One hundred years ago this month, the Richmond School of Social Economy opened its doors, claiming in its catalog to be the “first of its kind in the South” — an educational institution that, in contrast to traditional colleges, was deliberately located in the heart of a city. The school intended to train social workers and nurses, using its urban location to give students easy access to field work and practical experience.
Over the years, the school expanded, became co-ed, changed names several times, added new fields of study and spread its roots in the blocks neighboring Monroe Park, eventually becoming the Richmond Professional Institute of the College of William and Mary in 1939 and then an independent state institution in 1962. In 1968, RPI merged with the Medical College of Virginia to become Virginia Commonwealth University.
The photos below celebrate the history of VCU’s Monroe Park Campus and showcase what has changed but also what has stayed the same at a school where improving the human condition and solving society’s problems have always been central to its mission.
1920: A graduate of the Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health (now the VCU School of Social Work) serves at a hospital camp in Wythe County, Virginia, that was established to provide health care to impoverished children.
2015: A School of Social Work graduate student works with a child as part of her internship with local nonprofit Childsavers. The School of Social Work now has more than 500 field partnerships throughout Virginia.
1925: The mansion at 827 W. Franklin St., pictured here in the year it was acquired by the school, was the first building purchased as a “permanent location” for the school and has served in various capacities throughout the history of the university, such as a dormitory, dining hall and infirmary.
2014: Most recently, Founders Hall has served as office space. Today it is home to offices for several units within the College of Humanities and Sciences.
1922: Members of the Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health basketball team wear uniforms that cover almost their entire bodies.
1962: By the 1960s, uniforms had gotten a bit less restrictive and considerably more shiny.
2017: The 2017-18 women’s basketball team poses for a group photo in the Stuart C. Siegel Center, home of VCU basketball.
1939: Elsie Blank is crowned May Queen. In the 1870s in the U.S., women’s colleges led a resurgence of ancient May Day celebrations, a festival on May 1 that celebrated spring and often included dancing around a maypole and naming a queen to preside over the day’s festivities.
2016: Student Shawn Stuckey is crowned prince of the homecoming court during VCU’s Homecoming Week.
Circa 1965: Students skateboard across from the Shafer Street Playhouse when Shafer Court was still a regular street instead of a pedestrian walkway.
2017: Today skateboards continue to be a popular mode of transportation around campus.
1949: A model poses for students in a figure drawing class. The studio was located in what is now the Shafer Street Playhouse.
2013: In her innovative classes, Morgan Yacoe (far left), a School of the Arts alumna, crosses disciplines to teach sculpture to medical residents at VCU.
1955: The caption from this yearbook photo of the Lee House dormitory reads: “A ‘Degas’ and a grand piano reflect the variety of features which prompt residents of Lee House to speak of their dorm as ‘homey’. A TV set situated in a beautiful mahogany and lime room introduces a modern atmosphere. It is said that the most beautiful girls appear at Lee House — their set is always on.”
2017: The common rooms in residence halls at VCU continue to be “homey,” though perhaps less formal and with fewer grand pianos.
1947: The Modern Dance Group was considered a women’s athletic group at RPI in 1947, along with basketball, field hockey and swimming.
2017: Undergraduate students from VCU’s Department of Dance and Choreography create a graceful formation on the lawn behind the Scott House. Today more than 80 students major in dance in VCU’s School of the Arts.
Circa 1960s: Business students work diligently in a classroom located in what is now Hibbs Hall.
2015: College of Humanities and Sciences students interact with their professor in a classroom in the newly built Academic Learning Commons.
1989: Members of Alpha Phi Alpha perform in a stepping competition in the Student Commons Theater.
2016: Members of Omega Psi Phi compete in the Fall Block Step Show at Altria Theater during Homecoming Week.
1964: Students study in the library, which from the mid-1930s to 1970 was housed in the building known today as The Anderson.
2016: Huge windows let in loads of natural light in the Graduate Student and Faculty Research Center in Cabell Library. The center is part of an addition that was finished in 2016 to provide expanded and updated space for the library’s more than 2 million annual visitors.
Below is a condensed timeline of RPI up until it merged with MCV to become VCU in 1968. You can learn more about RPI's history from the detailed timeline available here on the VCU Libraries website.