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)


Book signings during Homecoming

For those of you who will be on campus during Homecoming this weekend, I’ll be at Ben Wofford Books tomorrow morning from about 10:45 to 12 to sign copies of my recent book, Wofford College.  This is a pictorial history of the college in Arcadia Publishing’s Campus History series, and it’s the book I was working on last winter.  It’s a 128-page paperback with about 200 pictures from the college archives.  It’s a must-have for any Wofford friend.

I’m also planning to be at the bookstore’s area at Gibbs Stadium during the football game.  Come by, get a copy, and I’ll be happy to sign it for you if you want.



Keller Cogswell – the Wofford Man from Charleston

People around Wofford long ago used to wonder just how much Confederate money T. Keller Cogswell had buried in his back yard.  

Why, you ask?  Well, Keller's family printed a lot of the Confederacy's money.  Walker, Evans, and Cogswell had existed in Charleston for over a hundred years when Keller became a vice president of the printing company.  That was the job he held in 1956 when he left the family business to accept Wofford's call to lead its alumni office.  

CogswellTK A Charleston native if ever there was one, Thomas Keller Cogswell attended the Porter Military Academy and the College of Charleston before becoming a Wofford student.  A 1933 graduate, Cogswell served in the World War II era army, then resumed his career in Charleston.  He was active in many civic and professional groups, such as Sertoma, the Executive Club of Charleston, the French Society, the Chamber of Commerce, and the American Legion.  He became a leader at Bethel Methodist in Charleston, was lay leader of the Charleston District, and then represented South Carolina at Jurisdictional Conference. He led Wofford's fund-raising efforts around Charleston as well, and the college asked him to serve as general chairman of the 1954 Centennial Development Campaign in the Charleston area.  

In 1956, President Pendleton Gaines prevailed on Keller to leave Charleston to become director of alumni affairs and public relations at the college.  In nearly 20 years on the college staff, Keller Cogswell was the public face of the college around the state and around the southeast.  He helped get the message about the institution out among friends of the college, helped smooth ruffled feathers when the college chose to desegregate, and got Wofford into alumni wills.  Some of the work he did in the 1960s and early 1970s is still paying dividends for the college.  

I thought it was odd that when I flipped through his file to write this piece that I found so little about his time at Wofford to share.  However, as the public relations officer, he would have been busy promoting the college, its faculty and its students, and not himself.  

I never met Keller, though I've heard plenty of stories.  One of them involved a confused and comical explanation to the Methodist Conference that was meeting on campus as to how the phone system worked.  Somewhere in a box of tapes I suspect there's a copy of that, and I hope to find it one of these days.  It's supposed to be hysterical.  

What I found surprising was that so few stories about him had made it into his file.  There's no Cogswell oral history interview, and I haven't even found a tape of what his very pronounced Charleston Geechee accent sounded like.  I do know that he was a much-beloved character here on the campus, though his language could sometimes be a little salty.

If you have a Keller Cogswell story, won't you share it with me?  

Documents Students

Literary Societies

Today has been sort of a clean-up day around my desk.  The papers had piled up – all sorts of items and files from the different aspects of my job.  The credenza beside my desk, which I got so that I'd have more room for processing papers here in my office, had turned into a flat file cabinet of newly-acquired things.  Fridays can sometimes be quieter days here in the library, so I spent the morning trying to move some of those things to a more permanent home.  

And while going through these things, I was keeping an eye out for something to share on the blog.  I've got a great 1910 campus calendar, complete with contemporary photos, and that's going to become part of the digital collection as soon as I get one of my very capable student assistants to scan it.  I found a few other things that may make it onto the blog soon.  I decided to share a 1883 literary society program.  

The literary societies, as I've written before, were a very important part of college life in the lae 19th century, and they were part of the great annual celebration of commencement.  Here's the program from the 1883 


The inside page details the events, debates, lectures, and receptions the societies sponsored at Commencement in 1883.  

Click on either for a larger version of the image.  



Eight Turning Points

On Thursday night, I spoke as part of a group of campus historians at the opening of the Spartanburg Regional Museum’s exhibit on higher education in Spartanburg County.  Each of us had seven minutes to share something about our college’s history.  I explained to the audience that I couldn’t really tell Wofford’s history in seven minutes, but they could certainly buy my book if they wanted to learn more.  I could share eight turning points in Wofford’s history with them, and I’m sharing them here. 

1.  Sometime during the summer of 1849 – The Reverend Benjamin Wofford has a visit from his friend, Rev. H. A. C. Walker, and during their conversation, Ben asks Brother Walker for his thoughts as he was writing his will.  After learning the amount of the intended bequest was $100,000, Walker asks the question, “Why not found a college?”  Wofford had been thinking along these lines, and decided to leave the bulk of his fortune to create an institution for literary, classical, and scientific learning to be located in my native district of Spartanburg.  After his death in December 1850, the trustees named in the will met just over the hill at Central Methodist Church, selected the site, and contracted for the buildings.  Thus Benjamin Wofford, Methodist minister and Spartanburg native, founded a college to serve both his church and his home community.  The college opened in August 1854. 

