Though there have been many changes in the past 120 years, much remains the same. In a 1922 letter to former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, our founder wrote, “…the college will never be a large institution…but I doubt if any will do more good…” As a school of opportunity, Lees-McRae upholds this ideal today.  

From fireside education for local young women, to the four-year comprehensive college of today, Lees-McRae continues to serve and inspire students from this region and beyond.

As the highest elevated campus on the east coast, our location remains central to our identity. It makes sense that our motto—In Montibus, Ex Montibus, Pro Montibus or In the Mountains, Of the Mountains, For the Mountains—directly addresses what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. Our mountain home, has given way to academic curriculum that emphasizes an experiential education.

Programs in Wildlife Rehabilitation, Biology, and Wildlife Biology make use of spaces including the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and the 70-acre Elk Valley Preserve and Field Station as student learning laboratories in a natural environment.

Students from the Outdoor Recreation Management, Ski Industry Business and Instruction, Wilderness Medicine, and Cycling Studies also use our location to their advantage with Beech Mountain Ski Resort, Grandfather Mountain, the Blue Ridge Parkway, miles of trails, and much more just steps from their classroom.

Even our Nursing, Health and Wellness Science, and Emergency Medical Services and Management programs focus heavily on healthcare practices tailored to the unique needs of Appalachia, and the use of cutting-edge technology to serve rural residents.

In short: we are small, but we are mighty. Since our first days with a handful of students, to becoming the alma mater for thousands of graduates making a difference across the globe—Lees-McRae continues to inspire people to be their best.

Celebrating our 120th anniversary isn’t just about honoring our past, it’s also about building towards our future. Throughout the year, we will roll out a new Strategic Plan as well as a Facilities Master Plan—both long-term frameworks for how the college will look in the years to come.


Celebrating 120 Years

Honoring Our Past, Building Our Future


After establishing a church, the young and newly ordained, Rev. Edgar Tufts began informal education for local women before developing a boarding school in 1900. Rev. Tufts later started the local hospital and orphans' home.


One of the few colleges in the U.S. named after two women—generous benefactor Mrs. Susanna P. Lees and early summer school teacher Mrs. Elizabeth A. McRae. Without either of them, Lees-McRae would not be what it is today.


Edgar Hall Tufts Jr. took over the helm, following the passing of his father in 1923. He served as administrative head of the college and the first president of the Edgar Tufts Memorial Association until his own death in 1942.


Our oldest—and flagship—buildings on campus include the North Carolina Building, Tennessee Residence Hall, Virginia Residence Hall, Tufts Tower, and the Rock House, each built of native stone.


Proud of its Appalachian heritage, Lees-McRae is steeped in traditions to this day. The most notable being Mountain Day—a day off from class to give back to the community and celebrate living in the High Country.


The college’s major milestones include expanding from a two-year institution to a four-year college in 1990. In the early 2000s, the college began remote degree completion programs, and in 2018 added its first graduate program.


Throughout the years, the Bobcats have proven their dominance. From football in our earlier years, to national championships in cycling and conference championships in basketball and softball, teamwork is at the heart of Lees-McRae.


The college was quick to embrace the digital age and grew our distance programs by adding online education—today we are recognized for competitive undergraduate programs and graduate offerings.


Celebrating who we are isn’t just about honoring our past, it’s also about building towards our future. Lees-McRae will roll out a new Strategic Plan as well as the Facilities Master Plan—both long-term frameworks for how we’ll look in the years to come.

Follow along throughout the year!

Join us as we recognize this historic milestone during annual celebrations such as Appalachian Heritage Week, Mountain Day, Founder’s Day, Homecoming, Commencement, and so much more.


Stay connected throughout the year by following us on social media and be sure to share your favorite memories using #120YearsofLeesMcRae.