A century of experience in education has prepared Wingate to fulfill its purpose. The history of the University exhibits commitment, determination, sacrifice, growth and success.

Wingate was established in 1896 by the Baptist Associations of Union County in North Carolina and Chesterfield County in South Carolina. Public schools were unavailable in the rural areas of the Carolina Piedmont; therefore, in its earliest days, Wingate offered a complete literacy education from first grade through high school. The school was built on a 10-acre tract boasting fine oak trees, an all-weather spring, close proximity to the Meadow Branch Baptist Church, and access to the Seaboard Air Line Railway. The trustees named the new school for a successful president of Wake Forest University, Washington Manley Wingate, and chose an outstanding graduate of that institution and Union County native for its first principal, Marcus B. Dry. For 12 years Professor Dry directed the school, and with the assistance of Miss Polly Crowder in music, taught most of the curriculum. One hundred seventy-five students attended the first year and enrollment peaked at 292 in 1904.

As the state expanded its public schools, Wingate gradually moved toward boarding students and concentrated in the upper years of high school. It purchased additional land, built teaching and boarding facilities, and established a sound academic reputation. The 1916 report to the Association by B.C. Ashcraft praised the Wingate faculty of seven college trained men and women who knew that “when you start a young man or a young woman on the right road, when you set a light aglow in a young mind, when you touch in the right way a young life, [those] influences are not to be measured by years—they are eternal.”

As the private prep school era waned and public school became increasingly available, Wingate, in 1923, expanded its educational vision, offering the first two years of baccalaureate education. In the same year, Wingate became one of several institutions supported by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. These years were marked by enrollment and financial strain as the College established its new character. The national crisis of the economic crash and depression drove Wingate to the edge of extinction: the Convention withdrew its support in 1930, eager students had no money for tuition, faculty salaries frequently remained unpaid, and the administration building burned to the ground in 1932.

But President Coy Muckle and a few determined teachers opened the spring session in the rooms of Wingate Baptist Church, adjacent to the campus. Within a few years a new central building arose on the ashes of the old, this time in brick, attesting the determination of Trustees and local Baptists to keep the school alive. Today that central building, memorializing President C.C. Burris, who guided the institution from 1937 to 1953, houses the liberal arts instruction of the University.

After World War II, a sequence of events solidified Wingate. Returning veterans stabilized the enrollment, North Carolina Baptists resumed their financial support of the College in 1949, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools granted membership and accreditation to Wingate in 1952. Dr. Burris then returned to his beloved classroom to enrich the lives of countless students through his deep understanding of English literature and William Shakespeare. Budd and Ethel Smith assumed leadership of the youthful college, immediately attacking its twin points of vulnerability: enrollment and financial support. New recruitment strategies were implemented that aimed to increase the student body from its tenuous level of about 400. In 1955, Dr. Smith interested Mr. Charles A. Cannon of Kannapolis in the school. Mr. Cannon saw Wingate as a place where the children of textile workers and others in the middle class might receive opportunities in higher education. He began to invest in the renewal of the physical plant and the expansion of the curriculum, providing first-class facilities for the growing student body which reached 1,500 in the late 1960s. Dr. Smith, a botanist by discipline, personally directed the planting of flowers and trees which complemented the stately oaks on the central campus. Through the labor of the Smiths and the generosity of Mr. Cannon and others, Wingate weathered the storms of its youth and turned to the future with new confidence.

Although Wingate was recognized in the mid-1970s as an outstanding private two-year college, the education market in North Carolina was changing substantially. The baccalaureate degree had become an attainable and necessary goal for upwardly mobile young people. Wingate needed to recruit 800 or more first-year students each year to maintain its enrollment, while it lost its juniors to senior colleges and universities. In 1977, under the leadership of Dr. Thomas E. Corts, Wingate added upper-level college courses and majors and granted its first baccalaureate degrees in 1979. Other majors and graduate degrees in education and in business were added during the 1980s, establishing Wingate’s commitment to a quality educational experience for new generations of students. Also under Dr. Corts, the College launched W’International, a program of international study and travel for sophomores. The College included much of the cost of this experience in the total tuition whereby all students could spend 10 days in London, Paris, or Amsterdam (or a comparable location) during the Christmas holidays. W’International signaled the institution’s commitment to education for a future global society and the Christian affirmation of the brotherhood of all humankind.

During its Centennial in 1995, the Board of Trustees voted to formally acknowledge Wingate’s growth by changing its status to University. Under the direction of the board and thirteenth president Dr. Jerry E. McGee, Wingate University was well positioned to seek new opportunities in graduate education programs. The School of Pharmacy opened its doors on the main campus in 2003 to offer the Pharm.D., the University’s first doctorate-level program. This first step into health care education provided the initial momentum that would serve as a catalyst for future programs in health care.

While programs on the main campus continued to thrive with the Master of Accounting program and School of Sport Sciences, the Ballantyne (formerly Matthews) Campus also saw extensive growth.  The University recognized success there by creating a School of Graduate and Continuing Education offering new programs in educational leadership at the master’s level. In fall 2008, the University elected to offer a Master of Physician Assistant Studies program and introduced its second doctoral program—the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership. 

In August 2011, the University opened the Levine College of Health Sciences on the main campus to house the School of Pharmacy and the Department of PA Studies. The Levine College of Health Sciences, opened in 2011, is the second LEED-certified (Leader in Energy and Environmental Design) building in Union County.
In the same month, Wingate University further expanded its programs when it opened a campus in downtown Hendersonville, N.C. to extend its reach to serve the state’s western region with its pharmacy and MBA programs, then adding PA Studies in 2013. In 2014, the University added a Doctor of Physical Therapy program.
Levine College of Health Sciences                                  Hendersonville

Sources: Hubert I. Hester, The Wingate College Story, 1972;  Carolyn C. Gaddy, Saturday Before the Second Sabith The History of Meadow Branch-Wingate Baptist Church 1810-1984, 1984.