Alumni Brushes with History

Election Day special

In celebration of the political process, here are the names of Wofford’s alumni who have served in the United States Congress.  

Eight alumni have served in the House of Representatives. 

Samuel Dibble, who was Wofford’s first graduate in 1856, served five terms in the House, from 1881 to 1891.  He represented the district around Orangeburg.  

James Edwin Ellerbe, who graduated in 1887, served in the House from 1905 to 1913.  He represented the area around Marion, in the Pee Dee.  He was defeated for reelection in 1912

Samuel Jones Nicholls, who studied at Wofford for two years from 1900-1903, represented Spartanburg and the 4th district in the House from 1915-1921.  He did not run for re-election in 1920.  

Philip Henry Stoll, who graduated from Wofford in 1897, represented Williamsburg County and the Pee Dee in the House from 1919 to 1923.  He was unsuccessful in his 1922 re-election bid, and later served as a state circuit court judge for some fifteen years.  

John J. McSwain, who succeeded Sam Nicholls as Spartanburg’s congressman, graduated from the Wofford Fitting School.  He served in Congress from 1921 to 1936, when he died.  

John Jacob Riley graduated from Wofford in 1915, and he was elected to the House from the 2nd district, which covered much of the midlands, in a special election in 1945.  He was re-elected in 1946.  He was defeated by fellow alumnus Hugo S. Sims in 1948, but two years later, Riley reclaimed the seat.  He held it until his death in 1962.  

Hugo Sheridan Sims graduated from Wofford in 1941, and after distinguished service in World War II and after graduating from the USC Law School, at 27 years old, won a seat in Congress.  He served two years, and after losing his re-election bid, made his career in business in Orangeburg.  

John W. Jenrette graduated from Wofford in 1958.  After law school and service in the state legislature, he unsuccessfully ran for the House in 1972.  He won the first of three terms in 1974, and was defeated in 1980 under an ethical cloud.  

Two Wofford alums have served in the United States Senate, and ironically, they ran two races against each other.  

Ellison DuRant Smith, known as “Cotton Ed,” graduated from Wofford in 1889.  He was first elected in 1908 and served until his death in November 1944.  He died only a few months after losing re-nomination to Olin D. Johnston in the 1944 primary election.  Smith, of Lynchburg, was a Wilsonian progressive who became an opponent of the New Deal.  As agriculture committee chairman, he relentlessly hounded the administration on farm issues.  Time Magazine called him “a conscientious objector to the 20th century.”  Especially later in life, he earned a reputation for race-baiting in his speeches.  

Olin DeWitt Talmadge Johnston graduated from Wofford in 1919, after having served in the army during World War I.  He served in the state legislature for six years in the 1920s, then ran unsuccessfully for governor of South Carolina in 1930.  He lost a close race marred by fraud, then won a more convincing victory in 1934.  He had strong support from the state’s white textile workers, and had gone from working in textiles himself to becoming a lawyer.  With Franklin Roosevelt’s support, he challenged Cotton Ed Smith for the Senate in 1938, losing a hard-fought election.  After losing a special election for the state’s other senate seat in 1941, he won a second term as governor in 1942.  He defeated the ailing Smith in 1944 and went on to win three more terms, defeating both Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings in hard-fought re-election bids.  He was a segregationist while in state and national politics, but always had strong labor support, and also received some support from Black voters against other, more overtly segregationist politicians.  He served until his death in April 1965.  

(updated August 24, 2021)