The educational landscape in North Carolina has evolved continuously since the first school on record opened in 1705. The end of the eighteenth century saw the opening at Chapel Hill of the first state university. In the nineteenth century, church-sponsored education was not uncommon; but while traditional institutions were dedicated to white males, instruction for women and blacks fell to churches, as exemplified by Greensboro College (est. 1838) for women, and St. Augustine’s College (est. 1867) for freedmen.
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William Peace and his brother Joseph, among Raleigh’s first residents, became successful merchants, opening a store on Fayetteville Street in 1796. Peace oversaw the construction of the Governor’s Palace in 1816 as Raleigh’s town commissioner. Over time he became more active in religious progress in the capital city. Peace, along with a panel of Presbyterians, organized an educational institution for women in 1857. They envisioned the school, according to Mrs. S. David Frazier, “to have for its object the thoro (sic) education of young ladies, not only the substantial branches of knowledge, but also in those which are elegant and ornamental”. The institution is named in Peace’s honor due to large monetary and land donations.
Although Peace Institute obtained its charter in 1857, the Civil War and its repercussions would delay opening for fifteen years. Working from a Thomas J. Holt (who also designed the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad) design, his brother Jacob Holt began construction in 1859. Construction was suspended in June 1862, when the building was utilized as a Confederate hospital. During the early stages of Reconstruction, the structure served as a Freedman’s Bureau for two years. Final construction was completed and Peace Institute officially opened in 1872.
Peace College, as it is now known, has often led the way in women’s education. School administrators opened a school of art and painting in 1872, the first in the South. Eight years later, Peace operated the first kindergarten in North Carolina. Serving as the sole governing body, the board of trustees at Peace is responsible for incorporating progress into an institution renowned for its adherence to tradition. Still maintaining ties with the Presbyterian Church, the college now accepts women of all denominations and since 1995, has offered four-year degrees in fifteen majors.
Peace College Website, “Peace History”: http://www.peace.edu
Sidney Ann Wilson, Personae: History of Peace College (1972)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina, 870-871—sketch by Warren L. Bingham
Elizabeth Reid Murray, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina, Vol. I: Prehistory Through Centennial (1987)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 43-44—sketch by Mrs. S. David Frazier
Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003)