The Founding of North Carolina State University

(Adapted from faculty handbook history)

The pioneering Morrill Land-Grant Act was signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862. This legislation opened the doors of higher education to children of the working classes with applied science and practical technology added to curricula previously dominated by classical and theoretical studies.

Under the terms of the Morrill Act, the federal government provided to each state a grant of 30,000 acres of public land for each of that state's senators and representatives. The states would sell the land and invest the proceeds. The income derived from these investments, called the Land-Scrip Fund, would be used, according to the law, to establish and endow "at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts in such manner as the Legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life."

For about twenty years the University of North Carolina (at Chapel Hill) received the interest, amounting to about $7,500 annually, from North Carolina's Land--Scrip Fund. In the 1880's many farmers questioned whether the programs at Chapel Hill really met their needs. Their cause was taken up by Leonidas Lafayette Polk, the state's first Commissioner of Agriculture (1877-1880), who called for the establishment of a land-grant college separate from the University at Chapel Hill. In his journal, The Progressive Farmer, Polk argued that the state had failed to fulfill its obligations under the conditions of the Morrill Act. He believed that a new land-grant college for agriculture and the mechanic arts should be established and that the interest from the Land-Scrip Fund should be transferred to the new college. Another voice calling for change was Walter Hines Page, youthful editor of a short-lived, militantly progressive Raleigh paper, The State Chronicle. Page helped to organize the Watauga Club which pushed for the establishment of a new industrial college to be located in Raleigh. In 1885 this group petitioned the General Assembly to authorize a new college. They received the authorization but no funding. The next year the Watauga Club persuaded the City of Raleigh to provide money and land for a new college.

The pressure from the farmers and the Watauga Club finally paid off. On March 7, 1887, the General Assembly authorized the establishment of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now North Carolina State University) in Raleigh on land donated by R. Stanhope Pullen, a leading Raleigh citizen and philanthropist. (According to legend, Mr. Pullen laid out the original boundaries of the campus with his plow and mule). The Land-Scrip fund was transferred from Chapel Hill to the new college at Raleigh. The Board of Trustees of the new institution was apportioned under the law evenly between the two political parties, and provision was made for 120 students to be admitted free, with each county entitled to one student for each member sent to the General Assembly. The cornerstone of the main building (now Holliday Hall) was laid in August, 1888, and the College officially opened on October 3, 1889.

From this brief history it is evident that the rivalry and competition between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University at Raleigh began even before the latter institution was founded.

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