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In 1862 Congressional legislation, specifically the Morrill Land Grant Act, provided states with land to develop institutions of higher education. Over two decades passed before North Carolinians took advantage of the opportunity. Through the influence of agricultural leaders and of the Watauga Club, a group of local businessmen, the legislature chartered the North Carolina State University of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1887. A. & M., as it was commonly known, was North Carolina’s first land grant college. Four years later what is now North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in Greensboro, established in 1891 to serve African Americans, became the second.
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A. & M. opened its doors in October 1889 with seventy-two students, a single building, and six staff members, among them the first president, Alexander Q. Holladay. A. & M. was founded to provide “theoretical and practical training in agriculture and the mechanic arts.” The North Carolina constitution of 1776 stated that North Carolina should establish one or more institutions of higher education where “all useful learning shall be encouraged.” The University of North Carolina opened its doors in 1795 and followed a traditional English style of learning, teaching its students Greek, Latin and philosophy, leaving the mechanical and agricultural goal unfulfilled until A. & M. opened its doors.
By the turn of the century, A. & M. had around 300 students and five additional buildings. During the first several decades of the twentieth century, the institution was known as State College. On March 27, 1931, the General Assembly passed the Consolidation Bill making it one of three universities, along with the University of North Carolina and the Women’s College at Greensboro, to be combined administratively to deal with inefficiency and redundancy in higher education.
In 1965 the General Assembly approved North Carolina State University at Raleigh as the official name of the school. The Consolidated University system lasted until 1971 when it was changed to the sixteen-campus University of North Carolina system. Present-day North Carolina State University is an acclaimed university with a student body numbering around 30,000 and a faculty of nearly 2,000. Known as the “people’s university,” it is a national leader in science, engineering, veterinary medicine, design, and technology and ranks in the top ten institutions for industry sponsored research.
Alice Elizabeth Reagan, North Carolina State University: A Narrative History (1987)
Elizabeth Reid Murray, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina, Volume 1 (1983)
William S. Powell, ed., The Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)—essay by William C. Harris