In The Beginning . . . The Origins of Western Carolina University
Cullowhee Academy? Where is that? No, that is not the name
that most alumni call Western Carolina University; however, that name
holds a rich past of stories, history, and mountain memories.
It has been said that the local western North Carolina school has more
than exceeded the expectations of its founders.
Western Carolina University was founded as a semi-public school in
August of 1889. Lewis J. Smith was able to persuade Robert Lee Madison,
a young Virginian to be the head of the academy. Area residents say
they recall local stories as children of how Professor Madison was greeted
by only 18 students. Cullowhee Academy was chartered as Cullowhee
High School in 1891. It served the Cullowhee community in Jackson
County, North Carolina, bringing students from across the state and
The first main focus of the school was placed on teacher training.
In 1893, the first state appropriation established a normal department
(teaching school). The normal department was said to have been so successful
that, in 1905, the General Assembly changed the institution’s name to
Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School. Beginning around the year
1912, the status of the school was gradually raised to a two-year normal
school or junior college. State support then increased, and work at
the secondary level ended. The name of the school was changed
in 1925 to Cullowhee State Normal School.
A new charter in 1929 authorized the school to extend its academic
work up to the four-year level. The school then become known as
Western Carolina Teachers College. World War II was successful
in taking many young students out of Cullowhee, but after the war, the
G.I. Bill made it possible for many veterans to learn in Cullowhee.
Special housing was built in Cullowhee for the veterans. It was
called “Boodleville,.” which sounds like a name that college students
would use today.
Exciting times were on the horizon in 1951 with the addition of the
postgraduate year to the curriculum, and with the authorization of the
Master of Arts in Education degree. In 1953, the name became Western
Carolina College, after the demand grew for liberal arts in the country.
Programs in other areas of learning were created, which led to an expansion
of the school’s opportunities.
WCU joins the club
Western Carolina College was recognized in 1967 as a regional university
by the North Carolina General Assembly and the name of the institution
then became what it is today...Western Carolina University. In 1971,
the state legislature reorganized higher education in North Carolina,
but it was not until July 1, 1972, that Western Carolina University
became a Constituent institution under The University of North Carolina
Since the beginning of the school, Western Carolina University has grown
by leaps and bounds. Current construction, under the leadership
of Chancellor John Bardo, is proof that Western Carolina University
is on its way into the future, building the latest in technology and
feeding the minds of young students.