A Legacy of 224 Years
Louisburg College had its beginning in the period that witnessed the emergence of America as an independent nation, the birth of the Methodist Church in America, and the establishment of Franklin County, North Carolina, and the town of Louisburg. Having evolved from three earlier institutions, Franklin Male Academy, Louisburg Female Academy, and Louisburg Female College, Louisburg College is the oldest chartered two-year, church-related, co-educational college in the nation.
(Painting by Judy Fowler, Class of '68, "A Time Remembered, 1912-1913")
Franklin Male Academy
The roots of Louisburg College trace back to the early years of the town of Louisburg, the county seat of Franklin County. Founded in 1779, during the American Revolution, the county was named in honor of Benjamin Franklin and the town in honor of King Louis XVI of France. When Louisburg was surveyed, a public commons was set aside on the highest point of ground. This town commons, which became famous for its oak grove, is today the campus of Louisburg College.
The first educational institution to appear on the east side of the commons was Franklin Academy. On December 4, 1786, Senator Henry Hill of Franklin County introduced "An Act to Erect and Establish an Academy in the County of Franklin." The bill was enacted into law on January 6, 1787, thereby providing Franklin Academy with its first charter.
Among the academy trustees named by the charter were some of the county's most prominent civic leaders and planters; one trustee, The Reverend John King, had been a participant in the first Annual Conference of the Methodist Church held at Louisburg in 1785. No records have been located regarding the first academy project; in 1802, a second charter was issued for Franklin Academy.
Franklin Male Academy opened on January 1, 1805, under the able direction of Yale graduate Matthew Dickinson, who was qualified to teach more than twenty subjects, including five languages. The varied curriculum available to students included such subjects as English grammar, geography, Latin, Greek, algebra, surveying, and astronomy. The first examinations were held on July 2, 1805, when students were examined before a large audience of trustees and parents.
Franklin Male Academy prospered in its early years and soon had an enrollment of ninety students, including some twenty young men who were dissatisfied with the policies of the University of North Carolina. Among the academy's more notable principals were John B. Bobbitt (1816-1820, 1832-1844), Charles Applewhite Hill (1828), and Matthew S. Davis (1856-1880). In 1905 the male academy property was conveyed to the trustees of the Louisburg public schools. The two-story frame academy building still stands and serves as a reminder of the beginning of educational opportunities in the town of Louisburg.
(Painting by Dorothy Pernell, Louisburg, NC, "The Franklin Male Academy")
Louisburg Female Academy
The second stage in the evolution of Louisburg College began on December 27, 1814, when the state legislature ratified an act chartering the Louisburg Female Academy. The charter named twelve trustees, some of whom already served on the board of trustees for Franklin Male Academy.
By August 1815, Louisburg Female Academy was operating under the guidance of Harriet Partridge, "a lady from Massachusetts, eminently qualified." Subjects taught at the new female academy included reading, writing, English grammar, arithmetic, geography, painting, drawing, embroidery, piano, and dancing. Harriet Partridge, who became Mrs. John Bobbitt, served as principal from 1815-1820 and 1832-1842.
From 1843-1856, Asher H. Ray and his wife Jane Curtis Ray were highly successful as principals of the female academy, which in the 1850s was called Louisburg Female Seminary. Among the courses offered by the seminary were history, botany, algebra, rhetoric, chemistry, geology, logic, French, Latin, Greek, guitar, and calisthenics. The respected reputation of the seminary contributed to a movement to establish a female college.
(Painting by Katie Spivey, Louisburg, NC, "Louisburg Female Academy, Circa 1815")
Louisburg Female College
The third stage of the evolution of Louisburg College began in January 1855, when the state legislature authorized the transfer of property by the trustees of Louisburg Female Academy to the directors of Louisburg Female College Company. The female academy building was moved south of its original location and utilized as a college annex until destroyed by fire in 1927. A four-story, fifty-room brick Greek revival building for the female college was constructed in 1857 on the west campus where the female academy building had formerly stood. Old Main is still in use today as the administrative building of Louisburg College.
In August 1857, Louisburg College opened under the management of Professor James P. Nelson. There was a primary department, as well as a college department. Some course offerings were French, Spanish, Italian, piano, guitar, drawing, painting, and needlework. The female college continued to operate during the Civil War under presidents C.C. Andrews (1860-1861) and James Southgate, Jr. (1862-1865). After the war, about 500 Union soldiers camped in the college and male academy groves during May and June of 1865.
