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Key Moments on Salem College’s Timeline

Salem College building surrounded by trees



The first school for girls begins in Salem. The teachers at the Girls’ School were unmarried women of the Moravian community known as the Single Sisters.


Anna Maria Samuel, an enslaved African American and Moravian, attended classes at the Girls’ School from 1793 until 1795.



Salem establishes a boarding school for girls. As the only school in North Carolina to offer girls an education beyond the primary grades, it will become the premier school for girls aged 8 to 16 in the region of the Southeast.


Sarah Childress enrolls at Salem Female Academy. She will later become the wife of James K. Polk, the First Lady of the United States, and the first wife of a U.S. president to have a formal education.


The first Cherokee students, Martha and Mary McNair, enroll at Salem Female Academy. A total of 13 Cherokee students were educated at Salem during the 19th century.


The act of incorporation of Salem Female Academy passes in the General Assembly of North Carolina, thereby separating the finances of the school from the Moravian Church.


Salem Female Academy awards its first baccalaureate degrees to seven women including Adelaide Fries, founder of the Morvian Archives of the Southern Province.


The school’s new name, Salem Academy and College, first appears in the catalog for the 1897-1898 school year



Dorothy Doe C’07 designs Salem’s seal, still used by the Academy and College. Bishop Edward Ronthaler, former principal, provides the motto which means Knowledge and Virtue.


The Student Government Association is formed, setting the precedent of Salem’s student-led campus.


Men enroll at Salem as part of the national program to provide educational benefits to veterans of World War II.


The North Carolina Governor’s School program, the first in the nation, begins on the campus of Salem Academy and College. Salem will host the program for the next 55+ years.


Salem College launches its study abroad program with a summer in Italy.


Alma Hines Boyd C’72 is the first African American student to earn a degree from Salem College.


Jane Barkman C ‘74 wins a gold medal as part of the U.S. team in the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay at the Munich Summer Olympics.


Salem Academy and College celebrates 200 years of history, four years before the nation’s bicentennial.


Julianne Still Thrift becomes the first woman to lead Salem Academy and College as president.


Dr. Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran becomes the first African American to serve as Dean of the College. During her career, she serves as vice president and acting president of Salem.



Salem Academy and College “apologizes with profound remorse for the use of enslaved labor at the school.” This statement is made after months of research into Salem’s relationship with slavery. The school joins Universities Studying Slavery and begins the work of the Anna Maria Samuel Project: Race, Remembrance, and Reconciliation.


The COVID-19 pandemic arrives, leading the school to move to remote learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year.


Salem Academy and College celebrates its 250th Anniversary with many events including recreating the Journey to Salem.


Salem College receives a $5 million gift to support the health leadership transformation at the College.


The single largest bequest in Salem’s history was received from Gretchen Wampler Welch.


Salem College receives a second $5 million gift to further support its groundbreaking Health Leadership transformation. This gift was made by a highly philanthropic and dedicated Salem College alumna who has asked to remain anonymous.

2023-2024 Highlights

This fall the number of new students at Salem College will increase by more than 50 percent. The increase comes after Salem received a record-breaking number of applications for a second consecutive year. The Class of 2027—incoming students who graduated from high school this May—make up 158 of 179 new full-time Salem College students arriving this fall and comprise the largest incoming class at Salem since 2017. The Class of 2027 is also the sixth largest recorded since 2005. The number of students from outside North Carolina also increased 58 percent from last year, with an average GPA of 3.91, while the overall GPA of Salem’s incoming students is 3.75. The Class of 2027 includes students from twenty states as well as Cameroon, Colombia, Nigeria, and Nepal. The majority plan to major in the sciences and health, followed by business, art and design.

Anna Maria Samuel Project

Read more about the history of Salem Academy and College; see our historical research, and learn about Salem Academy and College’s participation in Universities Studying Slavery.

Additional History

Salem College and Academy is the oldest educational institution for both girls and women in the United States. Although no longer a part of the Moravian Church, the history of the school has been an integral part of the town of Salem. Remarkably, the school has always remained in operation even during wars and pandemics.

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