On April 19, 1837, Cheyney State College, one of the oldest Black colleges in the US, founded in its original form as a school for Black boys. Founded as the Institute for Colored Youth, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania is known as the first institution for higher learning for African Americans. The founding of Cheyney University was made possible by Richard Humphreys, a Quaker philanthropist who bequeathed $10,000, one tenth of his estate, to design and establish a school to educate the descendents of the African race.
Born on a plantation in the West Indies, Richard Humphreys came to Philadelphia in 1764. Having witnessed the struggles of African Americans competing unsuccessfully for jobs due to the influx of immigrants, he became interested in their plight. In 1829, race riots heightened and it was that year Richard Humphreys wrote his will and charged thirteen fellow Quakers to design an institution: “…to instruct the descendents of the African Race in school learning, in the various branches of the mechanic Arts, trades and Agriculture, in order to prepare and fit and qualify them to act as teachers….”
The school began in Philadelphia as the Institute for Colored Youth and successfully provided free classical education for qualified young people. In 1902, the Institute moved to George Cheyney’s farm, 25 miles west of Philadelphia. In 1913, the name was changed to Cheyney State Teachers College; in 1921, the State Normal School at Cheyney; and in 1959, Cheyney State College. In 1983, Cheyney joined the State System of Higher Education as Cheyney University of Pennsylvania.
Today, Cheyney University students represent a variety of races, cultures, and nationalities who receive education instruction beyond the vision of Richard Humphreys. Cheyney graduates still become teachers, but students also enter careers such as journalism, medicine, business, science, law, communication, and government service. The university offers baccalaureate degrees in more than 30 disciplines and the master’s degree in education.