In 1836 the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church organized an academy in Due West. A professor of divinity was added the next year, and the institution was incorporated as Clark and Erskine Seminary. When more faculty were added in 1839, the institution became the first four-year denominational college in South Carolina. About 1843 the name was shortened to Erskine College and the theological seminary became an adjunct of the college. The school took its name from the eighteenth-century Scottish theologian and reformer Ebenezer Erskine. While women began attending the college in 1894, their numbers were significantly increased when the Due West Female College, organized in 1859 by Associate Reformed Presbyterians, merged with Erskine in 1927.
From its founding, the college played an important role in nurturing the social and cultural cohesion of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Generations of Associate Reformed Presbyterians from across the South sent their children to college in Due West. In addition to its formal curriculum, Erskine taught an ethic of simplicity, frugality, the value of work, social responsibility, and the importance of the life of the mind. A moderate Calvinism that emphasized not only God’s sovereignty but also God’s grace marked the life of the town, the church, and the college.
In the 1830s leaders in the establishment of Erskine challenged the South Carolina law that made it illegal to teach slaves to read. They insisted that Christian liberty to obey the Word of God and to teach their slaves to read the Bible overrode the rights of slaveowners to protect their property. Their resistance continued into the 1850s.
Following the Civil War, the college struggled to rebuild its endowment, which had been largely wiped out, and its enrollment, which had reached more than one hundred students before the war. The poverty of the region and the isolation of Due West from centers of population made the recovery long and difficult.
Nevertheless, Erskine was able to receive accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges in 1925. Beginning in the 1950s, the college successfully conducted capital fund campaigns that allowed for expansion of the campus and a substantial increase in its endowment. A campaign begun in 1992 raised more than $30 million.
Erskine boasts faculty who have won state and regional awards for excellence in teaching. By the late 1990s the college had an undergraduate enrollment of 575 and a faculty of forty full-time and ten part-time professors, and it had been classified by the Carnegie Foundation as a BAI institution, the foundation’s top classification of liberal arts colleges nationally. While Erskine continued to maintain its close ties with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, it was drawing students from more diverse backgrounds.
Ware, Lowry. A Place Called Due West: The Home of Erskine College. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1997.
Ware, Lowry Price, and James Wylie Gettys. The Second Century: A History of the Associate Reformed Presbyterians, 1882–1982. Greenville, S.C.: Associate Reformed Presbyterian Center, 1983.