The Wake Forest Spirit

Even during its first year on the Jones plantation when the students were living in the cabins of former enslaved workers and attending classes in the carriage house, qualities of life and work developed that would converge over time to form what has been called the Wake Forest Spirit.

To the faculty and the students, this intangible quality was as real as the rock wall and the giant magnolias and was the essence of Wake Forest College.


Writing in The Student magazine in 1947, Professor Hubert M. Poteat (’06) summarized the elements that he believed comprised that Spirit. According to him, sound and honest work was the norm.

There was also a tradition of democracy in daily life where someone’s money and family counted for little and where friendliness was in the air that each student and professor breathed. Freedom to seek the truth, in Professor’s Poteat’s view, was paramount at the College. The faculty believed that it was more important to teach the student, not the subject, and to teach the student to think.

1881 class

Reflecting the College motto, Pro Humanitate, Wake Forest students were supposed to serve humanity wherever life carried them. Allegiance to alma mater was a long-held tradition that created close and lasting ties to the school. The central quality to the Wake Forest Spirit, however, was religious faith that had its roots in the founding of the College in 1834.

Baptist Church circa 1920

As the faculty prepared for the move to Winston-Salem in the months before the end of the 1956 academic year, some expressed fear that the student spirit of the old campus would not be transferred to Winston-Salem.

Whether or not that fear was justified would become known in subsequent years as new beliefs, expectations, values, and traditions would evolve and become an integral part of life on the new campus.


  1. Is there a way to get the names of the 1881 Students pictured here? I’m retired Fac at Wake Forest, working on a book of the Debate history. Wondering if this pic includes:
    1881 – Anniversary Day – As the cause of civil liberty been promoted by the diffusion of intelligence than by human suffering
    Affirmative, W. T. Llewellyn & D. L. Ward; E. M. Poteat & D. W. Harring
    Affirmative – 170 to 46

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