The alumni office brought me a gift recently – not for me, of course, but for the collection.
The gift came from the family of Charles G. Furr, who was, as his family noted, a proud 1954 Wofford graduate. While a student, he was a member of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity, served on the Interfraternity Council, and was on the staffs of all three student publications – the Bohemian, Old Gold and Black, and The Journal.
His family sent us a Wofford letter sweater that he received as a cheerleader, as well as one of his Delta Sigma Phi t-shirts. Since I haven’t posted much lately, it seemed like a nice gift to celebrate on the 65th anniversary of his graduation from Wofford.
This February 23, The Delta chapter of Kappa Alpha, at Wofford College, celebrates its 150th birthday.
Kappa Alpha traces its origins to Washington and Lee, though like all secret societies, the founders were more concerned with getting their organization going than they were documenting the history they were making. But, the fraternity was founded there between late 1865 and early 1866. For anyone interested, a recent history of the fraternity by historian Martin Clagett, Excelsior, will give you all the details. Within a few years, the early founders had decided their group needed to expand. In the spring of 1868, the Alpha chapter authorized members to establish a “lodge of our order” at Virginia Military Institute and the University of Georgia. Very soon thereafter, an opportunity arose to establish a lodge at Wofford.
A South Carolinian named William A. Rogers had attended Washington College in 1867-68, desiring to study under Washington College’s president, who happened to be Robert E. Lee. Rogers was initiated into Kappa Alpha while at Washington College, but returned to his native state in the fall of 1868. According to campus legend, he came with a letter of recommendation from Lee. He joined the freshman class at Wofford in October 1868. He soon communicated his desire to establish a chapter in Spartanburg, and in November, the Alpha granted him permission to organize a chapter. Rogers, according to the Alpha chapter minutes, had recruited several interested members. Clagett’s history notes that “On February 23, 1869, in a rented room of the old Evans residence on Church Street, four members were initiated into the lodge.” These four members, William A. Rogers, Edwin W. Peeples, Hope H. Newton, and Lawrence D. Hamer then organized Delta Chapter. Peeples and Newton were seniors and Hamer was a junior. These four then elected John Woods as a member. The Alpha chapter soon sent the bylaws and charter to the Delta chapter.
Delta chapter grew, though Clagett notes that the Alpha chapter waned somewhat after the founding generation left. Rogers, as the grand master of the Delta chapter, went about organizing a strong chapter and recruiting good brothers. Two of them were politically (in Wofford terms) well connected. One was John Wesley Shipp, the son of the president of the college, and another was Joseph Augustus Gamewell, the son of a founding trustee. Gamewell, a member of the class of 1871, came back to join the faculty in 1875, a position he retained for 65 years. In the fall of 1869, Shipp succeeded Rogers as Grand Master of the chapter.
Kappa Alpha has been a consistent presence at Wofford for 150 years. Several other fraternities quickly joined them on campus – Chi Psi came later in 1869, and Chi Phi came in 1871. Those two did not come back after the early 1900s, when the college banned fraternities for about ten years. Banning the fraternities did not do away with them, it just forced them underground. One interesting moment in the early 20th century was when about 9 students were initiated sub rosa by the chapter at the College of Charleston. When the college learned of their misdeeds, they expelled all of them. Those students all enrolled at Trinity in North Carolina, where they all graduated. Eventually, Wofford relented, granting them their degrees some twenty years later. The faculty and trustees realized that banning secret societies was ultimately a fruitless, pointless endeavor and allowed them to return in 1915. That’s why the Kappa Alpha chapter actually has two charters – one from 1869, and another from 1915.
Their original 1869 charter makes Kappa Alpha the oldest currently existing student organization on campus.
In January 1889, a group of students from the two literary societies got together to launch the Wofford College Journal.
The Journal, which continues publishing as a section of the Bohemian, our yearbook, is the oldest of the three student publications, and has for most of those 130 years been the student literary magazine.
When the Journal first started publishing, it was more than just a literary publication. With no newspaper on campus, and no alumni magazine, it served those functions as well. In the twenty-six years between the founding of the Journal and the first issue of the Old Gold and Black, I rely on the accounts of student life in the Journal to know what was happening on campus. Moreover, since we have only a few issues of the OG&B between 1915 and 1930, researchers rely on it for those years, too.
