In the 2016 U.S. News & World Report America's Best Colleges report, Wake Forest ranked tied for 5th in terms of "Best Undergraduate Teaching" in the U.S., tied for 27th overall among national universities, and tied for 333rd overall among global universities. Wake Forest has produced 15 Rhodes Scholars, including 13 since 1986, four Marshall Scholars, 15 Truman Scholars and 92 Fulbright recipients since 1993.
Notable people of Wake Forest University include author Maya Angelou, mathematician Phillip Griffiths, Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan, athletes Chris Paul, Tim Duncan, Muggsy Bogues, Brian Piccolo and Arnold Palmer, and CEO Charlie Ergen.
During the Baptist State Convention of 1833 at Cartledge Creek Baptist Church in Rockingham, North Carolina, establishment of Wake Forest Institute (later Wake Forest University) was ratified. Wake Forest University was founded after the North Carolina Baptist State Convention purchased a 615-acre (2.49 km2) plantation from Dr. Calvin Jones in an area north of Raleigh (Wake County) called the "Forest of Wake." The new school, designed to teach both Baptist ministers and laymen, opened on February 3, 1834, as the Wake Forest Manual Labor Institute, named because students and staff were required to spend half of each day doing manual labor on the plantation. Dr. Samuel Wait, a Baptist minister, was selected as the "principal," later president, of the institute.
In 1838, it was renamed Wake Forest College, and the manual labor system was abandoned. The town that grew up around the college came to be called the town of Wake Forest. In 1862, during the American Civil War, the school closed due to the loss of most students and some faculty to service in the Confederate States Army. The college re-opened in 1866 and prospered over the next four decades under the leadership of presidents Washington Manly Wingate, Thomas H. Pritchard, and Charles Taylor. In 1894, the School of Law was established, followed by the School of Medicine in 1902. The university held its first summer session in 1921. Lea Laboratory was built in 1887-1888, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
The leading college figure in the early 20th century was Dr. William L. Poteat, a gifted biologist and the first layman to be elected president in the college's history. "Dr. Billy" continued to promote growth, hired many outstanding professors, and expanded the science curriculum. He also stirred upheaval among North Carolina Baptists with his strong support of teaching the theory of evolution but eventually won formal support from the Baptist State Convention for academic freedom at the college.
The School of Medicine moved to Winston-Salem (then North Carolina's second-largest city) in 1941 under the supervision of Dean Coy Cornelius Carpenter, who guided the school through the transition from a two-year to a four-year program. The school then became the Bowman Gray School of Medicine. The following year, 1942, Wake Forest admitted its first female undergraduate students, after World War II dramatically depleted the pool of male students.
In 1946, as a result of large gifts from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the entire college agreed to move to Winston-Salem, a move that was completed for the beginning of the fall 1956 term, under the leadership of Dr. Harold W. Tribble. Charles and Mary Reynolds Babcock (daughter of R. J. Reynolds) donated to the college about 350 acres (1.4 km2) of fields and woods at "Reynolda," their estate. From 1952 to 1956, fourteen new buildings were constructed on the new campus. These buildings were constructed in Georgian style. The old campus in Wake Forest was sold to the Baptist State Convention to establish the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.