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A history of RPI

The VCU library has available for download the 167-page A history of the Richmond Professional Institute: from its beginning in 1917 to its consolidation with the Medical College of Virginia in 1968 to form Virginia Commonwealth University by Dr. Henry H. Hibbs:


In 1917, a group of Richmond community leaders organized the Richmond School of Social Economy to address the social and health concerns of urban life. The school would train social workers and public health nurses, becoming the first school of its kind in the south. Henry Hibbs was hired as its first director. He opened the Richmond School of Social Economy on a shoestring budget in a facility provided by the city. Immediately, it began supplying Richmond with free labor in the form of student field work.

In 1925, after operating in three different locations, the school, now named the Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health, purchased a building at 827 W. Franklin Street. This building would later be known as Founder’s Hall. The school gained affiliation with the College of William and Mary and in 1939 was renamed the Richmond Professional Institute of the College of William and Mary. The new name denoted the unique emphasis of the institution on professional studies.

The student population of RPI increased rapidly, with enrollment growing from 51 full-time students in 1925, to 450 in 1940, to 1,100 in 1952. The curriculum also expanded to include a dozen schools and divisions by 1953, when it became fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges. By the end of the 1950s, courses ranged from art and art history to theatre, music, business, social work, and many others. Henry Hibbs asserted, “none of these [courses] duplicated the work of other colleges in Virginia.”

Henry Hibbs retired in 1959 after leading the school for 42 years. By the early 1960s he and his wife, Jessie R. Persinger Hibbs, retired to Lexington, Virginia. In 1968, RPI merged with the Medical College of Virginia to become Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Henry Hibbs died April 4, 1977 at the age of 89.

Henry Hibbs

Henry Hibbs

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