Our History

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

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1880
1882

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.

1883

Institute officially opens

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

1884

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.

1886

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.

1902

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.

1920

Land-grant program arrives

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

1923

Collegiate program returns

In 1923, the college program is restored.

1930

Name changes again

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

1944

Norfolk branch is added

The two-year branch in Norfolk joins the college.

1946

Another name change

The parent school is renamed Virginia State College.

1956

Norfolk division shifts to four years

The Norfolk division officially becomes a four-year branch.

1969

Norfolk division breaks away

The Norfolk division gains independence as Norfolk State College.

1979

The final name change

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

1982

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.

2015

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.

2018

VSU receives high praise

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