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Winthrop University

November 15, 1886 –

In 1891 the General Assembly passed an act creating “The Winthrop Normal and Industrial College of South Carolina for the education of white girls.” Support came in the form of scholarships; each county was granted two. The act’s intent proclaimed that the college be “good enough for the richest and cheap enough for the poorest.”

Located in Rock Hill, Winthrop University traces its roots to Reconstruction. David Bancroft Johnson, superintendent of the Columbia City School System, lobbied Robert C. Winthrop, president of the Board of Trustees of the Peabody Education Fund, for money to start a teacher-training institution in 1886. Impressed by the need for teachers in South Carolina, Winthrop provided $1,500 of Peabody funds, plus $50 from his own pocket. On November 15, 1886, Winthrop Training School opened its doors in Columbia to nineteen students. Despite name changes, Winthrop University asserted its “century-old heritage as the preeminent teacher preparation program in the Southeast.”

In 1891 the General Assembly passed an act creating “The Winthrop Normal and Industrial College of South Carolina for the education of white girls.” Support came in the form of scholarships; each county was granted two. The act’s intent proclaimed that the college be “good enough for the richest and cheap enough for the poorest.” In 1900 it was argued that “South Carolina generously maintains three institutions for the higher education of men. The women in the State are greater in numbers than the men, and the State’s welfare is more dependent upon them. To educate the mother assures the education of the children.”

Winthrop did not remain in the state’s capital; three towns competed for a new Winthrop facility. In 1895 the institution was moved to Rock Hill. The state pledged buildings, equipment, and the “labor of 100 convicts for three years.” By 1920 the name was changed again, this time to Winthrop College, the South Carolina College for Women. By 1929 Winthrop’s board of trustees proudly presented data to the General Assembly bragging of the college’s production of teachers. To that date the college had produced 2,601 graduates with certificates to teach. Their nearest competitor had produced 396.

Leadership in the early years was consistent. Dr. D. B. Johnson served as the college’s president from 1886 until 1928. Typical of southern women’s colleges, Winthrop did not have a female president until 1986. Martha Kims Piper served only two years before she died in office in 1988.

Throughout its history, the college retained its roots in the liberal arts. As a women’s institution, Winthrop observed the social conventions of the times. Female students wore uniforms until 1955, and they remained under the care of the college until they returned home. As early as 1900 more than five hundred students were enrolled, and the campus grew to accommodate its growing population. By the 1940s the “College Farm” was producing vegetables, dairy, and poultry in support of the institution.

Integration came before coeducation. In 1964 the first African American student enrolled. By 2002–2003 African Americans accounted for approximately one-quarter of the student body. In 1974 the governor authorized the board of trustees to pursue coeducation.

By the end of the twentieth century, Winthrop was awarding both bachelor’s and master’s degrees and enrolled more than six thousand undergraduate and graduate students. The college houses the South Carolina Center for Teacher Recruitment, the nation’s oldest teacher recruitment program, although business management has replaced education as Winthrop’s largest program.

Chepesiuk, Ronald, and Magdalena Chepesiuk. Winthrop University. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia, 2000.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Winthrop University
  • Coverage November 15, 1886 –
  • Author
  • Keywords traces its roots to Reconstruction, Rock Hill, Integration came before coeducation
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date December 2, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 26, 2022
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