William Peace University
William Peace University entrance on Peace Street
Main Hall, one of the largest surviving antebellum buildings in Raleigh
Fountain at William Peace University. Traditionally graduating students cast roses and wade in this fountain.
The eponymous William Peace. Sculpture dedicated in 2007 for the school's sesquicentennial.
Historical marker on Peace Street
View of Main Hall through the old entrance gate
Backstory and Context
on eight attractive acres in the heart of Raleigh and adjacent to the Oakwood
and Mordecai historic districts, William Peace University in one form or
another has been part of the landscape of Raleigh, North Carolina since the middle
of the nineteenth century
Founded in 1857 as Peace Institute, William Peace University was established by the Presbyterian Synod of North Carolina as a place where boys and girls could pursue primary education, and where girls could finish secondary and college studies. The Peace name was bestowed in honor of local merchant William Peace (1773-1865), a graduate of the University of North Carolina who had made his fortune in mercantiles. A founding member of Raleigh's Presbyterian community, he was also a major donor and the driving force behind the Institute's creation, seeking to create an institution for "the thoro education of young ladies, not only in the substantial branches of knowledge but also in those which are elegant and ornamental."
Construction of then Main Hall was partially completed in 1860, when historical events sidelined Peace's dream. On December 20 of that year, as a result of the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency and Southern fears that Lincoln planned to limit or eliminate the practice of slavery, South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed by ten other states, with North Carolina seceding last in May of 1861. During the Civil War, the partially completed Main Hall was commandeered by the Confederate government for use as a military hospital; students today report ghostly visitors from this period. The school’s website also reports that after the war[A1] [m2] , the building was used as the state headquarters of federal Freedmen's Bureau, intended to ease the transition of former slaves into a new life.
Institute opened for classes in 1872
after, and gaininged former ownership of the eight acres it still
occupies from R. Stanhope Pullen six years later. During this early period, Peace Institute
offered cutting-edge art programs, as well as a cooking school, and the first
kindergarten in North Carolina. It was
possible for students of the Institute to complete an entire education from kindergarten to high school
in one spot. In 1943, the Institute
changed its name to Peace College, reflecting the growth of public education in
the state and a shift towards providing young
women with high school diplomas and the first two years of a college education.
Hall dominates the campus, and was added to the National Register of Historic
Places in 1973 and, Aaccording to the National Park Service, is Main Hall is "one of the largest
antebellum buildings surviving in Raleigh." The designation confirms the historical
importance of the building, citing not only the construction, but the
association with the Freedmen's Bureau in the years after the Civil War.
In 1995, Peace College became a four-year institution, conferring bachelor's degrees and beginning a teacher- training program. The college expanded in 2011, renaming itself William Peace University in 2011, and admitting its first co-ed class for the day program the following year. This shift left the much larger Meredith College as the sole women-only collegiate institution in Raleigh. The last few years have, thus, been years of transition, and not without friction, though the University community as a whole remains dedicated to its mission statement in inculcating "an appreciation for life-long learning, a focus on meaningful careers, and skills for ethical citizenship."
Enrollment: 791 (Peterson's, 2013)