So what was in that January 1889 Journal? The editors began with a statement: “The Wofford College Journal, in making its entrance into life, does not come with aspirations to fame, nor to a place among the leading literary journals of the day. It was conceived of an honest purpose among the young men of the College to further their own development, and to give to the public the matter of the best literary character they are capable of.
On that same page, the editor in chief, Ellison D. Smith (later a 6-term United States Senator from South Carolina) published a piece by his older brother, Rev. A. Coke Smith, later a Methodist bishop, entitled a “plea for liberal culture.” The essay, in words that might ring familiar today, began “The mercenary spirit so characteristic of this age is affecting detrimentally our educational interests. Nothing is allowed as worthy of pursuit which will not bring its speedy return in gold or glory.” He continued “one by one the different branches of the old College curriculum are brought into question and too often either entirely surrendered or so crippled as to be of little use. The spirit of hurry which possesses the American mind… cannot take time to lay the foundation of a broad culture in the study of ancient and modern classics, and the sciences. Boys must hurry through school and college and be in business at twenty, or the opportunity to make a fortune may be lost.”
It is interesting, actually, that three pieces in this first Journal were by faculty members: The aforementioned A. Coke Smith, a piece entitled “An Aspect of the German Novel” by Professor J. H. Marshall, and a retrospective on the class of ’67 (that would be 1867) by Professor Daniel DuPre.
The remainder of the issue included a news article about alumni fundraising, a series of alumni notes that would remind any reader today of Wofford Today, some news notes, a reference to a bill pending in Congress, and reviews of some other literary magazines. This general format, literary articles, opinion pieces, alumni notes, and campus news, would be the pattern for much of the next generation. But it’s interesting to look back to student and faculty writing of 130 years ago this winter and see that some things remain constant even in a very different age.
Last spring, Wofford held a conference to commemorate and study the 70th anniversary of what is commonly called South Carolina’s last lynching, the murder of Willie Earle.
As part of the event, I was given a copy of this newspaper clipping, which is a photo of a group of Wofford students marching in downtown Spartanburg in protest of the outcome of the trial (which was held in Greenville). As I was cleaning up around my desk this week, I found it and realized I’d never shared it here.
I found this gem in the October 1897 issue of the Wofford College Journal:
Four of Wofford’s Greek-letter fraternities are now installed in convenient chapter houses. The Kappa Sigmas and Kappa Alphas occupy their old quarters in the Cleveland cottages. The S. A. E.’s have obtained the Archer house for their use and the Chi Phis have the first one of the new cottages. We do not think four neater or more pretentious chapter houses can be found in the State. The Chi Phis and P. K. A’s have well-furnished halls in the business portion of the City. There is absolutely no friction between fraternities and non-fraternities at Wofford, and we think this is a tribute to the broadmindedness and fellow feeling of the whole body of students, “frats” and “non-frats.”
Now, I’m not sharing this bit of Wofford’s history to encourage anyone, especially today’s students, to do anything in particular. In fact, let me say this at the outset: please don’t start a food fight in Burwell or anywhere else if you read this. Or as they say on TV, don’t try this at home.
So, with that disclaimer, we begin. I came across an article in the files today about a food fight in Burwell from 1970. There’s a lot of legends about food fights in the cafeteria in the 1960s – but this article helps untangle some of them. It’s from the Old Gold and Black of Feb. 27, 1970.
It began at 5:25 pm Wednesday [February 25] with the harsh clank of knife against tray in the dining hall as an unusually large group of students sat down to enjoy steak night.
Suddenly a piece of bread flew through the air, then it was joined by grapefruit, potatoes, and then by glasses, plates, and trays
It was over as quickly as it had begun, but not before nearly $1,000 worth of damage had been done and a tremendous mess had been made. One student had a minor injury but was treated and released at General Hospital [now Spartanburg Medical Center].
And as of Wednesday night, the administration was out looking for the instigators of the fracas, the first real dining hall difficulty at Wofford since the Great Food Riot of 1965.
At that time, Wofford students made national news by a spectacular food throwing exhibition and later proceeded to Converse only to be turned back by police dogs.
Unlike that riot, which appeared to be a spontaneous reaction to a bad meal, this one was obviously preplanned and seemed to merely reflect the desire for students to let off steam. It also ended very quickly when the crackle of broken glass was heard.
