On Land Grant Institutions and Normal Schools: a Companion Blog to “For all useful learning”

[This blog post was written by Josh Hager of the Correspondence Unit, part of the Collection Services Section at the State Archives of North Carolina.]

Through the remainder of 2014, the Correspondence Unit of the State Archives is creating small exhibits in the Search Room to explore the histories of the schools in the University of North Carolina System. The first installation of the exhibit, entitled “For All Useful Learning: The Records of the UNC System Schools,” included records documenting the history of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the first state-sponsored public university in the nation. From September 16 to September 27, the exhibit will feature documents pertaining to North Carolina State University, Fayetteville State University, and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. NC State started life as a land grant university while both Fayetteville State and UNC Pembroke started as normal schools. This blog post is a companion piece to this second installation of the UNC Schools exhibit. It will briefly explain what both “land grant university” and “normal school” meant and how those definitions influenced the schools’ histories.

Gov. Kerr Scott in North Carolina State University's yearbook, the 1917 edition of the Agromeck.

Gov. Kerr Scott in the 1917 edition of North Carolina State University yearbook, Agromeck.

NC State began as a land grant institution, defined by the (federal) Morrill Act of 1857 as a university teaching agriculture, military science, and mechanical arts. Although North Carolina received land from the Morrill Act shortly after the bill’s passage, the state did not attempt to open a Morrill-style school until the 1870s. Initially, the state attempted to alter UNC Chapel Hill’s curriculum to conform to the educational goals of the Morrill Act, but public outcry prevented changing Chapel Hill’s traditional liberal arts focus. Instead, the state opened two land-grant institutions in Raleigh: the North Carolina College of Agricultural and Mechanical Arts in 1887 (which became NC State) and the North Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race in 1891 (which became North Carolina Agricultural and Technological University State University, later moving to Greensboro). While NC State’s curriculum has grown significantly since its founding in 1887, it is still renown nationally for its academic programs in engineering, agricultural science, and veterinary medicine—all subjects that the Morrill Act recommended over one hundred years ago.

While “land grant institution” has a specific meaning thanks to the Morrill Act, the term “normal school” has a more general meaning: a school dedicated to training new teachers. Derived from the French phrase école normale and a Parisian school so named in the 1830s, normal schools first became widespread in the United States in the second-half of the 19th century. It is not coincidental that the increase in normal schools correlated with an increase in the degree to which state and local governments became more involved in offering quality public education to growing numbers of students.

University of North Carolina at Pembroke, The Museum of the Native American Resource Center

Photo of the Museum of the Native American Resource Center at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. This photograph is part of the North Carolina ECHO Project available through the NC Digital Collections.

In North Carolina specifically, the General Assembly passed two landmark resolutions that led to the establishment of Fayetteville State and UNC Pembroke. First, the General Assembly passed a resolution in 1877 calling for a normal school for the training of African-American teachers. For the location of the new normal school, state officials selected the Howard School in Fayetteville, which opened in 1869 as a school providing primary education to Fayetteville’s African-American population. Thus, in 1877, the Howard School became the State Colored Normal School, the first state-sponsored institution for educating African-American teachers both in North Carolina and anywhere in the South. The school was renamed as the Fayetteville State Teachers College in 1939, and became Fayetteville State University in 1969. Visitors to the exhibit case can see evidence of Fayetteville State’s commitment to education by having the chance to examine a list of graduates in the 1920s and their placement at schools throughout the Sandhills and further afield.

The second landmark resolution, which is on display in the exhibit case, came to the floor of the North Carolina House in 1887. Robeson County Representative Hamilton McMillan, with the support of a petition of Lumbee Indians from the area, introduced a resolution to found a normal school for the training of American Indian teachers. Croatan Normal School opened in 1887 as a result of this piece of legislation. Croatan Normal School was the first state-sponsored normal school for American Indians in North Carolina. The school underwent several name changes over the years, including Pembroke State College, and became the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in 1996.

Other normal schools followed, including the North Carolina State Normal and Industrial School (1891, later renamed as the University of North Carolina at Greensboro), the Normal and Industrial School in Elizabeth City (1891, later renamed as Elizabeth City State University), and East Carolina Teachers Training School (1907, later renamed East Carolina University). Later exhibit cases will showcase these institutions, but Fayetteville State and UNC Pembroke have a special significance in North Carolina history as the first two normal schools and the first two education schools for minorities.