Chowan University

Written By Thomas Allen

Chowan University was founded in 1848 by Baptist families in the town of Murfreesboro in northeastern North Carolina. It was named “Chowan” in honor of the Algonquin Chowanook Native American tribe. Today, the name is usually pronounced Cho-WAHN (although the accent can also be placed on the first syllable, making it more like CHO-win). 

Although it is a four-year college today, Chowan’s founders originally intended it to be an all-female school that would provide women with a well-rounded two-year education. Because of this goal, the university’s original name was the Chowan Female Institute. The name was changed to Chowan College in 1910.  

In 1925, the school became a four-year college and in 1931, the first male students were admitted. Financial struggles during the Great Depression forced Chowan to reshape itself as a two-year college in 1937. Six years later, in 1943, Chowan was forced to temporarily close its doors. In 1949, after a 6-year hiatus, the college reopened as a coeducational institution.  

After a long debate between faculty members and members of the Board of Trustees, the school returned to its original status as a four-year college. In 2006, the name was altered once again,  from Chowan College to Chowan University, the name which it has held to the time this entry was written.  

Unlike most colleges, Chowan has a ghost story as an integral part of its campus culture. The so-called “Lady in Brown” is a legend that dates back to the 19th century. According to this lore, a specter clad in brown taffeta returns to Chowan every year on Halloween to haunt her old dorm room. Different versions of the story give different reasons for her ghostly visits; some say she died of a fever before being able to marry her true love, while others maintain that she jumped off the top of her dormitory after she learned her true love was fighting for the Union during the Civil War. This tall tale has made its way into the zeitgeist of the university, and students still make her a subject of their Halloween festivities each year.  

Chowan’s campus is 300 acres in size. As of fall 2022, its undergraduate enrollment stood at 800 students, with 87 percent of applicants being admitted. The most popular majors at Chowan are criminal justice, business administration, and psychology, with nearly half of the student body majoring in one of these three fields. According to U.S. News, the university’s six-year graduation rate is 28 percent, its student/faculty ratio is 16:1, and 66 percent of the courses it offers have fewer than 20 students.