“There didn’t seem to be as much an attitude of anger as there was of just plain horseplay,” one student said. “It started out as just a way to end boredom but it got out of hand. Nobody will condone the vandalism that came right at the end of the food-throwing.”
The story made the local paper as well, with much the same description, and comparisons to the 1965 food riot, which the paper noted had “made Walter Cronkite” before it was turned back by the police dogs of the SPD. And it concluded with the line “They just don’t make food riots like they used to.”
After a vote by the Board of Trustees in October 1975, the college admitted its first women resident students in the fall of 1976. Sometimes that gets shortened, somewhat inaccurately, to a statement that Wofford only began to admit women students in 1976.
While it’s true that those first resident women students experienced Wofford in a different way, it is not true that they were the first women to attend Wofford. On several occasions before 1976, Wofford had women students. Here are the phases that led to full residential coeducation at Wofford.
First, from the spring of 1971 to the spring of 1976, several dozen women attended as day students. Beginning in February 1971 with four women, three of whom were daughters of professors, the numbers increased to about 25 in the fall of 1971. One of those first four women day students graduated in the spring of 1972, and the number of graduates grew each year.
But the story of Wofford women doesn’t start in the spring of 1971. Throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, women occasionally attended and completed degrees. In particular, a number of women attended summer school and often participated in summer graduation. From records in college catalogues, almost every class from 1947 to 1959 had at least one woman graduate. Beyond that, women were regular enrollees in the college’s graduate programs, which existed from the early 1900s to around 1951. These afternoon and summer courses frequently drew area teachers, and perhaps half of the Master of Arts degrees awarded by the college in this era went to women. The nursing program at Spartanburg General Hospital had women taking certain courses in the 1950s and early 1960s on campus as well.
Before that, Dean A. Mason DuPre’s daughter, Caroline DuPre Wells, attended and graduated with the class of 1934. Her attendance was fairly unusual in that era in that she did attend during the regular semester and graduated at a regular, as opposed to a summer commencement.
But even earlier than that, Wofford had a short experiment with coeducation between 1897 and 1904. Two women enrolled in each class beginning in September 1897, so by the fall of 1900, eight women were taking courses alongside the 200 or so men. Each of these eight women graduated between 1901 and 1904, though the college ended the experiment after the last of these women graduated. At one point, one of those eight women was actually the college’s oldest living alum. In other words, a college that was supposedly a “men’s college” had an alumna as its oldest living alumnus!
So, since 1897, we’ve moved from an initial experiment with coeducation, through a period of irregular and occasional women students, through graduate and summer school coeducation, to day student coeducation, and finally to full residential coeducation.
We’ve been cleaning up a little around the archives this week – filing materials that have recently arrived, putting files back where they belong after a researcher used them, and generally trying to bring some order out of chaos. As always, I see something interesting that I feel like sharing on the blog.
Here’s a receipt for tuition for the spring semester of 1915, 100 years ago.
Note that the tuition was a bit less than it is in 2015.
Those houses have been there, like, forever, right?
Forever is a long time, obviously, though on a college campus, 59 years might as well be forever. And that’s how long the current fraternity row has been standing on its current site.
In the spring of 1955, then Dean of Students Robert Brent proposed to the Board of Trustees the construction of seven fraternity lodges at some place on campus. Each house would have a chapter room, a living room, a kitchen, a bedroom for a fraternity member who was acting as the caretaker of the house, two bathrooms, and some closets. One site, on Cleveland Street near Snyder Field, was rejected because it was too far from the main part of the campus and also was not an especially attractive site. The other was along Memorial Drive down the hill from Main Building, though the college recognized that this site might eventually be needed for another academic building.
The trustees approved the project, and in the spring of 1956, the houses were all built simultaneously. That way, no one fraternity would be able to occupy its house before the others. Originally only the chapter room in each house was to have pine paneling, but the college got a good deal on paneling and was able to use it in the living room and chapter room. Construction began in December 1956, with foundation work, and then as the weather improved, the pace of the work increased in April and May. The fraternities took possession of their houses on May 17, 1956.
The paper noted that houses for fraternities had been a sixty-year dream, as in fact, the college had not provided Greek houses before. After fraternities were reinstated in 1915, they mostly met wherever they could find space – including above stores on Spartanburg’s Morgan Square. But since May 1956, Fraternity Row has been the home to Wofford’s Greek organizations.