Wingate University is known for its focus on preparing students for the future. A quick look at Wingate history shows why.

a statue facing a college campus buildingWingate University has established itself as a leading North Carolina university today, but it wasn’t even a college when it was founded in 1896. The Baptist Associations in Union County, North Carolina, and Chesterfield County, South Carolina, sought to provide literacy education from first grade through high school.

At the time, public schools were scarce in the Carolina Piedmont. The town of Wingate was chosen because it was close to the Seaboard Air Line Railway. It was also close to Meadow Branch Baptist Church.

The Wingate school was built on 10 acres that had fine oak trees and a spring. From this serene setting, its founders nurtured the young school:

  • Trustees named it after a successful graduate of Wake Forest University, Washington Manley Wingate.
  • Another Wake Forest graduate, Marcus B. Dry, served as its first leader.
  • Dry and Miss Polly Crowder taught the curriculum.
  • 175 students attended the first year.
  • In 1904, enrollment peaked at 292.

As more public schools began popping up in North Carolina, Wingate started boarding students, mostly high school students in the upper grades. During this time, Wingate:

  • Purchased more land
  • Built teaching and boarding facilities
  • Established a sound academic reputation

Wingate Becomes a College

The private prep school era in North Carolina came to an end, and public schools were a dime a dozen in the early years of the 20th century. Wingate changed with the times by offering the first two years of baccalaureate education in 1923. That same year, Wingate became one of several institutions supported by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. This support was necessary as the school struggled to enroll students and worked to establish its new identity.

Wingate nearly closed its doors for good during the Great Depression:

  • The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina stopped supporting Wingate in 1930.
  • Students failed to pay tuition.
  • Faculty members were not being paid.

To make matters even worse, the administration building burned down in 1932. But Wingate’s 4th president, Coy Muckle, led a team of determined professors who believed in Wingate too much to let it fail. They held classes at Wingate Baptist Church, right next to campus. A few years later, Burris Building was built where the old administration building had stood. The building memorializes President C. C. Burris, who led the college from 1937 to 1953, and stands today, as a reminder of those who kept the school alive.

Brighter Days

The college saw better years after World War II:

  • Returning veterans stabilized the enrollment.
  • North Carolina Baptists began supporting the college again.
  • The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools granted membership and accreditation to Wingate College.

Wingate’s 6th president, Dr. Budd Smith, and his wife, Ethel, focused on increasing enrollment and financial support of the college. Smith interested textile magnate Charles A. Cannon, of Kannapolis, North Carolina, in Wingate. Cannon saw Wingate as a place where children of textile workers and others in the middle class could go to college. Cannon supported the college in many ways:

  • Investing in the renewal of the physical plant
  • Expanding the curriculum
  • Providing first-class facilities for the growing student body
  • Directing the planting of flowers and trees on campus

Because of the Smiths’ hard work and Cannon’s generosity, the young college toughed out the hard times and looked to the future with confidence.

Wingate Changes With the Times, Again

By the mid-1970s, Wingate College had established its reputation as an outstanding private two-year college. But again, the education market was changing in North Carolina. Upwardly mobile young people wanted bachelor’s degrees. Wingate needed to recruit at least 800 first-year students each year to maintain its enrollment since it lost juniors to four-year colleges and universities.

Wingate responded once more, adjusting to the changing times:

  • Under the leadership of 7th president, Dr. Thomas E. Corts, Wingate added upper-level college courses.
  • The college granted its first bachelor’s degrees in 1979.
  • Wingate added more majors and graduate programs during the 1980s.
  • Also during the 1980s, Wingate launched W’International, a program of international study for sophomores.

Wingate Continues to Grow

The Wingate University Board of Trustees, under the direction of the 9th president, Dr. Jerry McGee, voted to formally acknowledge the school’s growth by changing its status to university. It was during this period that¬† the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina ceased direct financial support of the university.

Wingate has been growing ever since that time:

In April 2015, Dr. Rhett Brown was named the 10th president, when Dr. McGee stepped down after leading the institution for 23 years.

Contact Us

Want to know more about the roots of Wingate? Feel free to stop by Holbrook Building or email us with your questions and comments.