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History of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Wikis


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Beginnings: Late 18th century

UNC student dressed as Hinton James

Chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly on December 11, 1789 and beginning instruction in 1795, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (then named simply the University of North Carolina) is the oldest public university in the nation. The College of William and Mary, chartered in 1693, is older, but it did not become a public university until 1906. [1][2] A political leader in revolutionary America, William Davie led efforts to build legislative and financial support for the university.[3]

The university opened in a single building, which came to be called Old East. Still in use as a residence hall, it is the oldest building originally constructed for a public university in the United States.[4] Its cornerstone was laid on October 12, 1793, near an abandoned Anglican chapel which led to the naming of the town as Chapel Hill.[5][6] The spot was chosen due to its geographic centrality in the state.[5] The first student, Hinton James, arrived on foot from Wilmington on February 12, 1795. While a student, James founded the Dialectic Society. A dormitory on the UNC campus is named in his honor. It is currently the farthest dorm from campus and houses primarily freshmen.[7]

UNC was the first public university to hold classes and to admit graduate students. The College of William & Mary was founded in 1693, though it did not become a public university until 1906, and the University of Georgia was chartered in 1785 but did not start classes until 1801. The University of North Carolina was the only public university to graduate students in the eighteenth century.

Growth and development: Early 19th century

The early nineteenth century saw a period of much growth and development with the help of the backing of the trustees. Through this growth, the university began to move away from its original purpose, to train leadership for the state, as it added to the curriculum, first starting with the typical classical trend. By 1815, the university started giving equal ground to the natural sciences. This development continued with the establishment of the first astronomical observatory at a state university in

American Civil War: Late 19th century

Original Old Well 1892

During the Civil War, the university was among the few in the Confederacy that managed to keep its doors open. Soon thereafter, however, the university was forced to close during Reconstruction from 1870 until 1875 due to lack of students and funding. After North Carolina's readmission to the Union in 1868, new political leaders came to power. They attempted to change the direction of the University through political appointments, but these were blocked. The University resumed growth and innovation, opening the first university summer school in America, and continued to develop scientific programs, establishing regular medical and pharmaceutical offerings by 1879.

Consolidation: Early 20th century

In 1932, UNC became one of the three original campuses of the consolidated University of North Carolina (since 1972 called the University of North Carolina system). During the process of consolidation, programs were moved among the schools, which prevented competition. For instance, the engineering school moved from UNC to North Carolina State University in Raleigh in 1932.[8] In 1963 the consolidated university was made fully coeducational. As a result, the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina was renamed the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the University of North Carolina itself became the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


  1. ^ "Davie and the University's Founding — Silhouette of the Campus of the University of North Carolina, ca. 1820". The Carolina Story — A Virtual Museum of University History. UNC University Library. Retrieved 2008-04-05.  
  2. ^ "C. Dixon Spangler Jr. named Overseers president for 2003-04". Archives. Harvard University Gazette. Retrieved 2008-04-05.  
  3. ^ "William R. Davie's Bill to Establish the University of North Carolina, November 12, 1789". Documenting the American South. UNC University Library. Retrieved 2008-04-05.  
  4. ^ "Old East Tour Stop". Virtual Tour. Retrieved 2008-04-05.  
  5. ^ a b "Virtual Museum of University History, UNC Chapel Hill-Davie laying the cornerstone of East Building, 12 October 1793, reproduced from the 1935 edition of The Yackety Yack.". Retrieved 2008-04-05.  
  6. ^ "Virtual Museum of University History, UNC Chapel Hill-Old East, ca. 1797. Pen and ink sketch by John Pettigrew.". Retrieved 2008-04-05.  
  7. ^ "Virtual Museum of University History, UNC Chapel Hill-David Ker (1758-1805)". Retrieved 2008-04-05.  
  8. ^ Diane Lea; Ruth Little (2006). The Town and Gown Architecture of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1795-1975 (Distributed for the Preservation Society of Chapel Hill). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-3072-0.  


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