The Old Well at UNC

Many students look for colleges that are not only rich in tradition, but that also hold an important place in history. These colleges and universities often have beautiful campuses that display centuries of architectural styles rather than just decades.

When researching your options for attending college look into the history of the institution, important events that have happened on campus, and graduates who have accomplished great things. Some of these events might surprise you and help you see the school in a different light.

Here are a handful of schools that are rich in history to get you started. You'll also find links to need and merit-based scholarships to these colleges and universities linked on the right sidebar. We've also added a link to scholarships offered to those who either have a strong background in history or who plan to study history. If you know of a scholarship that you don't see listed, please feel free to send us the information and we will add it to the database.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the oldest public university in the country to enroll students and start teaching classes. It was chartered in 1789 and instruction started in 1795. The University of Georgia was chartered prior to UNC, however, did not hold classes until 1801. Revolutionary War General William R. Davie was the principal founder and legend has it helped select the location of the university. The site was named Chapel Hill because there was an abandoned Anglican Church of England chapel on the site. There was no town of Chapel Hill prior to the founding of the university.

Davie laid the cornerstone for East Building on October 12, 1793, and University Day is celebrated on that date each year. The building, which is now known as Old East, continues as a dormitory and is one of the most sought after dorms on campus. It looks out over the beautiful Old Well and is close to the Davie Poplar, marking the spot said to be where Davie stood to select the site for the university.

Notable Tar Heels include President James K. Polk, Senator Kay Hagan, Senator Paul Wellstone, Congressman Brad Miller, actor Andy Griffith, and Peabody Award Winning television journalist Charles Kuralt. Jeff MacNelly, who is a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist is also a Tar Heel. Caleb Bradham, who invented Pepsi-Cola graduated in 1890 and wore white as a member of the Philanthropic Society. In 2007, Dr. Oliver Smithies, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on embryonic stem cells.

UNC's colors of light blue and white date back to around 1800 when they were used to distinguish between the school's two literary societies. Members of the Dialectic Literary Society wore light blue and members of the Philanthropic Literary Society wore white. The two colors were adopted for Carolina's sports teams in 1888. You can learn more about the history of the UNC campus here.

Harvard University

Harvard University is the oldest and among the most prestigious universities in the country. It was chartered in 1636 and was named after its first benefactor, John Harvard. A statue of the young minister stands in Harvard Yard and is a popular landmark on campus. Harvard has graduated some of our country's most accomplished men and women, among them eight signers of the Declaration of Independence and seven U.S. Presidents. Harvard faculty and alumni have earned 48 Nobel Prizes, more than any other university in the country.

Undoubtedly, Harvard holds an important place in the history of our nation, but it isn't without its blemishes. Take the crime wave of 1849:

Dr. George Parkman disappeared at the Medical School in one of the most famous murder cases in Harvard history. Earlier, Parkman had lent money to colleague Dr. John White Webster. To secure the loan, Webster gave Parkman a mortgage on his personal property, including a valuable collection of minerals. When Parkman learned that Webster had backed another loan with the same collection, he began relentlessly pursuing Webster to collect the debt. A week after the disappearance, a suspicious janitor broke through a brick vault below Webster’s lab and found human body parts, which the authorities soon discovered all around the lab. Found guilty of first-degree murder, Webster belatedly confessed and appealed for clemency, but was hanged on Aug. 30, 1850. Parkman’s widow led a fund drive to support Webster’s wife and children.

This, of course, has nothing to do with how crimson became designated as Harvard's color. In 1858 a pair of rowers gave their teammates crimson scarves so they could be distinguished from other rowers during competition. One of these gentlemen, Charles W. Eliot, was later named the president of Harvard in 1869. After he stepped down in 1909, Harvard Corporation voted to make crimson the school's official color. Students had adopted the color unofficially in 1875. You can learn more about Harvard's history here.

Rutgers University

Rutgers was chartered in 1766 and was originally known as Queen's College. The name was changed to Rutgers in 1825 in honor of school trustee Colonel Henry Rutgers. The school was originally all-male and opened its doors to women in 1918 when the New Jersey College for Women arrived on the scene. Rutgers is one of nine colleges in the nation established before the Revolutionary War and is the eighth oldest college or university in the country.

Adding to its colonial college heritage, Rutgers is also one of our nation's land-grant colleges.

In the mid-19th century, Congress established the nation’s land-grant colleges in response to the Industrial Revolution. In 1864, Rutgers prevailed over Princeton to become New Jersey’s land-grant institution, tasked with offering educational access to a wider range of students who would be the new workforce for America’s expanding businesses, factories, and farms.

Rutgers is the home of many distinguished professors and notable alumni. Professor Selman A. Waksman was Rutgers first alumnus to be awarded the Nobel Prize. He and two of his graduate students discovered the antibiotic streptomycin which was used to treat tuberculosis. Waksman won the Nobel in Physiology/Medicine in 1952. To learn more about the rich history of Rutgers University, please go here.

Salem College

Salem College, located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is the oldest women's college in the country and is the 13th oldest college overall. It was founded in 1766 by Moravians who had settled in North Carolina. The first teacher at the school was Elisabeth Oesterlein, one of 16 women and girls who walked from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to what was then known as the Village of Salem - a trip of more than 500 miles.

Moravian believe that women deserve as thorough an education as that offered to men and started the school in 1772. It has been through several transformations - first to become a boarding school and then to offer college degrees. It continues as a college as well as a boarding school for young women in grades nine through 12.

Moravian beliefs and traditions contribute to the school's rich history.

In its early years, Salem was run by the unmarried women of the Moravian community, who were known as "Single Sisters." Oesterlein and her fellow Sisters were economically self-sufficient, a rare condition for women of the 18th century.


Moravian Lovefeasts, the Candle Tea celebration at Christmas, and the Easter Sunrise Service are events that appeal to Salem students as well as visitors from around the world.

To learn more about Salem College, please go here.

University of Georgia

The University of Georgia is one of the other public universities that lays claim to the title of the first state university. While it was the first to have its charter issued, it was not the first to open its doors and graduate students. There is no denying the important role that UGA has served in establishing this country's system of public higher education.

The University of Georgia website lists "points of pride" for UGA - and there are many. Two alumni from the university were among those who signed the U.S. Constitution and UGA has had 23 students named as Rhodes Scholars. A quick look down the list shows the school is an academic powerhouse with students winning many of the most prestigious scholarships in the country.

The Georgia Bulldogs have one of the most recognizable mascots of any school in the country - a pure white English bulldog. They weren't always represented by a bulldog. In the early days, the UGA mascot was a goat. You can read more about the evolution of the Georgia mascot here.

Disclaimer: My husband, older brother, and I are all alumni of UNC, my father graduated from law school at UNC, and my oldest daughter is a junior at UNC. [Update: My daughter graduated in 2015 and works in advertising.]

Author's Note: If you have photos of universities mentioned in the article and would like to share them, please use the contact form. We will credit you, however, we only link to sites that are relevant to the content of this article or of this website. Thank you.

Jan 5, 2017 By Betsy Muse