Our History

Take a journey through the illustrious history of Virginia State University spanning over 130 years.

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Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute is founded

VSU is founded on March 6, 1882, when legislature passes a bill to charter the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. The bill is sponsored by Delegate Alfred W. Harris, a Black attorney whose offices are in Petersburg but who lives in and represents Dinwiddie County in the General Assembly.


Institute officially opens

After a 19-month delay due to a hostile lawsuit, the institute finally opens its doors on October 1, 1883.


The first academic year

In the first academic year, the University has 126 students and seven faculty (all of them Black), one building, 33 acres, a 200-book library, and a $20,000 budget.


First president is named

John Mercer Langston becomes the first person to bear the title of president. Until 1992, Mercer, who was the great-uncle of famed writer Langston Hughes, was the only African American elected to U.S. Congress from Virginia.


Collegiate program curtailed

The legislature revises the charter act to curtail the collegiate program and to change the name to Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute.


Land-grant program arrives

The land-grant program for Blacks is moved from a private school, Hampton Institute, to Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute.


Collegiate program returns

In 1923, the college program is restored.


Name changes again

The college’s name changes to Virginia State College for Negroes.


Norfolk branch is added

The two-year branch in Norfolk joins the college.


Another name change

The parent school is renamed Virginia State College.


Norfolk division shifts to four years

The Norfolk division officially becomes a four-year branch.


Norfolk division breaks away

The Norfolk division gains independence as Norfolk State College.


The final name change

The legislature passes a law that provides the present name: Virginia State University.


VSU celebrates centennial year

By now the university is fully integrated, with a student body of nearly 5,000 and a full-time faculty of about 250. The 236-acre campus also houses a library containing 200,000 books and 360,000 microform and non-print items, a 416-acre farm, and more than 50 buildings (including 15 dormitories and 16 classroom buildings), with a biennial budget of $31,000,000.


VSU receives accolades

College Choice ranks VSU 12th out of 104 historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs) in America. VSU also places fifth in the nation as a top producer of teachers. HBCU Digest also names VSU’s Department of Art and design as the Best Fine Arts Program in an HBCU.


VSU receives high praise

HBCU Digest recognizes VSU as the top HBCU, the Best Female Student, and the Best Board of Trustees.