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First known as Biddle Memorial Institute, the school was founded in 1870 on Beatties Ford Road by the Catawba Presbytery. Colonel W.R. Myers donated the land. The school was named for Henry Biddle husband of its financial benefactor, Mary D. Biddle of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was here that newly free blacks could obtain an education, learn a trade and even prepare for the ministry.In 1876, the school's charter was amended, and the North Carolina General Assembly approved changing the school's name to Biddle University. On March 1, 1923, the school changed its name to Johnson C. Smith University in honor of another donor, Jane Berry Smith in honor of her late husband Johnson Crayne Smith . Biddle University was renamed Johnson C. Smith University on March 21, 1923.