Wofford_College_Seal

Wofford College

August 1, 1854 –

The first graduate, Samuel Dibble, took his diploma in 1856 and went on to become a congressman during the 1880s. Enrollment grew each year, and by 1861 sixty-five men had taken their degrees.

A four-year liberal arts college in Spartanburg, Wofford College was founded with a bequest from the Methodist minister and Spartanburg County native Benjamin Wofford. After only a few years in the active ministry, Wofford spent his life concentrating on his investments, and at his death in 1850 he left $100,000 to establish “a college for literary, classical and scientific education.” Half of the bequest was used for the construction of buildings and the other half for the endowment. Edward C. Jones, a Charleston architect, designed Wofford’s Main Building in the Italianate or Tuscan Villa style. Four houses flanked the Main Building, all of which remain in use. The General Assembly granted the trustees a charter in 1851, and the college opened on August 1, 1854, with three faculty members and seven students.

In addition to their studies in Latin, Greek, literature, and mathematics, the students participated in debating societies. The first graduate, Samuel Dibble, took his diploma in 1856 and went on to become a congressman during the 1880s. Enrollment grew each year, and by 1861 sixty-five men had taken their degrees. With the outbreak of the Civil War, most of the student body joined the Confederate army. The college’s trustees invested the entire endowment in Confederate bonds and bank securities. A long period of rebuilding the endowment followed the war. While the college remained open through the period, only in 1872 did the number of graduates exceed prewar levels.

During this period, one faculty member stood above all others as the college’s “spiritual endowment.” James Henry Carlisle began teaching mathematics at the institution in 1854 and became its third president in 1875. During his presidency the student body remained small and the faculty concentrated on producing alumni of character who could provide leadership for their home communities. Other significant developments in the Carlisle era included the first intercollegiate football game in South Carolina, between Wofford and Furman in 1889; the rise of fraternities on campus; and participation by Wofford faculty members in the founding of the Association of Southern Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1895.

On Carlisle’s retirement in 1902, Henry Nelson Snyder, a professor of English, began a forty-year term as president. He presided over a faculty of distinguished teaching scholars, including the eminent South Carolina historian David Duncan Wallace. Snyder was an influential Methodist layman, serving on the commission that reunified the Methodist Church in 1939 and on other church boards. He saw a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps unit established at the college during World War I. Early in his tenure, Snyder secured funds to construct four new buildings, including a library and a science building. The faculty’s work to improve Wofford’s academic reputation culminated in 1941 with the awarding of a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

The outbreak of World War II saw many students leave college, and early in 1943 the U.S. Army Air Corps began using the campus as a training facility. After the war ended, there was a marked increase in the number of students and a commensurate increase in the size of the faculty. These new, young professors formed the core of the teaching staff for the next generation. During the 1960s there was continued growth in facilities and there were some important social developments. The trustees voted to desegregate in May 1964, and in September, Wofford became the first private college in the state to enroll an African American student. The college had a few women students as early as 1897, but only with the approval of full residential coeducation in 1975 did large numbers of women enroll.

The 1960s and 1970s saw changes in student life and the college curriculum. A new code of conduct gave students more responsibility for enforcing campus rules. The Interim, a four-week period of intensive study or travel, was implemented in 1968. During the administration of Joab M. Lesesne, Jr. (1972–2000), more students participated in study-abroad programs and the Presidential International Scholarship allowed one student annually to travel extensively in the developing world. Also during the Lesesne presidency, the college was named the best southern liberal arts college by U.S. News and World Report and the college’s athletics program began to compete in the NCAA Division I Southern Conference. Lesesne, a historian, became the first southerner to serve as president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and he was a leader in state and national educational organizations. As president, he led the college through a period of strategic planning that brought a major grant from the Olin Foundation, an increased endowment, and eight new buildings.

The current, and eleventh, president of the College is Dr. Nayef H. Samhat.

Norrell, Thomas Harmon. “The History of Wofford College: A Small College in the Context of Change.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1993.

Snyder, Henry Nelson. An Educational Odyssey. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon- Cokesbury, 1947.

Wallace, David Duncan. History of Wofford College, 1854–1949. Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 1951.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Wofford College
  • Coverage August 1, 1854 –
  • Author
  • Keywords founded with a bequest from the Methodist minister and Spartanburg County native Benjamin Wofford, Edward C. Jones, a Charleston architect, designed Wofford’s Main Building, most of the student body joined the Confederate army, James Henry Carlisle, became the first private college in the state to enroll an African American student,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date December 1, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 26, 2022
Go to Top