West Virginia State University was founded under the provisions of the Second Morrill Act of 1890 as the West Virginia Colored Institute, one of 19 land-grant institutions authorized by Congress and designated by the states to provide for the education of black citizens in agriculture and the mechanical arts. West Virginia was one of the states that maintained segregated educational systems at that time.
From 1891 to 1915, the original Institute offered the equivalent of a high school education, vocational training, and teacher preparation. In 1915, the West Virginia Collegiate Institute began to offer college degrees. Under the leadership of President John W. Davis, the academic program was expanded and new buildings were constructed, and in 1927, the Institution was accredited by the North Central Association; in 1929, it became West Virginia State College. Over the next decades, WVSC became recognized as one of the leading public institutions of higher education for African-Americans.