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HPU Archives: Early History

A guide on how to use and search the HPU Archives

Early History Narrative.

By David Bryden, Director of Library Services

In the early 1900s, advocates for the creation of what would become High Point College were men and women of the Western North Carolina Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church who wanted a new church-sponsored college and citizens of the city of High Point who wanted a college for their seemingly ever-growing town. The commonly quoted version of the College’s history can be found on the University’s website and states: “[the Annual Conference] accepted an offer from the thriving city of High Point to contribute 60 acres of land and $100,000 to the project. Classes began in September 1924, even as the finishing touches were still being added to the original buildings.” This is an accurate account but does not touch on the Methodist leadership’s lengthy debate preceding the opening of this new college.

For many years the leaders of the Conference debated the need for another college in North Carolina. In the early 1900s Joseph Flavius McCulloch, one of the early founders of High Point College, felt so strongly about this endeavor that he moved to Greensboro where he purchased a printing operation and started publishing what would become the Methodist Protestant Herald. Within its pages he regularly advocated for a new college within the state. The narratives were not based on the guarantee of adequate enrollment but on more philosophical concerns—what did the Conference and the church need to do to educate men and women for the ministry, and how could a new school be successful in what was becoming an ever more urban society? In 1924, just prior to the opening of High Point College, Joseph McCulloch noted in a Methodist Protestant Herald special edition entitled “Devoted to High Point Methodist Protestant College” that he felt the “call of God” and as early as 1894 devoted himself to advocating, planning and fundraising for a new Methodist Protestant College. As noted in the special edition, Joseph McCulloch wrote that “the first thing that I did was to sketch on a sheet of paper the moral features and methods of the proposed institution” 1 and the article continues in great detail with images of how the campus would appear, along with a narrative describing curriculum and letters from well-known Methodists in support of the new college.

It is important to note that anyone reading the history of High Point University finds mentioned another North Carolina school, also started by the Methodist Protestant Church that predates the founding of High Point College. In 1856, students of Yadkin College found themselves attending school on the banks of the Yadkin River in remote Davie County and the very next year the Annual Conference would vote to support a new college for women that was built in Jamestown North Carolina. After only a year the building holding the Jamestown Women’s College was destroyed in a fire and its students were transferred to Yadkin College, adding a female seminary to the school.2 While many subjects were taught at Yadkin College, classes in the liberal arts were at the forefront with courses in languages, religion, philosophy, and the sciences. This pre-Civil War institution was similar to others across the country at a time when private higher education in the United States was in its infancy. For example, Davidson College and Guilford College were both founded in 1837 and Trinity College, which would later become Duke University, traces its origins to 1838. These small colleges were unique institutions at the time. In the 1850s only 200 or so of these private liberal arts colleges existed in the United States and enrollment was small. 3 With so few liberal arts schools at this time, the founding of Yadkin College was a real achievement.

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Unfortunately, the college would not endure, its failure often attributed to its isolated rural location, which is only partially true. In Olin Michael’s 1939 history of Yadkin College he recounts information listed in the Yadkin College catalog that “small villages …. are greatly preferable to large towns or cities [for the location of a college]”.4 Yadkin College was successful for many years because of its “isolated rural location” and the desire to form a community of students and scholars at a time when that model of education was relatively new. Just as Yadkin College got started the Civil War devastated the student body and 60 of the school’s 80 students left for the war but did not return.5 By the early 1900s the student body had dwindled and the Methodist Protestant Church was looking for a location for a new college. Continuing to support Yadkin College seemed foolish since many students complained about its remote location that required a one day journey to the closest town of a mere 8 miles. 6

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Although the timing was a coincidence, Yadkin College closed its doors as the first students walked to class at High Point College. Alumni of Yadkin College made High Point College their new home. The school collected more than just interested alums, trustees and administrators; they collected the materials left at Yadkin College. Books from Yadkin College were added to the library collection at the new High Point College, and the Yadkin College bell was installed at High Point College as the victory bell.7 Today the bell has an honored spot on the High Point University campus next to the site of the original McCullouch Hall which is now Finch Dorm.

In the early 1920s, the group of individuals who labored to make High Point College a reality found themselves creating and organizing all aspects of the new college both practical and symbolic. One of their tasks was crafting a college seal. As reported in the college history, No Easy Task, the seal included a book to “represent the accumulated wisdom of the ages”; a “lamp of learning” which is hoped will never be extinguished; and finally behind these symbols is the cross representing the “toil for scholastic triumph.” 8 These symbols were encircled with a band that “portrays the philosophy and purpose of the college.” 9 It is only upon close observation that one realizes the band that encircles these symbols is not closed; it was left open to symbolize the idea that no matter how hard we try, “human life can never reach that absolute state of perfection”10. These early symbols, so carefully chosen, indicate how vigilant these founders were in crafting the philosophical direction of the fledgling college.

Classes in the liberal arts dominated the curriculum at High Point College with students required to take 24 hours in biology, chemistry, English, French, Greek, history, Latin, music, and religion as well as coursework in the more vocationally oriented areas of commerce, education, and home economics. Within the 128 hours required to complete their studies, students needed 48 hours of prescribed content in designated classes such as foreign languages, science, English, and history, and 56 hours in electives. Language requirements were designated either modern (French, German and Spanish) or classic (Greek and Hebrew). Classes in the sciences factored into these choices with courses in life sciences, physics, chemistry and chemical engineering. Along with traditional degrees High Point College also offered premedical, pre-dental and pre-law programs. 11 Specific course offerings have evolved over time, yet the university today maintains its founding and historical commitments to the liberal arts in its current curriculum, which continues to require roughly 50 credits as part of a student’s general education.

