RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Shaw University has the distinction of being one of the oldest historically black colleges in the country and the oldest in the south.

But there is another history-making aspect of Shaw that many may not know about.

It was first university in the country to house African American women in a dorm… and there is an amazing reminder of that—still present today.

“I’m here now based on my ancestors who paved the way for me,” said student Nakya Carter.

Carter and fellow student Zaid Steele are two of Shaw University’s best and brightest.

“Shaw University is a family,” Steele said.

Both chose this HBCU because of that H — the history.

“It makes me feel good, makes me feel at home… especially a person like me who loves history,” Steele said.

And what a history it is.

Shaw was formed approximately six months after the Civil War. It began as the Raleigh Institute and its purpose was to teach Theology.

Henry Martin Tupper was a Union Army Chaplain and Baptist Missionary. He founded the school in 1865 for the education of former slaves.

Students and faculty originally met in a hotel room because there was no money for a building or land.

In 1870, the school received a donation from a philanthropist named Elijah J. Shaw and with the money the school was able to purchase land near Fayetteville Street.

A year after its founding, women started attending the school. 

“When we know the weight that that carries, we cherish our education more. Being that we are the first, not the second, not the third… the first. It holds weight,” said Carter.

Another bit of history many people see passing by but may not know is Estey Hall. Now home to the administrative offices, it once housed African American female students. It was the first in the country to do that.

Drone image of Shaw University’s Estey Hall (Dave Hattman/CBS 17)

“This predates UNC Chapel Hill by several years. It wasn’t until 1898 that they even said they were going to open doors and that was for post graduate education. Here we had people coming as young as 13,” said Shaw Dean Valerie Johnson

A tour of the building is like walking through history.

Originally the building was known as Estey Seminary. It was named in honor of Jacob Estey, who was the largest donor to the project.

He owned The Estey Organ Company in Vermont.

Estey, originally built in 1874, is a four-story brick building. In 1882, the three-story south annex was added.

Aside from the dorm, it held classes in home economics, music, art, and religion.

From that foundation sprang an incredible community around it at a time people of color were struggling to just find a place as newly freed people.

“That included creating a middle class, creating homes, schools, businesses, stores and of course the religious institutions,” said Dean Johnson.

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And here’s another piece of history — it was here, inside Estey where in 1960, Ella Baker was credited for creating the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known as SNCC. 
SNCC lead the way in the important sit-in movement, which proved to be instrumental in changing the course of civil rights.

It’s in those shoes and the shadow that these young ladies proudly walk in…creating their own legacy to leave behind.

“When we leave here, we want the people who come behind us, the younger people to say, I can because they did,” Carter said.