Warren Wilson College began as the Asheville Farm School in 1894. The school was founded by the women’s home missions board of the Presbyterian Church, in order to give mountain boys vocational training and classroom study. Initially the school enrolled 25 students in grades one through three. Higher grades were added as enrollment increased, and in 1923 the first high school class was graduated.
In 1942 the Asheville Farm School and Dorland-Bell School for girls in Hot Springs, N.C., merged to become the coeducational Warren H. Wilson Vocational Junior College and Associated Schools. The expanded institution in the Swannanoa Valley was named for the late superintendent of the Presbyterian Church’s Department of Church and Country Life.
After graduating its final high school class in 1957, Warren Wilson remained a junior college until 1967, when it became a senior liberal arts college offering a bachelor’s degree. The first seniors in the four-year program were graduated in 1969. Four years later, the College officially separated from the Presbyterian Board of National Missions and became an independent college guided by a board of trustees.
An international and cross-cultural emphasis is a major part of the history and heritage of the College. Faculty, staff, and administrators have sought to advance intercultural understanding since the 1920s, when Cuban students enrolled in the Asheville Farm School. The College admitted a boy in 1939 whose parents had fled Nazi Germany, and perhaps even more remarkably, enrolled two Japanese-American students in 1942, after the Pearl Harbor attack. In 1952 — two years before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision began to slowly integrate schools in the old South — the College admitted its first African-American student, Alma Shippy of Swannanoa. Today the College enrolls students from many nations, and through its international program offers all students study, internship, and service opportunities across the globe.
Set within one of the most biodiverse regions in North America, Warren Wilson has an environmental ethic anchored in the early history of its land and promised in its mission. Students, faculty and staff honor these traditions and, through the College’s Triad, apply formal commitments to sustainability in their work, service, and academics. Warren Wilson was one of the first institutions in the nation, in the 1970s, to pioneer an environmental studies major.
Since 1967, Warren Wilson College has come far as a four-year college. The curriculum has greatly expanded as enrollment has increased. Students can now choose from a wide variety of majors, concentrations, and minors, plus honors and pre-professional programs. Although the College has remained primarily an undergraduate institution, in 1981 it added a graduate program, the MFA Program for Writers, that has become nationally acclaimed with many award-winning faculty and alumni.
The College’s recent past also has been distinguished by the forging of numerous partnerships with the broader community. The Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, Buncombe County Schools and, on the edge of campus, North Carolina Outward Bound School and Mountain Area Child and Family Center. In 1996 the College and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians became official partners in the Cherokee Archaeology Field School on campus near the Swannanoa River. More recently, Warren Wilson and the City of Asheville signed an agreement stating their intent to work together toward climate partnership goals.