Warren DuPre: Founder of the Sciences

While three professors started teaching at Wofford on the day the college opened, a fourth, who had been selected alongside the other three, received what we might call the college’s first faculty development leave.  That professor, Warren DuPre, received permission to travel in the North, buy scientific equipment, and study with other professors so that he might be able to teach all of the sciences.

Warren DuPre

At a time when the full curriculum was taught by four or five instructors, with a heavy focus on the classics, literature, religion and philosophy, each professor had to be something of a generalist.  In the original catalog, the scientist taught chemistry, geology, mineralogy, and also gave lectures in agricultural chemistry.  (The students also took astronomy, but that was taught by Dr. James Carlisle, the mathematician.)  No physics or biology classes appeared in the first catalog.

Into the role of founder of science education at Wofford stepped Warren DuPre. Born in 1816 in Mount Pleasant, SC, DuPre (then pronounced Dew-PRAY) had a good bit of experience in education by the time he got to Wofford.  He met his wife, Mary Sydnor, a native of Mecklenberg County, Virginia, during his association with Randolph-Macon College, then located in Boydton, Virginia.  When they married around 1843, he was assisting Professor Landon Garland in his work at the college.  They first moved to Mount Pleasant to be near his family, and then to Newberry, where he was the head of a large school for girls.  While he was at Newberry, in November 1853, he was called to the chair of science at Wofford.  He spent the first part of 1855 visiting colleges and studying chemistry with Yale professor Benjamin Silliman.

The DuPre family moved into the home just west of Main Building, and altogether five generations of DuPres lived there. Shortly after arriving on campus, the DuPre’s 9-year old son Sydnor died of typhoid fever. When the Civil War started, and the college lost most of its students, DuPre used his scientific knowledge to earn money for himself and the college.  He was sent to the coast to make salt from seawater.  He also made matches from some of the wood cut near campus.

A series of earthquakes in western North Carolina in 1874 prompted DuPre to take a group of students to the Hickory Nut Gap to investigate the commotion. He wrote to his father about the experience, including the fear the locals had of the unexplained trembling of the earth and the amazement at DuPre’s knowledge. One man reportedly said to one of DuPre’s students, “Ain’t that old man in there a very smart codger? He must have read a dozen books!”

Professor DuPre, probably because of his experience as principal of an academy for young women, was known around Spartanburg for holding Bible classes for young women, much in the same way that Professor Carlisle did for young men.  When he announced his departure from Spartanburg in 1876, to go become president of Martha Washington College in Virginia, the story is that the whole church burst into tears.  DuPre’s son Daniel Allston DuPre completed coursework in Edinburgh and returned to Wofford the next year to take over his father’s duties as the science professor.

Warren DuPre died three years later, and his widow returned to Spartanburg, taking up residence in her old house on campus with her son, who had taken over the house when he took his father’s professorship.


By Phillip Stone

I've been the archivist of Wofford College and the South Carolina United Methodist since 1999. I'll be sharing college, Methodist, and local history, documents, photographs, and other interesting stories on this blog, which I've been keeping since December 2007.