Bishop Payne Divinity School

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Bishop Payne Divinity School

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Originally called St. Stephen’s Normal and Theological School, Bishop Payne Divinity School (Petersburg, Virginia) was founded in 1878 as a branch seminary of the Virginia Theological Seminary. Its first graduate was James S. Russell, who went on to found St. Paul’s Normal and Industrial School in nearby Lawrenceville. When the school was chartered by the State of Virginia in 1884, it was renamed Bishop Payne Divinity and Industrial School in honor of the Rt. Rev. John Payne, the first Bishop of Liberia.

Enrollment decreased dramatically in the 1890s following several canonical actions by the church that marginalized their African American congregations. The name was changed again in 1910 to Bishop Payne Divinity School when the school was given the power to confer the degree of Bachelor of Divinity. Maintaining an adequate budget to operate and improve the school and competing with white seminaries which began to admit black students were constant challenges that led to the decision to close the school in 1949. Its assets were transferred in 1953 to the Virginia Theological Seminary for the purpose of recruiting and educating African Americans.

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