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University Libraries

Historical Profile

Virginia State University was founded on March 6, 1882, when the legislature passed a bill to charter the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. Delegate Alfred W. Harris, a Black attorney who represented Dinwiddie County in the General Assembly, sponsored the bill. A hostile lawsuit delayed opening day for nineteen months until October 1, 1883. In 1902, the legislature revised the charter act to curtail the collegiate program and to change the name to Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute. In 1920, the land-grant program for Blacks was moved from a private school, Hampton Institute, where it had been since 1872, to Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute. In 1923, the college program was restored and the name changed, in 1930, to Virginia State College for Negroes. A two-year branch in Norfolk was added to the college in 1944; the Norfolk division became a four-year branch in 1956 and gained independence as Norfolk State College in 1969. The parent school was renamed Virginia State College in 1946 and later, Virginia State University in 1979.

In its first academic year, 1883-84, the University had 126 students and seven faculty, all of them Black; one building, 33 acres, a 200-book library, and a $20,000 budget. In 1996, the University which is fully integrated, has a student body of nearly 4,000, a full-time faculty of approximately 200, a library containing 230,000 volumes and 460,000 microfilm and non-print items, a 236-acre campus and a 416-acre farm, more than 50 buildings (including 15 dormitories and 16 classroom buildings), and an annual budget of $55,310,451 in operating appropriations exclusive of capital outlay. Expenses have increased since the mid-1880's when tuition was $3.35 and room and board was $20.00.

The University is situated in Chesterfield County at Ettrick on a bluff across the Appomattox River from the city of Petersburg. It is accessible via Interstate Highways, 95 and 85, which meet in Petersburg. The University is only two and a half hours away from Washington, DC to the north, the Raleigh-Durham-chapel Hill area to the southwest, and Charlottesville to the northwest.

Virginia State University has a long history of outstanding faculty and administration. The first head to bear the title of President, John Mercer Langston, was one of the best known Blacks of his day; he was the first Black elected to the United States Congress from Virginia (1988), and he was the great uncle of the famed writer Langston Hughes. From 1888 to 1968, four presidents -- James H. Johnston John M. Gandy, Luther H. Foster, and Robert P. Daniel -- each serving an average of twenty years, helped the school to overcome adversity and move forward. The next twenty-four years, 1968-1992 saw six more presidents -- James F. Tucker, Wendell P. Russell, Walker H. Quarles, Jr., Thomas M. Law, Wilbert Greenfield and Wesley Cornelious McClure. On June 1, 1993, Eddie N. Moore, Jr., the former Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Virginia, became the twelfth President of Virginia State University.

Virginia State University looks forward to a new tomorrow, continuing into a second century of excellence. A few of the significant achievements of the first century include the gaining of University status, the move to incorporate doctoral programs, a more secure status for Cooperative Extension, the revitalization of the agricultural and land-grant programs, and the first steps toward professional schools in the fields of social work and engineering technology. With its able administration and outstanding faculty, Virginia State University, the regional university for Southside Virginia, envisions an exciting future to transcend its
illustrious past.


Service Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Appointments are appreciated.
For more information feel free to contact the University Archives at  804-524-1023