Originally known as Clinton College, the institution became the Presbyterian College of South Carolina in 1890, when oversight of the college was increased to include all presbyteries in the Synod of South Carolina.
A liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and located in Clinton, Presbyterian College was founded in 1880 by William Plumer Jacobs, minister of the town’s First Presbyterian Church. Jacobs established the college as the means of furthering the education of youth in Thornwell Orphanage, which he had begun in Clinton five years earlier.
Originally known as Clinton College, the institution became the Presbyterian College of South Carolina in 1890, when oversight of the college was increased to include all presbyteries in the Synod of South Carolina. In 1904 a new charter replaced local control with a board of trustees largely elected by the state presbyteries. This governing structure ended a decade of uncertainty about the institution’s future and cemented the college’s relationship with the church. This relationship grew stronger in 1928 when Presbyterians in the Synod of Georgia joined in support of the institution, now named Presbyterian College.
Growth marked the tenures of Presidents William G. Neville (1904–1907) and Davison M. Douglas (1911–1926). From a student body of 58 and six faculty members in 1904, the college expanded to 276 students and a faculty of twenty. In 1923 the college gained full accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. Over the next twenty years, however, Presbyterian College faced serious challenges. The decline in South Carolina’s agricultural economy in the 1920s and the national economic depression that followed diminished college support and led to operating deficits and increased financial liabilities. In 1935 the college lost full accreditation due to its precarious financial position. Presbyterian College survived through the careful management of President John McSween (1928–1935) and the promotional efforts of President William P. Jacobs II (1935–1945), a grandson of the college’s founder.
The years following World War II brought renewed growth. Now debt free, Presbyterian College regained full accreditation in 1949, and enrollment approached five hundred. Under the presidency of Marshall Brown (1945–1963) the physical plant was expanded to accommodate larger enrollments, the endowment substantially increased, and the academic program modernized.
In 1965, during the presidency of Marc Weersing (1963–1979), Presbyterian College began admitting women as residential students. From its inception the college had welcomed women, but only as commuting students. With the addition of residential women students, enrollment increased to 850 by 1971. In the next two decades Presbyterian College solidified its position as a leading liberal arts college in the state. During the presidency of Kenneth Orr (1979–1997) careful planning, successful financial campaigns, and the inclusion of Florida Presbyterians in the governance of the institution led the college to grow to more than 1,000 students. Under President John Griffith, Presbyterian College began the new century with a strategic plan to integrate its academic program, diversify its student body, and emphasize living-learning opportunities on its campus.
In the early twenty-first century, Presbyterian College maintained its close connection to the Presbyterian Church. The institution prided itself on providing a liberal arts education “within a community of faith, learning, and intellectual freedom.” Presbyterian College’s community spirit, seen in the personal relationships among students and faculty, was exemplified in the school’s honor code and its dedication to service.
Hammet, Ben Hay. The Spirit of PC: A Centennial History of Presbyterian College. Clinton, S.C.: Jacobs, 1982.