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Board of Trustees

Chapter II — History

Thomas Green Clemson – scientist, engineer, diplomat, planter, painter and musician – was a nineteenth century Renaissance man destined to become one of the most influential men in the history of South Carolina.

Born in Philadelphia in 1807, the young Clemson went to military school and later sought out the universities of Europe to provide a scientific education that was not available in the U.S. He studied in Paris at the Royal School of Mines and the Sorbonne, and received his diploma as an assayer from the Royal Mint. He also played the violin, composed music, painted, and collected art.

Although he once vowed never to marry, at the age of 31 Clemson met and fell in love with Anna Maria Calhoun, daughter of South Carolina Statesman John C. Calhoun. With his marriage in 1838, Clemson turned his attention, intellect, and scientific training to agriculture, specifically the management of his father-in-law's plantation, Fort Hill. He bought his own plantation near Edgefield in 1843, but the next year was called to diplomatic service as charge d'affaires to the Kingdom of Belgium. A historical marker was dedicated near the site of Clemson's plantation in Saluda County in August, 1990.

After returning to the United States in 1852, Clemson bought a small farm in Prince Georges County, Maryland, four miles from the capital. He soon became immersed in the movement to establish scientific and agricultural education as a national priority. He supported the founding of an agricultural college that later became the University of Maryland and was a strong supporter of the Morrill Act, which in 1862 established the land-grant college system.

Clemson became the nation's first superintendent of agricultural affairs in January of 1860, while that function was still attached to the U.S. Patent Office. He submitted a plan for the establishment of a federal department of agriculture, but his dream was thwarted. He gave up his post at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

After the war, Clemson lived out the remainder of his life at Fort Hill. He was surrounded by poverty and the bitter fruits of war. He became more convinced than ever of the need for scientific research and education. "Our condition is wretched in the extreme," he wrote in the late 1860's. "Every one is in trouble, many ruined, and others quitting the country in despair. There is, in my opinion, no hope for the South short of widespread scientific education," he concluded. The need was there, but the resources were not. Clemson lobbied the state legislature to establish an agricultural college and was severely disappointed when his efforts failed. At one point, after the deaths of his wife, his daughter and his son, he even thought of selling the Calhoun home and returning to Europe.

Fortunately, Clemson held on to Fort Hill until his own death on April 6, 1888, the date now observed by Clemson University as Founder's Day.

His last will and testament, which was written in 1886, outlined his purpose: ". . . to establish an agricultural college which will afford useful information to the farmers and mechanics . . . therefore, it should afford thorough instruction in agriculture and natural sciences. It should combine, if practicable, physical and intellectual education, and should be a high seminary of learning . . . ." In his will, Clemson specified a unique structure for the governing Board of Trustees. The board was to be comprised of seven Successor Trustees and six Trustees elected by the state legislature. Clemson's will even named the first Trustees. With those conditions, he challenged the State of South Carolina to accept his bequest of about $80,000 in cash, the Fort Hill house, and 814 acres of farmland to establish Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina. On May 2, 1888, the original seven Successor Trustees met under an oak tree at Fort Hill to plan a strategy for turning Thomas Green Clemson's vision into reality.

Colonel Richard Simpson, Clemson's attorney, the author of the will, executor of the estate, and first president of the Trustees, notified the State Legislature of Clemson's bequest. Opposition soon developed, including that from South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina), which stood to lose federal funding for agricultural education if the Clemson bequest was accepted by the State Legislature. After a heated debate and floor fight, the Act of Acceptance was passed (by one vote) and signed into law by Gov. John P. Richardson on November 27, 1889.

Soon the seven Successor Trustees were joined by the six Trustees elected by the State Legislature in 1890, and together they selected Virginia native Henry Aubrey Strode as president of the college.

Funds to operate and build the school's first buildings came from a manufacturer's tax on fertilizer and cash sales from the farm. Some federal funds came from the Morrill Land Grant Act and the Hatch Act, which allotted states $15,000 a year for agricultural research.

The first students did not arrive for another three years, until July 6, 1893, when 446 enrolled at the all-male, military academy. Of these, 277 qualified to begin college level work. The remainder were enrolled in a preparatory curriculum. The school had 15 instructors.

Besides Clemson Agricultural College's missions in teaching (the Morrill Act - 1862) and research (the Hatch Act - 1887), the college was an early leader in the movement to provide education to all citizens through extension. The "Clemson Model" of extension linked directly to the land grant college became the basis for the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 (Extension), which extended that model to all parts of the United States. Representative A. Frank Lever, one of the two authors, was serving at the time as a Successor Trustee of Clemson.

