Born in May 1861, Edwin Alderman attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill where his friendship with fellow students like Charles Duncan McIver, James Y. Joyner, and M.C.S. Noble encouraged his belief in educational reform in North Carolina. Graduating in 1882, he became the superintendent of schools in Goldsboro, NC. In 1886, McIver approached Alderman with the idea of establishing a teachers’ college which would serve both male and female students in the state. This concept was unique at the time as there were no public colleges or universities for white women and the private denominational colleges were often too expensive for many to attend.
Despite enthusiastic support from the North Carolina Teachers’ Assembly, the state legislature failed to pass funding for the establishment of such a school in 1887 and 1889. However, as a compromise they agreed in 1889 to fund two educators to travel to every county in the state, offering week-long teachers’ institutes. McIver and Alderman were selected to lead the program. Seizing on the opportunity to connect with people across North Carolina, they began promoting and gaining support for the establishment of a new teaching college. Their successful crusade culminated in February 1891, when the state legislature easily passed a bill to establish a Normal and Industrial School for White Girls.
In June 1891, the nine-man board of directors for the State Normal and Industrial School elected McIver as the president of the new school. While Alderman had also been interested in the job, he did not actively campaign for it against his good friend McIver and instead accepted professorships of English and History. The importance of his contribution to the school’s founding was also reflected in his yearly salary of $2,000; only $250 less than McIver’s and nearly double that of any other faculty member. Alderman left the college in 1893 to become the first professor of pedagogy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and was elected president of the university in 1896. Alderman continued his commitment to higher education by becoming president of Tulane University in 1900 and eventually was elected the first president at the University of Virginia in 1904 where he would serve until his death April 1931.