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Located in the northeastern section of North Carolina in Hertford County
, Chowan University was founded by a clique of Baptist deacons in May of 1848. The group met at the Chowan Baptist Association Meeting to discuss the idea of a school for local females. Much like the formation of Meredith College
, the Chowan Female Institute was the result of religious leaders who wanted more diversity in North Carolina higher education. The small school opened its doors on October 11, 1848, with eleven students.
Two years after the start of classes at Chowan Female Institute, its name was changed to Chowan Female Collegiate Institute in 1950. That same year the institution moved into the $30,000 McDowell Columns building; today, the McDowell structure remains on campus as the school’s administration hub. The curriculum at Chowan included studies in history, math, language, fine arts, and the sciences, and the tuition during the 1850s cost slightly over $110 for five academic months.
Unlike other colleges during the 1860s, Chowan continued to educate students through the Civil War
. Slightly over 80 students studied at the institution during the war. Several decades later, the school’s name changed to Chowan College in 1910, and soon the college offered undergraduate degrees in both the arts and sciences. In 1925, Chowan became accredited by the state, and the Baptist State Convention allotted nearly $14,000 to the school. Just two years later, benefactor and tobacco businessman Benjamin N. Duke provided $25,000 to the growing university.
In 1931, Chowan College opened its campus to men following an unsuccessful merger with Meredith College in Raleigh
. Chowan suffered during both the Great Depression and World War II. In 1937, Chowan became a two-year junior college, and as more male students left for the war, the institution closed its doors from 1943 until 1949. Chowan College regained its financial footing in the late 1940s, opening again as coeducational two-year junior college.
Chowan College remained a two-year college for four decades, but in the 1980s, discussion of a return to a four-year institution reverberated around the campus. Although the board of trustees avoided the issue at the beginning, Chowan College became a four-year academic institution once again in 1992. On September 1, 2006, Chowan College was renamed Chowan University.
Chowan University continues its association with the Baptist State Convention, but the institution remains open to all religions. According to the school’s website, Chowan enrolls 1,300 students and it offers over 60 different academic programs. In addition, Chowan offers Greek life, study abroad programs, and the Chowan Hawks athletic program is part of the NCAA Division II conference.
“Chowan University.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).
“Chowan University.” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. (accessed February 22, 2012).
“About Chowan: Overview.” Chowan University website. http://www.chowan.edu/about-chowan/default.htm, (accessed February 22, 2012).
By Jonathan Martin, North Carolina History Project
Related Categories: Colleges and Universities