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Mitchell Sisters: A Lasting Legacy

In recognizing Women’s History Month, Mitchell Community College would like to recognize its namesake: Margaret Elliot Mitchell and Eliza North Mitchell Grant. Under their leadership, beginning in the summer of 1875 and lasting until Mrs. Grant’s passing in January 1883, the College knew success and reputation as it had never since experienced.

Margaret and Eliza were the third and fourth daughters of Reverend Elisha Mitchell, the famous professor of mathematics and science at the University of North Carolina, whose geological studies led to the identification of NC’s Mount Mitchell as the highest peak in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. Both of his daughters inherited his love for learning and followed in his footsteps as educators. Their impact was so influential that in 1917, the college was named Mitchell College to praise the educational efforts and accomplishments of the Mitchell sisters and their father. Mitchell College was incorporated into the NC Community College system in 1973, but their name remained forever attached to the legacy they left behind.

The Mitchell sisters jointly ran Oxford Female Academy in Oxford, NC from 1868 to 1875. At Oxford, Margaret was President with Eliza supporting her as assistant in all administrative duties. Receiving an offer from the current owners of the College in 1875, the Mitchell sisters accepted leadership of what we know today as Mitchell Community College (at that time, the college was known as the Simonton Female College, named after its current owners).

With the new opportunity, Eliza functioned as President, and Margaret was her assistant in administrative duties – a likely switch because the pair realized that Eliza was more suited to administration while Margaret preferred the classroom. The College thrived under the Mitchell sisters’ leadership with a high expectation for student success. The Mitchell sisters’ goal for the College was to develop a “course of study’ that would ‘best benefit pupils for the duties of life’ and prepare them to become ‘intelligent and useful members of the home circle, and of society.” Today, their educational goals would be thought of as advocation for life-long learning – a value that still holds true for Mitchell Community College today.

The Mitchell sisters’ administration also established more equitable opportunities and created a focus around holistic wellbeing for students at the College, laying another foundation for a lasting Mitchell legacy. Eliza and Margaret’s educational style broke norms that led to increased enrollment during their administration. One Statesville citizen is even documented at the time stating that the sisters were brought in to “revive an interest in female education.”

To quote the late historian and former Mitchell History Professor, William “Bill” Moose: “The college had become ‘hers,’ in a way that was different from any of her predecessors. Without [Eliza and Margaret], there would be no college” (p.73).

All information in this article was sourced from William Moose’s A History of Mitchell Community College (2005).