Fast Start for Predecessor of Western Carolina University

The Cullowhee School sometime between 1900 and 1920. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.On August 5, 1889, Cullowhee Academy, a private school that was the predecessor of Western Carolina University, opened with an enrollment of 18. The school quickly prospered and closed the year with 100 students.

The school’s second principal, Robert Lee Madison, was a strong proponent of teacher education and proposed that the General Assembly give money to an existing high school in each congressional district so that a normal school could be opened to train prospective teachers. The legislators chose only to fund Cullowhee, giving $1,500 to Madison to get the program started. Although not fully-funded at the time, Madison’s idea, called the “Cullowhee Experiment,” became the model for the state’s regional colleges.

Students outside Scott Hall in the 1960s. Image from the Hunter Library at WCU.Improvements to the campus were funded by the legislature in 1901, and the school’s name was changed to Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School in 1905. It began operating as a junior college in 1913, while continued growth facilitated the transition to a four-year college in 1925.

Rechartered in 1929, the school became Western Carolina Teachers College, a four-year, degree-granting institution. In 1953, the name changed again to Western Carolina College, to better reflect the institution’s liberal arts programs and graduate courses. The college gained university status in 1967 adopting its ultimate name, Western Carolina University.

For more, check out Western Carolina University: Making Memories since 1889, a digital collection of images and other primary documents exploring the institution’s history, produced by the campus’ Hunter Library.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.