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Estey Hall
Photo by Michael Zirkle Photography, courtesy of Raleigh Historic Development Commission
Estey Hall is the first building constructed for the higher education of black women in the United States. It is also the oldest surviving building of Shaw University, the first institutionalized effort to educate former slaves after the Civil War. A Union army chaplain and Baptist missionary, Henry Martin Tupper, founded the school in 1865. Tupper’s efforts were part of a widespread, church-based movement to educate former slaves in the post-Civil War South. Originally meeting in a Raleigh hotel room, Tupper’s school was subsequently provided a building by the Freedmen’s Bureau. In 1870, with the financial assistance of Massachusetts benefactor Elijah J. Shaw, the school purchased a tract of land at the south end of Fayetteville Street, near the former Governor’s Mansion. Five years later, the school was chartered by the General Assembly as Shaw University. It subsequently trained many of the region’s most prominent black professionals and business leaders.

[photo] Historic view of Estey Hall, the first building constructed for the higher education of black women in the United States
Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History

Shaw began to admit women soon after its founding, and in 1874, “Estey Seminary” was erected to serve them. Named for Vermont contributor Jacob Estey, the building was designed by G. S. H. Appleget, architect of the Colonel J. M. Heck house and several other large residences north of downtown. The brick building features four floors and an attic, with a cross-gable roof capped by a frame cupola. Contrasting stucco defines the window surrounds and corner quoins. A three-story south annex, added in 1882, displays similar detailing. In Estey Hall, women attended classes in home economics, music, art and religion. Records suggest they also had the opportunity, if they chose, to pursue the same courses of study offered to university men.

Estey Hall served Shaw students for nearly 100 years. However, in 1970, advancing deterioration resulted in its closing. Talk of possible demolition led to the founding of the Estey Hall Foundation, which secured the renovation of the building’s exterior and partial renovation of its interior space. Estey Hall is a designated Raleigh Historic Landmark.

Estey Hall is located in the 100 block of E. South St., on the Shaw University campus. The bilding is used for meetings and events. Call 919-546-8275 or visit the university’s website.

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