A Bridge to Intellectual Freedom: Virginia Union University Celebrates 150 Years

The following is a guest post by Selicia Allen, Special Collections Librarian and University Archivist at Virginia Union University and a member of the ALABI Communications Committee.

Selicia Allen, archivisit, at Virginia Union University exhibit in Pop-Up Museum at Richmond Capitol Square, April 4, 2015. Photo Credit: Ayasha Sledge

Selicia Allen, archivist, at Virginia Union University exhibit in Pop-Up Museum at Richmond Capitol Square, April 4, 2015. Photo Credit: Ayasha Sledge.

Virginia Union University celebrated its 150th anniversary over the 2014-2015 academic school year. Many events have taken place to commemorate the anniversary. In conjunction with the University’s sesquicentennial, Richmond, Virginia celebrated the end of slavery and the Civil War on April 4, 2015 in a statewide event at the Capitol. This event was coordinated by member organizations of the Future of Richmond’s Past. As part of the commemorative events Pop-Up Museum tents were designed as part of the visitor experience. The Pop-Up Museum was coordinated by the Virginia Historical Society in collaboration with the American Civil War Museum at Historic Tredegar and the White House of the Confederacy, Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, City of Richmond Fire and Emergency Services, Department of Historic Resources, RVA Archaeology, University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, Tompkins-McCaw Library, and Virginia Union University.

The Pop-Up Museum answered nine questions about Richmond’s journey from the end of slavery and the Civil War to today. Virginia Union University answered the question: Life after Emancipation? Virginia Union’s Archives and Special Collections Department focused on the 1870’s curriculum of the Richmond Theological Institute for Freedmen. In cooperation with the University Relations Office, Vanessa Coombs and Ayasha Sledge, we produced an attention-grabbing display featuring a timeline of the university’s history and images of the various campuses leading up to today. Archivists Selicia Allen and Adam Zimmerli along with Dr. Raymond Hylton, Professor of History answered visitors’ questions about what freedmen learned, coming from little or no education, to become educated ministers. Visitors were provided with an interactive quiz card to test their knowledge on arithmetic, Latin, Greek, Theology, and spelling and writing. The archives highlighted its Richmond Theological Seminary Collection, its 1877 student register of short biographies and signatures of early students, as well as notable faculty, such as Dr. Nathaniel Colver, Dr. Charles Corey, Dr. Joseph Endom Jones, and Dr. Nathaniel Vassar.

Archivists Adam Zimmerli and Selicia Allen, and Dr. Raymond Hylton, Professor of History (L-R), discuss university history and collections with a visitor to the Pop-Up Museum. Photo Credit: Ayasha Sledge.

Archivists Adam Zimmerli and Selicia Allen, and Dr. Raymond Hylton, Professor of History (L-R), discuss university history and collections with a visitor to the Pop-Up Museum. Photo Credit: Ayasha Sledge.

In 1874-1875, students at Dr. Charles H. Corey’s Richmond Theological Institute would take what was known as “the Normal Course.” These classes were designed to give students a broad but basic education, and there were three basic subjects: English, Mathematics, and General Studies. The English classes included Reading, Writing, Spelling, English Grammar, Composition, Declamation, and Word Analysis. Mathematics courses included Arithmetic, Algebra, Mensuration, Geometry, and Trigonometry. General Studies comprised Geography, Natural Philosophy, Physiology and Hygiene, History, Rhetoric and Political Economy, also Latin and Greek. In addition, the Institute offered a Theological Course which included lectures and discussions on Systematic Theology, The Evidences of Christianity, Biblical Geography and Antiquities, Interpretation of Scripture, Inspiration, Church Polity, The Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, and Pastoral Duties. According to the 1874-1875 Catalogue of Officers and Students of the Richmond Institute, tuition was free; admission was based on referrals of good moral character, and students came with multiple recommendation letters. Boarding rarely exceeded five dollars per month, and the estimate to cover the entire expenses of a student for eight month session was $60 to $70 per month.

Richmond Theological Seminary would merge in 1899 with Wayland Seminary of Washington, DC (founded in 1865 by the American Baptist Home Mission Society) to form Virginia Union University. Virginia Union University remembers its forefathers, the American Baptist Home Mission Society, and all of those who labored and endured. As the university celebrates its sesquicentennial it looks forward to the next 150 years of excellence in education.

ALABI members interested in using the ALABI blog to highlight news about Baptist resources and history at their institution should contact Steve Jones, ALABI Webmaster and Communications Committee Chairman, at sjones@sebts.edu

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