These images and documents are from the first year of ROTC on Wofford’s campus – 1919-1920. The catalogue text shows the required courses that students seeking a commission had to take. Olin D. Johnston ’21, later a South Carolina governor and United States Senator, was an early company commander.
As the Army emerged from World War I, it recognized the need for a larger number of reserve officers who it could call to active duty in an emergency or in a future war. The concept had its roots in the practices of many land-grant colleges, many of which were organized as a corps of cadets, and from Norwich University in Vermont, which was founded with the idea of producing citizen-soldiers. The National Defense Act of 1916 authorized granting commissions to college graduates who had taken an appropriate course of study and had qualified to serve as officers. Wofford’s quick acceptance of the wartime SATC made requesting an ROTC presence on campus seem to be an obvious choice. The faculty adopted the required courses in military science and tactics, creating a department that would be staffed by Army officers. The college received the orders creating a senior college ROTC unit on December 28, 1919.
The end of World War I brought a quick end to the militarization of Wofford’s student body. Here are a few letters from President Snyder relative to the college’s desire to start a training corps, and an article from The Wofford College Journal that attests to the lack of sadness among the students when SATC ended.
American entry into World War I in April 1917 saw the Army begin to scramble to find enough trained officers. Many Wofford students and alumni entered military service directly, and President Henry Nelson Snyder put the college on a more military footing as soon as the United States entered the war. In 1918, the college organized the student body into a Student Army Training Corps to provide military training to almost every student. The SATC dominated life on campus through the remainder of World War I. When the war ended, the student body quickly reverted to civilian control. The success of the SATC set the stage for the creation of ROTC in 1919.
This is the first in a multi-part series featuring photos and documents from the library’s Spring 2020 exhibit on 100 years of ROTC at Wofford. Today’s post is more back-story, as it is included to show that the college had a military tradition before ROTC, and also to show where the ROTC unit got its name.
While ROTC got its start at Wofford in 1919, a large number of Wofford students and young alumni served in earlier wars. In 1860, Wofford students formed themselves into a militia unit to prepare for war, but South Carolina’s governor Francis Pickens requested they remain in school until needed. After the first shots of the war were fired at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, many students began to leave to join militia companies in their home towns. The college gave members of the senior class their diplomas, but the students had to promise to return to college to complete their senior year if the war was short. It was not, and they did not.
The first Wofford alumnus to die in military service was William Maxwell Martin, a member of the class of 1857. His 1857 Commencement address, The Calico Flag, caused a sensation in the audience, according to observers. After South Carolina’s secession, he volunteered and was sent to guard Charleston Harbor, at Fort Moultrie. On the night of January 31, he stood guard by his cannon on a cold, damp night and as a result, he caught a chill. His illness led to hospitalization, and he died three weeks later, on Feb. 21, before hostilities began. His volume of poetry, Lyrics and Sketches, was published after his death.
I wrote a piece on Prof. W. Raymond Bourne, class of 1923, recently, and since we have a literary society exhibit up right now, and I’m trying to feature some stories about that right now, I’m going to include a piece Professor Bourne wrote about the literary societies in the 1954 Wofford centennial edition of the Herald-Journal.
“When I first knew the college, in the fall of 1920 the societies met every Friday evening right after supper. Normally there would be the role call, discussion of business, and an oration or two, debate, and sometimes the reading of original compositions of varying kinds. Judges were named for each debate and a decision was rendered. At the end of the program, the critics offered comment on the quality of each performance.
“Sometimes a member assigned to speak by the program committee would be absent. If he had no acceptable excuse, he was fined it for non-performance of duty. In his absence, volunteers were called for, and if there were no volunteers, the president appointed someone to take his place. So those who value the opportunity got to speak to their hearts content. But the mood of 30 years earlier, when the meetings had lasted sometimes into the morning, it was gone, and the meetings were generally over by 9 PM.
“At this time, the societies controlled the three campus publications. Also the societies gate a few public performances in the chapel, notably the sophomore oration, and the general oration on February 22.
“As late as the early 20s, white tie and tails were required for formal public appearance in one of the contests. And while an occasional boy with only one pair of shoes to his name might appear in brown footwear, lapses of this kind were infrequent. The audience appeared in whole suits, with collar and tie.
“Today the publications board has to go down to the sophomore class to find editors, even for salaries. The Glee Club gives almost the only student public performances in the chapel, and it is entirely controlled by a faculty member, Professor Sam Moyer.
“So, in the course of a century, the college literary societies gave their opportunities for intellectual growth and a surface polish. They have passed, with their demands on time and attention, and have been replaced by other activities such as athletics, social fraternities, dances, marriage, and plain and ordinary sitting. The 20th century of wealth for everybody is well underway and all educational procedures are under survey.”
This spring, the library’s archives and special collections are presenting an exhibit on the history of Wofford’s literary societies.
Within two months after Wofford opened in August 1854, eight students gathered to form a literary society, a group that would help them practice their oratorical and debating skills. They chose the name Calhoun Literary Society as a way of honoring South Carolina’s recently deceased Senator John C. Calhoun. They developed a constitution and bylaws and began holding weekly meetings.
Four years later, a second society, the Preston Literary Society, formed to meet the needs of a growing student body. A number of Calhoun Society members joined to help form the second society.
Much of the college’s co-curricular life revolved around the societies. By the 1870s, the faculty thought they were so important that they required students to join one of them. The societies helped start three student publications between 1889 and 1915 and helped select the leadership for each staff. They began collecting libraries for their members, and by 1894, they handed their libraries over to the college. Many of their books are still part of the college library collection today. (While most are in special collections, we’re finding a few that are actually in our circulating collection!) They also commissioned portraits of notable individuals related to the societies or the college. Many of those portraits are now part of the permanent art collection.
Eventually, student body growth saw a third society, the Carlisle, formed in 1905, and a fourth, the Snyder, in 1920. The heyday of the societies, however, was in the past, and gradually, students began to lose interest in their activities. By 1935, the college had made membership mandatory only for freshmen, and soon after, dropped even that rule. A series of mergers led, by 1951, to the existence of only one society, and even it ceased its activities by 1952.
The exhibit will be up in the Sandor Teszler Library gallery through the end of the spring semester, and I’ll be giving a gallery talk on March 22 at 4:00. And I’ll also be adding some more information about specific topics related to the societies in the next few weeks on the blog.