In March of 1887, a heated week-long debate in the North Carolina House of Representatives ended with the creation of new Land Grant college in Raleigh. But the effort to establish such a college actually began in 1826, when a bill was introduced to the General Assembly to found a military and agriculture college in Wake County. By the end of that legislative session, the bill was tabled.
In 1862, the federal government passed the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act, which allocated funds and federal land for each state to establish an agricultural college. Although the act was not extended to Southern states during the Civil War, it was available to them by the war’s end and then to each new state as it was founded.
For many legislators in North Carolina, it was naturally assumed that the Land Grant funds would apply to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. However, there was a robust Agrarian movement afoot. The leaders of this movement felt that teaching in the European tradition to future lawyers was well and good, but there was a large segment of the North Carolina population that deserved practical training in agriculture, engineering and military tactics.
One leader of this movement was Colonel Leonidas L. Polk, who was a state legislator from Anson County, then later became North Carolina’s first Commissioner of Agriculture. His magazine The Progressive Farmer was a mouthpiece for the Agrarian movement in North Carolina. Polk and his followers set an agenda to found an agricultural college in North Carolina, and to overhaul the state’s Department of Agriculture.
In 1884, a young attorney from Raleigh named William J. Peele founded the Watauga Club, which worked as a think-tank focused on North Carolina’s industrial and economic future. Together with Leonidas Polk, the Watauga Club pushed for a bill to establish the Land Grant college in Raleigh.
There were several proposals in 1885 to locate the new college in Raleigh, Kinston, and Charlotte, but all of the proposals were rejected. The City of Raleigh then decided to up their proposed funding to host the new college from $5000 to $8000, and the Board of Agriculture graciously accepted.
Then there was only one hurdle left to cross; how to get the Land Grant funds that were presumably going to UNC-Chapel Hill. Governor Alfred Scales, along with the Swift Creek Farmer’s Club of Wake County, Polk and the Watauga Club, pressured the legislature to allocate Land Grant funds to the new college. A wealthy real estate developer named R. Stanhope Pullen donated 60 acres west of Raleigh to serve as the college’s location.
Although opponents of the plan fought hard and long, a “farmer’s legislature” passed the bill, and established the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts. Tuition for the first students was $20 a year.
In 1917, the state changed the school’s name to the North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering. Then in the 1950s and 60s, the UNC system wanted to change the name again to add “university.” UNC-Raleigh was the proposal, but alumni and students protested vigorously. The state then changed the school’s name to North Carolina State of the University of North Carolina at Raleigh in 1963.
Again, students and alumni were outraged. They insisted the school should be called “North Carolina State University”. It took two more years, but finally Raleigh’s Land Grant college was named North Carolina State University.