Asheville Archives: Montreat Normal School launches, 1916

FORMER DORMITORY: This 1907 postcard shows the Alba Hotel in Montreat, which later doubled as a dormitory for early students of the Montreat Normal School. The structure burned down in 1945. Photo by Alice Margaret Dickinson; postcard from the collection of Mary and Joe Standaert

In October 1916, the Montreat Normal School, an all-female institution, opened. Early newspaper accounts are scarce. Fortunately, the North Carolina Room at Pack Library possesses documents from the school’s history, including a 1921 brochure.

According to the leaflet, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which used the property during the summer for its annual Bible conference, donated the space to the school for the remainder of the year. The site’s two hotels (the Montreat Hotel, which burned down in 1924, and the Alba Hotel, which burned down in 1945) operated as a classroom and a dormitory, respectively.

“The curriculum embraces the four years of high-school work, two years of normal or college work, a thorough course in House-hold Economics, Bible study and music,” the pamphlet read. Meanwhile, “students pay only board, laundry and some small incidentals,” the leaflet promulgated.

Fees totaled $225 for the nine-month term (or roughly $3,235 in today’s dollar). However, $100 scholarships were available to those who could not afford full tuition. Summer employment opportunities were also offered to those who could not afford the remaining $125 fee.

“Every girl of ability, who desires an education and whose character and purposes insure the best use of an education, should be enabled to have it,” the pamphlet declared. “For this reason the Montreat Normal makes a character test only, for her students. No worthy girl is turned away for the lack of funds.”

Over time, coverage of the school featured more prominently in local papers. An article in the March 6, 1932, Sunday edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times described it as “one of the most unusual and serviceable educational institutions of its kind in the Southland.”

The article emphasized the school’s focus on character and Christian study. It also noted the property’s latest amenities, which included tennis courts, basketball courts and athletic fields.

“It is the policy of the authorities to make this institution a home as well as a school,” the article continued. “The teachers live in the dormitory with girls, eat at the same table with them, and join in all the recreation.”

Students formed literary societies and other social clubs, the paper reported. The school also had “its own radio, victrola, and moving picture apparatus. These help the social committees of the different organizations to provide many evenings of fun and entertainment that rest the mind after the week of strenuous study.”

According to the 1932 article, the Montreat Normal School’s student body represented several states in the South, as well as California, Michigan and Washington, D.C. International students also attended the school, arriving from Brazil, Cuba and Africa.

Two years later, the school changed its name to Montreat College. In 1959, the institution became coeducational and was renamed Montreat-Anderson College. Decades later, in 1995, the previous name of Montreat College was restored.

Today, the college has locations in Montreat, Asheville, Charlotte and Morganton.

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents. 

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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