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Founders and Key Historical Figures

Thomas Green Clemson (1807-1888)

The University’s founder and namesake, was a Philadelphia-born, European-educated engineer who married John C. Calhoun’s daughter, Anna, and settled at her family estate in South Carolina. Clemson was as complex as the times in which he lived: He was a diplomat, mining engineer and agriculturalist whose hobbies included music, art and the classics. He was also a Confederate officer and a plantation and slave owner.  Clemson was a staunch advocate of agricultural education and was involved in the development of the Morrill Act, which established the land-grant college system. His diverse education led to his visionary bequest and philanthropy that established Clemson University in his last will and testament. Read more.

Anna Maria Calhoun Clemson (1817 – 1875)

Anna inherited her mother’s style and grace and her father’s interest in politics. She was well educated, culminating her studies at the South Carolina Female Collegiate Institute, an academically rigorous women’s college. As the wife of Thomas Green Clemson, Anna fulfilled the roles of diplomat’s spouse, plantation mistress, mother and confidant, and she is considered the co-founder of the University that bears her married name. The motto of the Clemson University Women’s Alumni Council campaign is, “Her Land, His Plan,” a reminder that the Clemsons had a collective vision of what would be built at the Fort Hill place following their deaths. Read more.

John Caldwell Calhoun (1782 – 1850)

Calhoun held many high offices, including U.S. Vice President twice, during a political career that spanned approximately 40 years and included service in both houses of Congress and as Secretary of War and Secretary of State. He was one of the most powerful and influential statesmen in U.S. history, and his speeches and writings articulated economic and political theories that are relevant today.  He also advocated for slavery as a “positive good,” and his support for states’ rights and limited government influenced the South’s secession from the Union 11 years after his death. Clemson University is built on Calhoun’s Fort Hill Plantation, which was passed to daughter Anna Calhoun Clemson, and then to her husband, Thomas Green Clemson. Read more.

Floride Bonneau Colhoun Calhoun (1792 – 1866)

Floride was a prominent woman even before she married career politician John C. Calhoun in 1811. She was the daughter of John Ewing Colhoun Sr., a Revolutionary War soldier and aid-de-camp to his brother-in-law, General Andrew Pickens. Colhoun was a U.S. Senator and Lowcountry plantation owner who purchased land in the Upstate that would eventually pass into the hands of Anna Calhoun Clemson.  After years in the Washington society spotlight, Mrs. Calhoun retired to Fort Hill a year before her husband voluntarily resigned as vice president, where she managed the 1,100-acre plantation and the 70 to 80 African-American slaves who labored there and expanded the home from a four-room cottage to a 14-room upcountry plantation house. Read more.

Richard Wright Simpson (1840-1912)

A Pendleton-born farmer, lawyer, legislator and Confederate soldier, Simpson became a close friend and confidante of Thomas Green Clemson in his later years. In his capacity as Clemson’s attorney, he authored and served as executor of Clemson’s Last Will and Testament, lobbied vigorously for its acceptance in the state legislature and defended it in court. One of the original trustees named in Clemson’s will, Simpson served as board president for 17 years. Read more.

Benjamin Ryan Tillman (1847-1918)

Tillman was a powerful politician who served as Governor and U.S. Senator and was one of the original seven trustees named in the will of Thomas Green Clemson. A successful farmer, he embraced the idea of an agricultural college in the Upstate. Tillman's contributions to Clemson’s founding are significant, but his efforts to energize rural white voters came at the expense of the state’s disenfranchised African Americans, and his views on race and white supremacy were extreme even for his time. Read more.