Shepherd University began when the county seat of Jefferson County, West Virginia, was moved from Shepherdstown to Charles Town in July 1871. The people of Shepherdstown and vicinity decided to use the vacated courthouse for educational purposes. An article of incorporation for a school to be known as Shepherd College, designed to instruct students “in languages, arts and sciences,” was drawn up and signed by C.W. Andrews, A.R. Boteler, C.T. Butler, G.M. Beltzhoover, David Billmyer, Samuel Knott, and Henry Shepherd. This body of incorporators gave itself power to elect instructors, pay salaries, and prescribe courses of study. Professor Joseph McMurran was appointed first principal of the institution, which opened with 42 students in September 1871, under the authority of the Board of Trustees.
On February 27, 1872, the Legislature of West Virginia passed the following act: “That a branch of the State Normal School be and the same is hereby established at the building known as Shepherd College, in Shepherdstown, in the county of Jefferson.”
Shepherd became a four-year college for the training of teachers on July 1, 1930, at which time the institution began granting the bachelor of arts degree. Shepherd was authorized to implement liberal arts programs in 1943, and in 1950 the bachelor of science degree was added.
Also in 1950 Shepherd was accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (now the Higher Learning Commission), and in 1951 it became a member of the Association of American Colleges.
In the past two decades, Shepherd has added 13 new buildings, including the $9 million Robert C. Byrd Science and Technology Center; the $18 million addition to the Scarborough Library, which also houses the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies; the $10 million Erma Ora Byrd nursing classroom building; the $10 million Center for Contemporary Arts Phase I; the $21.6 million Wellness Center, the $13.8 million Center for Contemporary Arts Phase II, and the $5.6 million pedestrian underpass. Shepherd’s Martinsburg Center at 261 Aikens Center just off Edwin Miller Boulevard opened fall 2013, offering working adult learners the Regents bachelor of arts degree, bachelor of science in nursing (R.N. to B.S.N. track), master of business administration (accounting, health care, public management, and sport management concentrations), and master of arts in curriculum and instruction including a new endorsement in multi-categorical special education concentration.