Western Carolina University was initially a primary level community school founded in 1888. Shortly after its founding, University President, Robert Lee Madison initiated the “Cullowhee Idea,” that is, $3,000 in state funds put toward high schools in every congressional district for training of teachers. Instead, the legislature gave Madison just $1,500 for one department solely at Cullowhee, and four years later, the school’s name changed to Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School. The school became the archetype for the Appalachian Training School for Teachers in Boone (established in 1903), and the East Carolina Teachers Training School in Greenville. (established in 1907).
In 1913, Cullowhee transformed itself from a high school to a junior college program and in 1925, the school created a four-year bachelor of science degree program. It’s name changed to the Cullowhee State Normal School. In 1929, the school received a new charter by the state and changed its name to Western Carolina Teachers College. These changes played a significant role in garnering students from all across North Carolina, and the school accumulated even more demand for liberal arts and other programs. In 1951, the school began awarding the Masters of Arts in Education degree.
In 1953, the school changed its name to Western Carolina College. The name indicated a broader curriculum. In 1948, the Division of Fine and Industrial Arts was formed, headed by Rodney Leftwich and the Bachelor of Science in Education degree was bestowed on graduation. In 1957, the school admitted its first African American student, Levern Hamlin. WCC was the first white-state funded college to do so. In 1965, the major in industrial technology degree was offered to educate future engineers, managers, and technicians. In 1967, the name was changed to Western Carolina University and became a regional university by the North Carolina General Assembly. In 1972, WCU was integrated into the University of North Carolina system.
Emphasizing scholarly research, Western Carolina University provides education to students from over 46 states and 39 countries, business development and growth in technological and public policy development. In 1997, the school became the first in the UNC system to mandate that its students own a computer. Thanks to its proximity to the Appalachian Mountains, the school maintains a strong commitment to Native American and Cherokee cultures exhibited in their Mountain Heritage Center, Cherokee Center and Craft Revival Project.