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"Founded 1834 in Wake County by N.C. Baptist Convention. Moved to Winston-Salem in 1956."      In 1832, the Baptist State Convention purchased the 600-acre plantation of Calvin Jones, a physician and trustee of the University of North Carolina. Two years later, Wake Forest Institute, as it was called until 1838, opened in the plantation buildings with an enrollment of sixteen students. The dwelling house, which became the home of the first president Samuel Wait, is now known as the Wake Forest College Birthplace. At the conclusion of the first academic year, seventy-two students were in attendance. Designed to teach Baptist ministers and laymen, the school required students to spend half their day performing manual labor on the plantation.
In 1838, the school was renamed Wake Forest College and the provision for manual labor was abandoned in favor of rigorous academic training. The village in Wake County that developed around the college became known as Wake Forest. The college closed in 1862, as a large portion of the faculty and student body enlisted in the Confederate Army.
Wake Forest College reopened in 1866 at the conclusion of the Civil War. The school prospered over the next four decades and expanded considerably under the leadership of presidents Washington Wingate, Thomas Pritchard, and Charles Taylor. The School of Law opened in 1894, followed by the School of Medicine in 1902.
In 1905, William L. Poteat known as “Doctor Billy,” a professor of natural sciences and Wake Forest alumnus, was elected president. Poteat caused great consternation for his support of the teaching of evolution and Darwinian concepts, but eventually won support from the Baptist State Convention for academic freedom.
The School of Medicine moved in 1941 to Winston-Salem, and became Bowman-Gray School of Medicine. Wake Forest admitted its first female students the following year, as many male students enlisted for service in World War II. By 1949, the student body consisted of nearly 2,000 students.
In the 1950s, with the promise of major financial contributions by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, college trustees and the Baptist State Convention agreed to move the school to its present site north of Winston-Salem. Charles and Mary Babcock, the daughter of R. J. Reynolds, granted the school 350 acres near Reynolda House.
The old campus was sold to the newly formed Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In 1967, Wake Forest College became Wake Forest University. In recent years, the ties with the Baptist Church have been loosened. In 1979, the institution relinquished funding from the Baptist Convention and received more flexibility in the selection of trustees.
By the early 2000s, Wake Forest University had an enrollment of nearly 6,500 students and offered thirty-four academic majors. The University includes a school of medicine, school of law, school of business and accounting, graduate school in arts and sciences, and a school of divinity.
George W. Paschal, History of Wake Forest College, 2 vols. (1948)
Thomas K. Hearn, Wake Forest University (2003)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)—sketch by Anne Moore
William S. Powell, Higher Education in North Carolina (1970)
Wake Forest University website: http://wfu.edu/
Related Themes: C.S.A., Confederate States of America, Confederacy
North Carolina Civil War Historical Markers.