In its early years the management of the institution was monopolized by the powerful Board of Trustees until the administration of Walter Merritt Riggs (1910-1924), who "strengthened the Clemson presidency significantly," according to historian Don McKale. It was during Riggs' administration in 1917 when the United States entered the war against Germany that the entire senior class wired President Wilson and volunteered for service.

The years between the wars were characterized by uneven growth. Enrollment topped 1,000 in the early 1920's, climbed almost to 1,600 by 1930 and then dipped during the depression. In 1927, Clemson was accredited by the (now) Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The college suffered hardships during World War II, having nearly one-third of its faculty called to service and its graduated classes cut substantially by student military service. By 1945-1946, the graduating class was decreased to 34. By war’s end, at least 5,000 of Clemson’s former students and alumni had served in some branch of the military. In 1946, Clemson’s enrollment rebounded to more than 3,500 as Clemson enrolled a large number of World War II veterans in addition to the normal high school graduates. These older students had served their country and were not inclined to continue their military involvement.

The era of 1954-1964 was marked by a series of changes. With the entering freshman class of 1954, four year military service for students ended. In January 1955, women enrolled in all fields and the college began implementing a major institutional reorganization recommended by an outside consulting firm. The college also lost 7,900 acres of land to the building of Lake Hartwell during this period and gave its first Ph.D (in the area of plant pathology).

Women were first admitted as full-time, degree-seeking students in 1955. In 1963, racial integration came to South Carolina colleges and universities with the orderly enrollment of Clemson's first black student.

Clemson has legally had only two names in its history. The first, "Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina" was specified in the will of Thomas Green Clemson and accepted by the South Carolina State Legislature on November 27, 1889. Some years later the name "Clemson Agriculture and Mechanical College" came into use although this was never specified by law through the legislature. Following approval from the South Carolina Legislature and the successful defense against a challenge in federal court (friendly suit) from the only Clemson heir, Creighton Lee Calhoun, the Governor signed an Act on March 11, 1964 changing the institution's name to Clemson University. This name change formally recognized the school's expanded graduate offerings and research contributions.

Today student enrollment exceeds 19,000, including more than 4,000 graduate students. With its five academic colleges, Clemson offers 80 undergraduate and more than 110 graduate degrees. The University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. As of fall 2011, the student body includes 45.72% women and 54.3% men.



July l. Thomas Green Clemson is born in Philadelphia into a prosperous Quaker mercantile family of English ancestry. After being educated in Paris, he will become a scientist, mining engineer, diplomat, and first Superintendent of Agriculture in the United States Patent Office, forerunner to the Secretary of Agriculture.


November 13. Thomas Clemson marries Anna Maria Calhoun, daughter of John Caldwell Calhoun, United States Senator, Representative, Vice President, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State. The wedding takes place at Fort Hill, Calhoun's farm home in the Blue Ridge foothills of northwestern South Carolina. At various intervals Clemson manages the Fort Hill property and gold mines near Dahlonega for his father-in-law. In 1875, Thomas Clemson will acquire title to Fort Hill through inheritance from his wife.


August 11. Benjamin Ryan Tillman is born in Edgefield County. Tillman will become a South Carolina farm leader, governor, and United States Senator. He will also advocate scientific education and research to foster agriculture and "the mechanical arts."


Autumn. Tillman visits Clemson at Fort Hill to discuss their mutual interest in scientific and practical education, especially for agriculture. Also present are Richard W. Simpson, Clemson's neighbor and the attorney who drafted his will, and D. K. Norris, friend and industrialist who will become a Successor Trustee of Clemson College.


April 6. Thomas Green Clemson dies in the Fort Hill house. His will bequeaths most of his property, including 814 acres of the Fort Hill land, to the State of South Carolina as the site of an agricultural college "which should combine, if practicable, physical and intellectual education, and should be a high seminary of learning." The will specifies that the college be governed by a board of thirteen trustees, seven named by Clemson in his will and six elected by the state legislature.


May 2. Successor Trustees named by Clemson hold first meeting at Fort Hill, electing Richard W. Simpson President of the Board and J. E. Wannamaker Secretary.


December 24. South Carolina legislature adopts act accepting the Clemson bequest on terms specified by him. This decision followed bitter statewide campaigns between Benjamin Tillman and those who held that agricultural teaching and research should be conducted at the South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina). By a wide margin, the House of Representatives approved the acceptance of Clemson's bequest. However, in the Senate several tie votes were broken on various aspects of the measure by Lieutenant Governor W. L. Mauldin, who voted for the Clemson proposal.


