The state of Virginia has a long history. It was one of the original thirteen colonies and named after the Virgin Queen Elizabeth the First. Virginia played a key role in U.S. history as half of the battles fought in the Civil War took place on Virginian soil. And General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Appomattox. Virginia. That is just some of the history that the great state of Virginia holds. With such a rich and colorful past, it is no surprise the state was at the forefront of education and that some of the oldest schools in the U.S. are in Virginia, including the second oldest university in the U.S. If you are fascinated by history and love learning about the early days of the U.S. then read on to learn about some of the oldest schools in Virginia.
Oldest Schools in Virginia Elementary School
1. Vienna Elementary School
128 Center St. S, Vienna, VA 22180
In 1870, Vienna Elementary School opened its doors. After the Civil War, the state of Virginia was readmitted to the Union, and the Virginia Public Schools Act made public education available for everyone. The early schools were one-room schools with one teacher teaching boys and girls of varying ages academic subjects. Vienna Elementary School was one of these first schools. Although the building changed, and the school quickly outgrew the old building, the school has been in continuous operation. In the beginning, the school was segregated with separate school buildings for whites and blacks until 1965, when the schools were desegregated, and children were able to attend school regardless of skin color.
2. Basilica School of St. Mary
400 Greene Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
The parish was founded in 1795; it was one of the first Catholic parishes in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Later, in 1870, the Basilica School of St. Mary opened its doors to twenty boys and twenty girls. The early school had two classrooms, one for boys and one for girls, and each was equipped with a pot-bellied stove. A fun bit of history is the students had to rotate seats regularly so those closest to the stove wouldn't overheat. The school is still a functioning school and continues to grow each year.
Oldest Schools in Virginia High School
3. Norfolk Academy
1585 Wesleyan Drive, Norfolk, Virginia 23502
Norfolk Academy is a private school for grades 1-12. The school was originally conceived by town planners in 1680 who reserved the land for the school, which was eventually completed in 1728. The school is a private school and sits on 70 acres of land. The original building was used as a military hospital during the Civil War, and later in World War I, it was used by the Red Cross. The historic school is known for its rigorous academics and public speaking skills that are integrated into the curriculum starting in the first grade.
4. Episcopal High School 1839
1200 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, Virginia 22302
The Episcopal High School opened its doors in 1839 as the first high school in Virginia. The original school was called the Howard School. During the Civil War, the school was transformed into a military hospital. After the Civil War, the school reopened and went on to organize the first interscholastic sports teams. In 1968, African-American students were admitted, and much later, in 1991, girls were admitted to the school. The school is currently a boarding school and sits on 130 acres of campus.
5. Stuart Hall 1844
235 W. Federick Street, Staunton, VA 24401
Stuart Hall first opened its doors in 1844 as the first Virginia Female Institute. The school had a modest start, and students were taught in the home of Mrs. Maria Sheffey. Later, the actual school building was built to create a more formal academic environment. It closed briefly during the Civil War. Interestingly, when it reopened after the Civil War, General Robert E. Lee was the president of the board of governors at the school. Today, the school is a K-12 school for male and female students.
Oldest Schools in Virginia – Colleges and Universities
6. College of William and Mary
200 Stadium Dr, Williamsburg, VA 23185
The College of William and Mary is the second oldest university in the United States. It opened in 1693, and it is quite impressive that the school predates the United States by almost one hundred years. The school was founded by King William the Third and Queen Mary the Second. The college closed its doors during the Civil War and was used by Confederate soldiers and later Union soldiers. After the war, it took some time to reestablish the university. Today, the university is thriving and growing.
7. Washington and Lee University
204 W. Washington Street, Lexington, VA 24450
Washington and Lee University was founded in 1749; it is the ninth oldest college in the U.S. Today, it is a private liberal arts college. The school is notable for its long history but also for enrolling the first black student, John Chavis, who was a free slave, in 1795. He later became prominent for opening his own school. The university didn’t admit another African-American student until 1966. Robert E. Lee was president of the college after the Civil War. He was in the position for five years until his death in 1870. Today, the school is a coed university and has publicly acknowledged its role in the institution of slavery.
8. Hampden-Sydney College
172 Via Sacra, Hampden Sydney, VA 23943
Hampden-Sydney College is a private liberal arts men’s college that was founded in 1775. It was the last college founded before the Declaration of Independence that separated the U.S. from England. The school has flown the British, Confederate, and American flags. During the Revolutionary War, the school was significantly damaged and later briefly closed during the Civil War. The school is one of the few remaining all men's colleges.
9. University of Virginia
Peabody Hall P.O. Box 400160, Charlottesville, VA 22904
The University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. Jefferson was responsible for designing the curriculum and even the buildings to create his vision for the university. While the university was originally a men's university, in the 1890s, a few women were admitted. In 1950, the university was sued by Gregory Swanson, an African-American man who won his lawsuit to be admitted to the university law school. Later, more African-American students were admitted, and the school finally became fully integrated in the 1960s.
10. Emory and Henry College
30461 Garnand Dr, Emory, VA 24327
Emory and Henry College was founded in 1836. It is a private liberal arts college and one of the oldest colleges in Virginia. During the difficult time of the Civil War, the school closed and was used as a hospital for Confederate soldiers. Later, the campus was the site of the Civil War's Battle of Saltville. The school is currently known for its academics and student life, including Greek life.
11. Virginia Commonwealth University
907 Floyd Ave, Richmond, VA 23284
The Virginia Commonwealth University opened its doors in 1838 as part of Hampden -Sydney medical research. In 1860, it was recognized as a university independent from Hampden-Sydney. Currently, the school has over 200 degrees, and certificate program is not just a medical research university. The school is thriving, and U.S. News and World Report ranked 29 of the university’s graduate schools and other programs in their list of top 50. And the U.S. News and World Report ranked the university as one of the top 30 innovative universities in the entire U.S.The school has close to 30,000 students, and the campus Medical Center is ranked one of the top hospitals in the Richmond area.
The great state of Virginia is a hot pot of historical places, and the oldest schools in Virginia are a window into the complicated past of the American South. The historical schools and universities are worth visiting to learn from the past and see where young minds are headed in the future.
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