James B. Duke’s massive endowment led to a new construction plan for Duke, in which eleven new Georgian style facilities were built from 1925 through 1927. These structures today make Duke’s East Campus. In September 1930, Duke’s East Campus became Duke University’s Woman’s College, and the 5,000 acres of adjacent land became known as Duke Forest. During the 1930s, Duke School of Medicine Dean, Wilburt C. Davison, led the medical school to national prominence. Duke’s medical school was widely renowned for being the only four-year medical school program in the state of North Carolina during the time. The Nursing School, School of Forestry, and Engineering School were incorporated into the university’s academic curriculum. In 1972, the Woman’s College at Duke was eradicated. This allowed coed housing on the West and East Campus.
Despite its significant historical Methodist influence, Duke is officially nondenominational. However, Duke maintains a supportive relationship with the Methodist Church. That is signified in the university motto: “Eruditio et Religio.” It means “Erudition and Religion.” The school’s renowned mascot, the Blue Devil, was named by Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper William H. Lander and Managing Editor Mike Bradshaw after the French military regiment, the Chasseurs Alpins, nicknamed, “les Diables Bleus,” for their iconic blue uniforms and berets.
As of 2012, Duke University’s curriculum encompasses a wide range of diverse fields including biomedical engineering, microelectronics and black church affairs. Duke is distinguished for its top programs in fields such as business, law and medicine. Ranking fifth in the nation, the Duke University Medical Center is one of the most prestigious in the world, earning an eminent reputation in patient care and biomedical research. In the past two decades, Duke has been ranked as high as third and as low as the tenth best school in the nation.
“Duke University.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).
. "University Archives." Duke University Libraries. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Feb 2012. <http://library.duke.edu/uarchives/history/narrativehistory.html>.
. "Trinity College Moves to Durham." Duke University Libraries. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Feb 2012. <http://library.duke.edu/uarchives/history/histnotes/move_to_durham.html>.
By Shane Williams, North Carolina History Project
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