November 27. Governor John P. Richardson signs into law the act accepting the Clemson gift and establishing the college. The eleven-month interval between passage and signing of the act comes about because passage occurred at the close of a legislative session and Governor Richardson chose to withhold action until the United States Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Clemson will. The legislature also transfers to Clemson College the agricultural experiment stations and the federal land grant resources of the South Carolina College (now University of South Carolina).


January 20. Clemson's complete Board of Trustees, including six members selected by the Legislature, hold their first meeting in Wright's Hotel in Columbia. Richard W. Simpson continues as President and J. Wannamaker as Secretary.


July 16. Henry Aubrey Strode is elected the first president of Clemson College and a hilltop site near Fort Hill house is selected for the main college building, later to be named Tillman Hall. The construction of buildings begins with convict labor provided by the state and with bricks that are made on the property from local clay.


March. The Board of Trustees agrees that the structure of the student body be that of a military cadet corps and uniforms be patterned after those of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.


July 28, 29. The main building cornerstone is laid with Governor Tillman as the principal speaker. The first faculty members are elected.


June 21. Edwin B. Craighead is elected President, succeeding President Strode, who resigns and remains a faculty member.


July 6. The first session of the College begins with 446 students and fifteen faculty members.


May 22. Fire destroys the Main Building but plans are immediately made to continue classes in temporary quarters and to rebuild the principal structure.


December 16. The first commencement is held with thirty-seven members in the graduating class. During the early years, Clemson's college calendar provides for classes throughout the farmers' growing season and for vacation in mid-winter. After a few years this is found to be impractical and Clemson adopts the customary sessions running from September to June. Accordingly, what would have been the Class of 1897 graduates in the spring of 1898 and there is no class of 1897.


Clemson's first football team is organized and coached by Walter Merritt Riggs, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, who is later named President of the College. Four years later, John W. Heisman comes to Clemson from Auburn and coaches the Tigers' first undefeated team.


Henry Simms Hartzog begins his term as President. His tenure is marked by the construction of a building (now Godfrey Hall) to house the Textile Department and a program for training executive personnel for the South's growing textile industry.


Patrick Hues Mell, a distinguished Auburn scientist, is named President.


April 1. The "Pendleton Guards" walk-out occurs. As a result, many students leave campus without authority to spend the day in nearby Pendleton. This is the most storied and picturesque of a series of student uprisings that plague Clemson during the college's early and middle years.


Walter Merritt Riggs, Director of Engineering Department, is named Acting President and takes office with the effective date of Dr. Mell's resignation. A few months later Dr. Riggs is elected President. He directs the college through a transition from peacetime to wartime and back again to peace. On leave from Clemson, Dr. Riggs takes an active part in planning educational programs for the American army of occupation in Europe.


The Cooperative Extension Service is established under the Smith-Lever Act. Its co-author is A. F. Lever, a South Carolina congressman and Clemson Trustee.


Money given by John D. Rockefeller and augmented by local contributions finances construction of the Y.M.C.A. building, now Holtzendorff Hall, as a social and physical training center for the campus. This is the first building at Clemson to be financed with private funds. (Much later the Olin Foundation will give funds for ceramic and chemical engineering buildings and many alumni will contribute to the financing of the Alumni Center.)


April 6. The United States declares war on Germany, and Clemson's senior class volunteers to President Wilson en masse. Before June, most seniors are in uniform. A student Army Training Crops unit dominates campus life during the war.


January 22. President Riggs dies suddenly in Washington and is buried with military honors by the cadet corps at Clemson.


Samuel Broadus Earle, Director of the Engineering Department, serves as Acting President, declining permanent presidency. The first master's degree is awarded.


Enoch Walter Sikes begins his service as President. He will be remembered for broadening the college's curricula, relaxing some student regulations, and working to increase public understanding and support of the college. At retirement he will be named Clemson's first President Emeritus.


Clemson College becomes an accredited member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.


Clemson assumes administration of more than 27,000 acres of a federal community conservation project near campus. In 1954 this land will be deeded to the College with certain restrictions on its use. Currently, it is used as experimental forests and farms.


Robert Franklin Poole, Class of 1916, becomes the first Clemson alumnus to serve as President. An agricultural scientist of distinction, he broadens Clemson's public service activities and directs the College's officer training programs during World War II.


Clemson College students, graduates, and faculty in large numbers again go to war.


The Board of Trustees approves the formal establishment of a Graduate School.


The Board of Trustees commissions a management study of the College. As a result of that study, the College abolishes military discipline and training except for R.O.T.C. members. For the first time, Clemson admits women as students.


The School of Architecture is established, having been previously taught as a division of the Engineering Department since the earliest years of the College. The Board of Trustees approves the Constitution and By-laws of the Academic Faculty, thus establishing the Faculty Senate. The Constitution and By-laws of the Research Faculty are also approved, establishing the Research Faculty Council.


