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"Founded 1837 by Presbyterians. Named for General W. L. Davidson. Woodrow Wilson studied here 1873-74." On March 12, 1835, the Concord Presbytery adopted Robert Hall Morrison’s resolution to establish a “Manual Labour School” dedicated to the education of young men preparing for the ministry. Morrison would later become the institution’s first president. William Lee Davidson, son of the Revolutionary War General of the same name, sold the presbytery 469 acres of land on which to locate the school and remained an important benefactor. The land was strategically located near a public road in a rural area that was in close proximity to four substantial towns—Charlotte, Concord, Statesville, and Salisbury. In August, the founders announced “that the Manual Labor Institution which we are about to build be called Davidson College as a tribute to the memory of that distinguished and excellent man Gen. Wm. Davidson who in the ardor of patriotism, fearlessly contending for the Liberty of his country, fell (universally lamented) in the Battle at Cowan’s Ford.”
South Carolina’s Bethel Presbytery pledged to support, both spiritually and financially, the college that would be so close to its border. In the early days, congregations in the communities surrounding the college were generous with their time and labor—helping to clear the land, hauling debris, building fences, and making and hauling bricks. The students also contributed to the labor force at the college. As part of the manual labor contract, they were required to work three hours per day. Although this arrangement was designed to assist students of limited resources, the college shifted to a classical curriculum in 1841. The college struggled financially until Salisbury planter Maxwell Chambers left a will, probated in 1856, making Davidson the most heavily endowed school south of Princeton. Future President of the United States Woodrow Wilson, who had lived for a time in Wilmington studied at the school in the 1873-74 term.
Coeducation began at Davidson College during the Civil War when President John Kirkpatrick’s five daughters attended to boost enrollment. Thenceforth, the daughters of faculty and capable local women were permitted to take classes but could not earn degrees. The first female degree candidates were upper-class transfer students admitted in the fall of 1972. The college has retained its affiliation with the Presbyterian Church.
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)—entry by James I. Martin Sr.
Mary D. Beaty, A History of Davidson College (1988)
Cornelia Rebekah Shaw, Davidson College (1923)
Davidson Encyclopedia, Davidson College Archives: http://library.davidson.edu/archives/ency/index.asp
Related Themes: C.S.A., Confederate States of America, Confederacy
North Carolina Civil War Historical Markers.