It is no secret that Meredith College was named after a man named Thomas Meredith. However, who was he? Was he really worth having a college named after him?
Thomas Meredith was born on July 7, 1795, in Warwick Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to John Meredith and Charlotte Hough Meredith. In 1813, he entered the University of Pennsylvania in an effort to become a lawyer. Following the death of his mother in 1814, he decided to pursue a career as a preacher. After returning to college, Meredith, one of nine graduates, delivered the “valedictory oration” and chose “Christianity” as his subject.
The Sansom Street Church licensed Meredith to preach in late 1816 and a year later he was employed by a missionary society based in Edenton, North Carolina. Meredith united with the newly formed Baptist church in Edenton and then spent about two years preaching all over eastern North Carolina as a home missionary. In March of 1819, he accepted a call to the pastorate of the church in New Bern, and shortly became one of the leading figures among North Carolina Baptists. Also in 1819, Meredith married Georgia Sears, and the couple would eventually have eleven children: Laura, Claudia, Marcus, Bettie, Cordelia and Cornelia (twins), John, Luther and three who died in infancy. His wife and six of his children outlived him.
Meredith’s Archives states that Thomas Meredith was the first president of the Wake Forest Institute (now Wake Forest University) Board of Trustees. His counsel and assistance was well sought out when important issues arose among Baptists in North Carolina. He has often been described as the greatest single influence on Baptist history in the state. Meredith’s longest lasting contribution was his founding of the state Baptist newspaper, The Biblical Recorder, in the year 1834. In 1835, the North Carolina Baptist State Convention met to discuss the possibility of forming a “female seminary of high order.” One of the most prominent leaders in support of this was Thomas Meredith, who proposed the creation of a religious female academic institution. In his concern for the education of young women, Meredith was ahead of his time. In 1838, as chairman of a committee, he offered his idea, urging the convention to establish “a female seminary of high order...modeled and conducted on strictly religious principles but...as far as possible free from sectarian influence.” However, it took years for Meredith’s vision to become a reality. According to the North Carolina History Project, the Southern Baptist Convention approved the construction of the Baptist Female University and its first students enrolled at the college in 1899, decades after Meredith’s death.
Thomas Meredith was a tireless campaigner for higher education in North Carolina and among one of the biggest supporters of (religious) education for women. The Baptist Female University’s name was changed to the Baptist University for Women in 1904, and then changed again in the year 1910. This final name change, to Meredith College, was to honor the memory of Thomas Meredith, who died on Nov. 13, 1850.
According to Find a Grave, Meredith was buried in the Raleigh City Cemetery, where North Carolina Baptists erected a monument in his honor.
By Rachel Van Horne, News Editor