President Poole dies suddenly and Robert Cook Edwards, another Clemson alumnus (Class of 1933) and Vice President for Development, becomes Acting President, and soon thereafter, President. During his term of office the Clemson student body will increase from 3,500 to more than 11,000, while the faculty will increase from a few hundred to more than 1,000.


The first Alumni Professorships are established and awarded. The Honors Program (now Clemson University Honors College) is established.


Peaceful racial integration of the student body is accomplished with the enrollment of Clemson's first black student, Harvey Gantt. Mr. Gantt will become one of Clemson's most distinguished graduates, practicing architecture in Charlotte, North Carolina and serving for a time as that city's mayor. The School of Textiles joins with the newly-created Department of Industrial Management to form the College of Industrial Management and Textile Science. (It will be reorganized in 1981 and renamed the College of Commerce and Industry). The first dormitory for women is completed. Hartwell Reservoir is completed, placing Clemson on the shores of a large lake, an accomplishment preceded by a bitter controversy over how to preserve large areas of the campus from inundation. Seven thousand acres of experimental forest and farms are lost. The purchase of the Simpson Station replaces some of those agricultural lands.


Clemson College becomes Clemson University.


The College of Nursing and the School of Education are established. (The School of Education will become the College of Education in 1969).


The School of Arts and Sciences is divided into the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Physical, Mathematical and Biological Sciences (subsequently, the College of Sciences).


The College of Forest and Recreation Resources is established by combining the Department of Forestry (from the College of Agricultural Sciences) and the Department of Recreation and Parks Administration (from the College of Education). A Constitutional revision merges the Academic and Research Faculties, and the Research Faculty Council is merged with the Faculty Senate, making the latter the sole representative assembly of the University Faculty.


With the retirement of Robert Cook Edwards, Bill Lee Atchley assumes office as Clemson's ninth president. Dr. Edwards becomes a President Emeritus.


Senator Strom Thurmond donates his public papers and memorabilia to Clemson to join those of John C. Calhoun, Thomas G. Clemson, A. F. Lever, James F. Byrnes and other industrial, governmental and economic leaders.


Clemson completes an undefeated football season, achieves a win over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, and is named the national championship football team. During the decade, Clemson also wins two national championships in soccer. The student drama group is named one of the six best in the United States.


The Board of Trustees adopts the Campus Master Plan and authorizes the Administration to proceed with its implementation. The Strom Thurmond Institute begins its series of programs.


Construction of the 15,000 seat north side upper deck of Memorial stadium is completed and a record 81,000 fans are on hand for the Maryland game. The Clemson Research Park is named as one of three research parks in South Carolina by the State Development Board. (The first building constructed is the Information Technology Center in 1986-87.)


Six Clemson students receive Fulbright Scholarships.


Walter Thompson Cox is named the tenth President of the University. Ground breaking ceremonies are held and construction begins on the Strom Thurmond Institute.


Max Lennon is named the eleventh President of the University. Walter T. Cox becomes a President Emeritus.


Clemson University awards its 50,000th undergraduate degree.


A ground breaking ceremony is held for the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts. The Center is scheduled to open in 1993.


Clemson University completes its first major capital campaign, raising $101,143,000 in contributions and pledges and over $16,000,000 in deferred pledges.


The General Assembly elects Clemson University's first female trustee, Patricia H. McAbee.


Max Lennon resigns and Philip Prince, a Successor Trustee, is named Interim President.


Clemson University is reorganized into five colleges. Constantine W. Curris, President of Northern Iowa, is named Clemson's thirteenth President.


Constantine W. Curris resigns to become President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). James F. Barker, Dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities, is named Clemson's fourteenth president. Barker is a 1970 graduate of Clemson University.


Clemson University is designated the TIME Magazine Public College of the Year for 2000-2001. This recognition is based on Clemson's "Communication Across the Curriculum" Program, a faculty-wide effort to improve written and verbal communication skills in all academic disciplines.


Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) opened in Greenville, SC.


Clemson established the Clemson University Restoration Institute in North Charleston, SC to help create and develop restoration industries and environmentally sustainable technologies for the state.


Clemson opened its new business education facility, Clemson at the Falls (CATF), near Falls Park in downtown Greenville, SC.


Kim A. Wilkerson, a 1980 Clemson University graduate, was elected the first female Successor Trustee.


James F. Barker retires after fourteen years of service leading Clemson to the precipice of a Top 20 National Public University ranking. The Board of Trustees named James F. Barker President Emeritus.


James P. Clements, President of West Virginia University, is named Clemson’s fifteenth President.


Clemson University achieved its goal of being ranked a Top 20 National Public University.

February 2015

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