By the end of the eighteenth century, North Carolina had established the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Yet, most of state schools and colleges at the time exclusively educated white men of the state. Churches in North Carolina bore the task of creating schools for women and African Americans. The Methodist Church was largely responsible for the creation of Greensboro College in 1838 and the Episcopal denomination established St. Augustine’s College in 1867. The North Carolina Baptists were the first to advocate for a female academic institution.
In the year 1835, the North Carolina Baptist State Convention met and debated the possibility of forming a “female seminary of high order” (Powell, p. 732). Thomas Meredith (1795-1850), founder of the Biblical Recorder, proposed the creation of a religious female academic institution. However, the Baptist Convention did not commission a female school until 1889, when Leonidas Polk spoke in support of a Baptist female college. The Southern Baptist Convention approved the construction of the Baptist Female University, and its first students enrolled at the college in 1899.
Located on North Blount Street in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Baptist Female University graduated its first class of ten students in 1902. From 1904 until 1909, the university underwent two name changes: becoming Baptist University for Women in 1904 and Meredith College (in recognition of Thomas Meredith) in 1909. Several years later from 1925 to 1926, Meredith College moved to its current place at 3800 Hillsborough Street near North Carolina State University.
At the outset, Meredith College offered both undergraduate and graduate programs and additional programs for students in elementary and high school. According to William Powell, “graduate degrees were discontinued in 1911, and the preparatory school was phased out by 1918” (p. 732). Yet, by the mid-1980s, graduate programs in business, education, and music returned to Meredith’s curricula.
Beginning in the late 1990s, Meredith College experienced significant changes in both its religious affiliations and in its leadership. The board of trustees concluded that to increase academic opportunity it was best to leave the Baptist State Convention, and by 1997 Meredith College was no longer aligned with the convention. In addition, Maureen Hartford became the first woman president of Meredith in 2000, symbolizing “a significant occasion in its history” (Powell, p. 732). Additionally, Meredith opened graduate programs in business, music, and education to males in the 2000s.
Nearly 2,000 female students attend Meredith College. The higher education institution offers over 30 different undergraduate majors as well as four different graduate degrees. Meredith College boasts of 100 student clubs and six Division III athletic teams. The alumni population of Meredith College numbers in the 18,000s.