The History of Winston-Salem State University

Students in front of Slater Industrial Academy, ca. 1896.

Winston-Salem State University was founded as the Slater Industrial Academy by Simon Green Atkins on September 28, 1892. Atkins had an audacious vision to create an institution where every student would meet the challenges of the day equipped with an education designed to intellectually prepare the “head, hand and heart.”

Twenty-five students attended classes in a one-room frame structure and were taught by a single instructor.

In 1925, the General Assembly of North Carolina, recognizing the school’s curriculum, changed its name to Winston-Salem Teachers College and empowered it under authority of the State Board of Education to confer appropriate degrees. Winston-Salem Teachers College became the first black institution in the nation to grant degrees for teaching the elementary grades.

In response to a growing medical community emerging in the Winston-Salem area, the School of Nursing was established in 1953, awarding graduates the degree of Bachelor of Science. In recognition of the university’s growing curriculum and expanding role, the North Carolina General Assembly of 1963 authorized changing the name from Winston-Salem Teachers College to Winston-Salem State College.

A statute designating Winston-Salem State College as Winston-Salem State University received legislative approval in 1969, and in 1972, Winston-Salem State University became one of the sixteen constituent institutions of the University of North Carolina, subject to the control of a board of governors.

Since its founding in 1892, Winston-Salem State University has grown from a one-room frame structure to more than forty buildings located on a picturesque 117-acre campus overlooking the woodlands of Salem Lake in the heart of Winston-Salem’s Innovation Quarter.

WSSU ranks as one of the top ten universities in the nation for advancing economic opportunity, and was named one of Money Magazine’s Top Universities in the South for 2017. The university also is number one in North Carolina for graduating black nursing and health care graduates.

WSSU is home to an award-winning student activities center, top 25 Division II football, basketball and baseball programs, and offers students more than 100 organizations.

With a faculty-to-student ratio of 14 to 1, the university enrolls approximately 5,000 students and offers nearly 100 graduate and undergraduate programs.

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