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Key Moments on Salem Academy's Timeline

salem building



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 Academy moves to the East Campus. The Academy will remain in the Academy Building (Mary Patterson Building, the Caroline Shaffner Dormitory, and The Emma Bahnson Dormitory) on East Salem Avenue until 2020 when it returns to the West Campus.


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


Caryle Blakeney Bennett A’73 is  the first African American student to graduate from Salem Academy.


Salem Academy Glee Club performs at the White House National Christmas Tree lighting.


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



Salem Academy begins its robotics program, Sisters of the Motherboard, part of the FIRST Tech Challenge, a national program and continues to field two of the nation’s only all-girls robotics teams.


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 returns to the West campus.


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


Salem Academy begins a bold institutional transformation to STEAM at the Academy, preparing the next generation of women leaders.

More History

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.

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