During the administration of Dr. Turner Myrick Jones (1866-1868), former president of Greensboro Female College, enrollment grew to 133 students. The regular college course in 1867 included such courses as English grammar, mythology, geography, botany, physiology, trigonometry, Latin, French, and "Evidence of Christianity."
After the College opened and closed several times during the 1870s and 1880s, S.D. Bagley became president in 1889. Matthew S. Davis, who had previously served twenty-five years as principal of the male academy, became president of the female college in 1896 and held the office until his death in 1906. He was succeeded by his daughter, Mary Davis Allen (Mrs. Ivey Allen), who was president until 1917.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, a number of significant changes took place. The institution became known as Louisburg College, and the college became officially linked to the Methodist Church. Washington Duke, Durham philanthropist, had acquired ownership of the college property in the 1890s; after his death, his son Benjamin N. Duke presented the property (1907-1909) to the North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Church.
Other changes in the early twentieth century included the erection of the three-story Davis Building, named in memory of Matthew S. Davis, and the reorganization of the college into an institution with junior college rating (1914-1915). The Sea Gift and Neithean Literary Societies were very active during this time contributing books to the college library, sponsoring special lectures, and publishing the college paper.
During the presidency of Arthur D. Mohn in the 1920s, Louisburg College experienced a period of building expansion. The West Wing of Main Building, the Pattie Julia Wright Dormitory, and the Franklin County Building were constructed. Unfortunately, a disastrous fire gutted Main Building and the new West Wing in 1928. Closely following the fire came the Great Depression, and the college was burdened with debt and a shrinking enrollment.
The Reverend Armour David Wilcox, former minister of the Louisburg Methodist Church, served as president of the college from 1931 to 1937. Louisburg College became co-educational in 1931, and student enrollment immediately increased. By the end of World War II, institutional debts had been paid. Walter Patten served as president from 1939-1947 and Samuel M. Holton from 1947-1955. In 1952, Louisburg College was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.
In 1956, a planning committee of the North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Church recommended the establishment of two co-educational senior colleges and the merger of Louisburg College into one of the institutions. The college alumni and the citizens of Franklin County joined to oppose the merger. A "Keep Louisburg at Home" campaign emphasized the depth of local support for the junior college. The Conference decided, in response to this endeavor, to retain Louisburg College as an accredited junior college.
A period of revitalization and growth occurred during the administration of president Cecil W. Robbins (1955-1974). Student enrollment, faculty size, budget, and physical plant were significantly increased and improved. In 1961, the college purchased the Mills High School property on the east side of Main Street (formerly the Franklin Male Academy property); the Mills Building was remodeled to serve as the college auditorium-classroom building. During the Robbins administration, four dormitories, a library, a cafeteria and a student center were constructed.
From 1975 to 1992, Dr. J. Allen Norris, Jr. served as college president. The Board of Trustees initiated the Third Century Campaign in 1980. The $4.2 million goal of the first phase of the campaign was surpassed, resulting in the construction of the E. Hoover Taft, Jr. Classroom Building. Through the generosity of the United Methodist Men of the Raleigh District, the Clifton L. Benson Chapel and Religious Life Center was opened in 1986. A new auditorium and theater complex was also constructed.
During the 1986-87 school year, Louisburg College held a Bicentennial Celebration in recognition of its unique two-hundred-year heritage. The first college flag was designed and displayed during the celebration, and the first published history of the college, Louisburg College Echoes, was issued in 1988.
Dr. C. Edward Brown, Jr. served as interim president in 1992, and Dr. Ronald I. May was president of Louisburg College from January 1993 through May 1998. Dr. Brown again assumed the interim presidency in June 1998. Dr. Rosemary Gillett-Karam became the twenty-fourth president of Louisburg College in December of 1998. Dr. Reginald Ponder assumed the presidency in 2002. In July 2007, Dr. J. Michael Clyburn became the twenty-sixth president of Louisburg College. In June 2008, Dr. Rodney Foth assumed the role of interim president until Dr. Mark D. La Branche became the 27th president of the College in January of 2009.
(Painting by Bill Farmer, Louisburg, NC, "Louisburg College Main Building")