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An interesting trend in college life at this time was the formation of student organizations. The early social and intellectual life of colleges centered on the literary society. Once called the “nursery of eloquence”12 literary societies were the norm on college campuses beginning in the nineteenth century. These literary and debate societies provided students an outlet to discuss current topics and hone their debating skills. They were well subscribed and on many campuses of the time all students belonged to one of these organization. 13With elaborate Latin names and even more involved Latin mottos, these organizations supplemented the “college curriculum that focused on the rote memorization and recitation of classical texts” with opportunities for rhetorical discourse and exchange.14 At some colleges students even received course credit for being a member. Literary societies often had the most current library collections of non-fiction and popular fiction to support the debate competitions. Yadkin College was no different. One student interviewed for a history of the school, mentioned that “notwithstanding the small number of students two literary societies were maintained. And how we did debate!”15 At High Point College their pictures, colors, and philosophies adorn the college yearbooks from the 1920s to the 1930s, and they debated topics such as “colleges do promote a feeling toward world peace” and “that the United States should develop an old age pension plan” and “that jazz is more enjoyable than classical music.” For example, the Artemesian Society with 37 female members and the male Akrothinian Society with 32 members represent only two of the 20 student organizations at High Point College in 1934. Of these, four were literary societies and six were Greek organizations. The other ten were special student clubs and groups, but in 1934 literary societies were the leaders of the school’s social and intellectual conversation.

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On a campus of 200 students, an end-of-the-year culminating event focused on these literary societies in the form of debates and social gatherings. Campus literary societies no longer persist in the same form today, in an era of students’ active classroom participation and student-centered pedagogies. The legacy of the literacy society nevertheless echoes through some of the campus’s current rhetorically oriented organizations and traditions, such as its Mock Trial team and student organized Poetry Slams.


There were other campus-wide academic associations such as the Order of the Lighted Lamp which was formed in 1935 to recognize students’ academic achievement and is still active today. In 1957 the Scholastic Honor Society was started based on the Phi Beta Kappa model. Faculty or staff members of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi or Phi Kappa Phi were invited to join. The honor society was open to juniors and seniors and lasted several years. 16 In 1985, the university founded its Honors Scholar Program, a program that continues to encourage and recognize undergraduates’ academic engagement and excellence. A number of other student honors societies support and reward the efforts of specific student populations, such as first-year students (Alpha Lambda Delta) and students within certain majors – e.g., English (Sigma Tau Delta). With a rich history and a deep heritage that promotes and celebrates academic achievement and discourse High Point University today is robust. Traditions from the early days of the college still resonate with students.

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The University’s seal still contains the lamp, the cross, and a book. The lamp of knowledge adorns the steeple on Roberts Hall and religious services are a regular part of campus life. With 80 different student organizations supported by a Student Government Association, the campus conversation is broad and diverse. Black Cultural Awareness promotes an awareness of black heritage at High Point University and throughout the community while Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity, serves the college, community and the nation. High Point University is the dynamic educational and social environment we are today in no small part because of the conviction of the founders who gave us the academic and moral building blocks on which to establish the school.


  • 1 Joseph F. McCulloch, “Devoted to High Point Methodist Protestant College,“ Methodist Protestant Herald 30(39) (1924): 2.
  • 2 William R. Locke, No easy task: the first fifty years of High Point College. (Greensboro, N.C.: Piedmont Press, 1975), 8-9.
  • 3 Colin B. Burke, American Collegiate Populations: A Test of the Traditional View (New York University Press, 1982), Table 1.2, Tables 2.1–2.25, Appendix A, and passim.
  • 4 Olin Bain Michael, Yadkin College, 1856-1924; a historic sketch. (Salisbury, N.C.: Rowan Printing Company, 1939), 53.
  • 5 William R. Locke, No easy task: the first fifty years of High Point College. (Greensboro, N.C.: Piedmont Press, 1975), 10.
  • 6 William R. Locke, No easy task: the first fifty years of High Point College. (Greensboro, N.C.: Piedmont Press, 1975), 9.
  • 7 Ibid., 12-14.
  • 8 Ibid., 22.
  • 9 Ibid., 22.
  • 10 High Point College. 1926. “Book Motto, Cross, Lamp, and Belt have Significance on Seal,” The Hi-Po of High Point College, February 21, 1934 8(19) 2.
  • 11 High Point College Catalogue 1931-1932, High Point College.
  • 12 B. Evelyn Westbrook. 2002. “Debating Both Sides: What Nineteenth-Century College Literary Societies Can Teach Us about Critical Pedagogies,” Rhetoric Review. 21(4): 343
  • 13 Ibid., 342.
  • 14 Ibid., 343.
  • 15 Olin Bain Michael, Yadkin College, 1856-1924; a historic sketch. (Salisbury, N.C.: Rowan Printing Company, 1939), 48
  • 16 William R. Locke, No easy task: the first fifty years of High Point College. (Greensboro, N.C.: Piedmont Press, 1975), 57