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Gardner-Webb University, a coeducational Baptist institution, was founded in 1905 as Boiling Springs High School. Supported by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, the school is the youngest North Carolina Baptist college or university. In 1907 construction began on campus, and in May of that year J. D. Huggins became the first president. The first class consisted of roughly 200 students. One of the earliest pupils was W. J. Cash, author of The Mind of the South.
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By the 1920s, the expansion of public high schools in North Carolina resulted in declining enrollments at sectarian institutions. In response, Boiling Springs High School reorganized as a junior college in 1928 as did other schools such as Mars Hill School and Buies Creek Academy, which later became Mars Hill College and Campbell University. A series of campus renovations began in the 1930s that were completed in 1942 and with the acquisition of funds from former North Carolina governor O. Max Gardner and his wife Fay Webb Gardner.
In recognition of the Gardner’s donations, the school changed its name to Gardner-Webb Junior College in 1942. In 1946, the North Carolina Baptist Convention began supporting Gardner-Webb with a $750,000 grant for the construction of a power plant on campus.
Gardner-Webb College, as the school became known in 1969, graduated its first four-year class in 1971. Ten years later, the institution offered its first graduate program in education. During the 1980s, Gardner-Webb established an international study curriculum with Japan’s Dhoto University, and added a master of business administration program. In addition, the school added a divinity school, later named the Christopher White School of Divinity in honor of the then sitting school president.
In 1993, the college became Gardner-Webb University. By the early 2000s the school had more than 3,200 students and 135 faculty members. The school currently offers 39 undergraduate major fields in 13 departments. The main campus is situated on 200 acres. There are 17 satellite campuses located across the state. The university also offers a dual engineering degree program with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The first doctoral program, in divinity, began in 2001.
The Log: Gardner-Webb College Catalog (1951-1952)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)—essay by James I. Martin Sr.
Francis B. Dedmond, Lengthening Shadows: A History of Gardner-Webb College, 1907-1956 (1957)
Lansford Jolley, Dreaming, Daring, Doing: A History of Gardner-Webb University, 1907-1997 (1997)
Gardner-Webb University website: http://gardner-webb.edu
Huggins-Curtis Building at Gardner-Webb