When the Civil War ended in 1865, Negroes recognized education was the path to providing for one’s family and to bettering one’s condition in society. Despite newfound freedoms, former slaves and freedmen had few options to pursue elementary, much less higher education. Access to formal education was an exceptionally rare in rural communities. In small towns, Negro education fell to the church, where students learned their earliest lessons from local clergy.
As with other schools established with heavy influence from the church, the Delaware Conference Academy in Princess Anne, Md., focused on not only developing skills in reading, writing and arithmetic, but also on instilling a foundation of good Christian values in its students. The intellectual and spiritual development of students, who did not have the opportunity to receive an education, was paramount and seen as the North Star to future success.
The federal Morrill Act of 1862, also known as the Land Grant College Act, was adopted to establish institutions in each state to educate people in agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts and related professions of that era. The law allocated large tracts of federal land for states to sell and then plow proceeds into supporting public colleges. Those institutions, however, refused to enroll Negro students. It was not until 1890, when Congress passed the Second Morrill Act, that the federal government formally recognized its obligation to support Negro institutions of higher education.
The Academy’s embrace of land-grant instruction and the funding that accompanied it added another dynamic to its mission, one with which the institution grappled into the 20th century. It meant an emphasis on industrial or vocational education, where students learned trades and skills that could help rebuild the country and their lives. This sparked the emergence of programs in industrial and mechanical arts, animal husbandry and domestic science.
Not only was the institution now developing the mind and spirit, but the hands as well. As the Academy matured and control passed from the church to the state of Maryland, the Christian emphasis would diminish, though it remains today a foundation of the institution’s tradition and rich history.
Today, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore emphasizes baccalaureate and graduate programs in the liberal arts, health professions, sciences and teacher education.
In keeping with its land-grant mandate, the University’s purpose and uniqueness are grounded in distinctive learning, discovery and engagement opportunities in agriculture, marine and environmental sciences, technology, engineering and aviation sciences, health professions and the hospitality industry.
Degrees are offered at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels.
Kimberly Conway Dumpson, Esq. is Executive Vice President for Institutional Advancement at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.