Virginia Theological Seminary and College – Part 1

Originally known as the Virginia Baptist Seminary, Virginia Theological Seminary and College was the first post-Civil War college in Lynchburg. Interest in an “all-Negro” theological institution emerged at the 1886 meeting of the Virginia Baptist State Convention, when Seminary founder Phillip Morris argued successfully for such an institution controlled by blacks and independent of whites. By 1887, six acres of land had been purchased in Lynchburg, and in 1888 the school was incorporated. Difficulties with funding emerged early on, and in 1891 the Virginia Baptist State Convention agreed to accept financial support from the Seminary from the Home Mission Society. This agreement meant a partial loss of black control.

Along with theological instruction, the Seminary offered college preparatory work, teacher training, vocational education, and liberal arts courses. By 1894 enrollment had reached 408. The school provided additional educational opportunities for African Americans at a time when instruction in the public high schools lasted only three years.

Highly esteemed among African American educators, the Seminary continued to resist white dominance and to include academic courses in the liberal arts. When the Home Mission Society tied its $1 million annual donation to the stipulation that the Seminary become a secondary school with a vocational emphasis, Gregory Hayes, the school’s second president, returned the donation.

The 1916-17 academic year revealed the success of the school with an enrollment of 310 students representing twenty-two states and four foreign countries. By 1917, four hundred students had graduated from Virginia Seminary. Of these, 118 had entered the ministry, eight were serving as missionaries, twenty were doctors, ten were dentists, ten were lawyers, four were nurses, thirty were professors, two were college presidents, two were principals of academies, eighteen were employed as civil service workers, and many others were teachers.

Throughout its early decades, Virginia Theological Seminary and College was guided by a vision of self-help based on confidence in African Americans’ determination and willingness to sacrifice to achieve their goals.

Continue to Part II →

Exhibit Items

  1. James Robert Lincoln Diggs
  2. 1894 Ledger
  3. 1903 Seminary graduates
  4. 1916-1917 Virginia Seminary football team
  5. 1917 Composite
  6. Adolphus Humbles, Sr.
  7. Alease Dorothy Gilbert
  8. Catalogs
  9. Clarissa Wimbush
  10. Commencement program
  11. Diploma
  12. Fox Memorial Hall
  13. Girls’ Club at Virginia Seminary
  14. Gregory W. Hayes
  15. Hilda Hayes
  16. John Chilembwe
  17. Josephine Anderson
  18. Little Things
  19. Mary Rice Hayes
  20. Men of the Seminary Theological Department
  21. Nancy Goldsberry
  22. Nineteenth century solicitation form
  23. Phillip Morris
  24. Physics laboratory
  25. Program – 1907 Virginia Seminary Commencement
  26. Robert Clisson Woods
  27. Seminary students on a picnic
  28. Virginia Seminary Orchestra
  29. Virginia Seminary’s first building
  30. Willie LeeAnderson

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