HBCU Timeline: 1837 to 1870

A brief history of historically Black colleges and universities

Institute for Colored Youth

Wikimedia Commons

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are institutions of higher education established with the purpose of providing training and education to Black people. When the Institute for Colored Youth was established in 1837, its purpose was to teach Black people skills necessary to be competitive in the 19th-century job market. Students learned to read, write, basic math skills, mechanics and agriculture. In later years, the Institute for Colored Youth was a training ground for educators. Other institutions followed with the mission of training freed African American men and women.

It is important to note that several religious institutions such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), United Church of Christ, Presbyterian and American Baptist provided funding to establish many schools. 


1837: Cheyney University of Pennsylvania opens its doors. Established by Quaker Richard Humphreys as the “Institute for Colored Youth,” Cheyney University is the oldest historically Black school of higher education. Famous alumni include educator and civil rights activist Josephine Silone Yates

1851: The University of the District of Columbia is established. Known as the “Miner Normal School,” as a school to educate Black women.

1854: The Ashnum Institute is founded in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Today, it is Lincoln University.

1856: Wilberforce University was established by the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Named for abolitionist William Wilberforce, it is the first school owned and operated by African Americans.

1862: LeMoyne-Owen College is established in Memphis by the United Church of Christ. Originally founded as the LeMoyne Normal and Commercial School, the institution operated as an elementary school until 1870.

1864: Wayland Seminary opens its doors. By 1889, the school merges with Richmond Institute to become Virginia Union University.

1865: Bowie State University is founded as Baltimore Normal School.

Clark Atlanta University is established by the United Methodist Church. Originally two separate schools, Clark College and Atlanta University merged.

The National Baptist Convention opens Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

1866: The Brown Theological Institute is opened in Jacksonville, Florida. By the AME Church. Today, the school is known as Edward Waters College.

Fisk University is founded in Nashville, Tennessee. The Fisk Jubilee Singers will soon begin touring to raise money for the institution.

Lincoln Institute is established in Jefferson City, Missouri. Today, it is known as Lincoln University of Missouri.

Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, opens. It is known as Shaw University until 1882. One of Rust College’s most famous alumna is Ida B. Wells.

1867: Alabama State University opens as Lincoln Normal School of Marion.

Barber-Scotia College opens in Concord, North Carolina. Founded by the Presbyterian Church, Barber-Scotia College was once two schools—Scotia Seminary and Barber Memorial College.

Fayetteville State University is founded as Howard School.

The Howard Normal and Theological School for the Education of Teachers and Preachers opens its doors. Today, it is known as Howard University.

Johnson C. Smith University is established as the Biddle Memorial Institute.

The American Baptist Home Mission Society founds the Augusta Institute which is later renamed Morehouse College.

Morgan State University is founded as Centenary Biblical Institute.

The Episcopal Church provides funding for the establishment of St. Augustine’s University.

The United Church of Christ opens Talladega College. Known as Swayne School until 1869, it is Alabama’s oldest private Black liberal arts college.

1868: Hampton University is founded as Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute. One of Hampton’s most famous graduates, Booker T. Washington, later helped to expand the school before establishing Tuskegee Institute.

1869: Claflin University is founded in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

The United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church provide funding for Straight University and Union Normal School. These two institutions will merge to become Dillard University.

The American Missionary Association establishes Tougaloo College.

1870: Allen University is founded by the AME Church. Established as Payne Institute, the school’s mission was to train ministers and teachers. The institution was renamed Allen University after Richard Allen, founder of the AME Church.

Benedict College is established by the American Baptist Churches USA as Benedict Institute. 

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Lewis, Femi. "HBCU Timeline: 1837 to 1870." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/hbcu-timeline-1837-to-1870-45451. Lewis, Femi. (2023, April 5). HBCU Timeline: 1837 to 1870. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hbcu-timeline-1837-to-1870-45451 Lewis, Femi. "HBCU Timeline: 1837 to 1870." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hbcu-timeline-1837-to-1870-45451 (accessed May 29, 2023).