2.  May 1864 – The college had gotten off to a good start, and by the outbreak of the Civil War, had about 79 students and had granted about 49 degrees.  The endowment, which had started at $50,000, had risen to over $85,000, a nice sum in those days.  A nice sum, that is, until the college invested all of it in Confederate bonds, bank stock and other investments.  As late as 1864, they had reinvested it, and of course it was all ruined by the war.  The loss of the endowment meant that the college virtually had to start over financially, and led to years of financial struggle. 

3.  1904 – Wofford ends its first experiment with coeducation as the last of eight women takes her degree.  In 1897, at the request of the Methodist conference, Wofford begins to admit a small number of women, and two join each of the next four classes.  However, the women felt isolated and the college elected to end the experiment.  Had it worked out a little differently, Wofford could have been a very different place. 

4. 1918 – The Student Army Training Corps is established to provide military training to students during World War I.  The SATC soon became the Reserve Officer Training Corps, and hundreds of army officers have received their training through the detachment, a detachment now shared by many of the campuses in Spartanburg. 

5.  May 1964 – Wofford becomes the first private college in SC to admit African-American students.  The decision came about after a year of study by the trustees and administration.  The decision was announced in May 1964, and in the fall, the first African-American student, a graduate of Carver High School, applies and is accepted.  The college gradually admitted more African-American students, especially in the late 1960s. 

6.  February 1971 – The college decides to admit women as non-resident students, and in the fall of 1975, chooses to move to full residential coeducation beginning in the fall of 1976.  The college saw coeducation as an opportunity to improve the diversity and academic quality of the student body. 

7. 1985 – The Olin Foundation rejects a grant request for a technology building.  The trustees, stung a little by the rejection, are nonetheless encouraged to take a hard look at the college, and the administration, faculty, and trustees develop a long-range plan to improve the quality of the college.  As a result, the college has increased the number of faculty, majors, academic programs, and the quality of the student body.  And, four years after the initial rejection, the Olin Foundation awarded a $5.5 million grant to the college for that technology building. 

8.  1988-1997 – The college’s athletics teams move from NAIA to the NCAA, and in 1995, they move into Division I.  In 1997, the college joins the Southern Conference.  At the same time, the college improved its athletics facilities so that the NFL’s Carolina Panthers are able to hold their summer training camp in Spartanburg.  The facilities, which were part of the 1987 masterplan, and the move into the Southern Conference have allowed Wofford to compete with much larger colleges, and they’ve also provided the campus and the community with new experiences in sports. 

Eight turning points, but still one campus.  

Photographs Students

Fitting School Scrapbook

This is a scrapbook maintained by Wofford Fitting School student William Hall Lander during his senior year at the fitting school.  Wofford's preparatory school, which closed in 1924, was designed to prepare high school age students for admission to Wofford.  During World War I, the student body of the fitting school and the college became militarized.  

In an effort to make some of these older scrapbooks and images available, my student assistants and I have scanned them, and today I added them to Flickr.  You can view the slide show here or go to the site to look at each image more closely.  I'm still updating some of the image descriptions.  

Alumni Students

Thoughts about the Class of 1960

We had our annual opening convocation earlier today, where the faculty dress in academic regalia and we gather as a community to start the academic year.  Of course, classes started 10 days ago, but ceremonially, at least now we're under way for the 157th time.  

And now that things are underway, we'll soon be hurtling into fall, and Homecoming, which isn't until Oct. 30, will be here before we know it, and alumni from all over will be back for reunions.  One of those classes has already had a reunion – the class of 1960 participated in commencement last spring and will officially join the 50-year club this fall. 

Over fifty years, some things change and some things actually stay about the same.  And it's always interesting to see the parallels and the differences over the years.  

Some things that the class of 1960 experienced while they were at Wofford include:

the new faculty coming to campus during the 1959-60 year was Madame Marie
Gagarine, a Russian émigré who taught French and also offered Wofford’s first
course in Russian.  The class of 1960 has a chance to learn Russian, an
important world language in the Cold War era just as this class has had an
opportunity to learn Chinese, an important language in today’s world!)

students were enrolled at the college in the fall of 1959.  149 of these
were seniors

class president Marion Myers proposed that the college switchboard remain open
until 11:00 pm each night – the current closing time of 10:00 was causing an
inconvenience for students.   Just imagine, having to use the switchboard to make and receive calls!  

OG&B announced that the college was embarking on a development campaign to
raise $3.2 million for renovations on Main, construction of the new science
building, new residence hall space, and additions to the endowment.  The class also got to see the demolition of the old Cleveland Science Hall.  


13, 1959 editorial:  “The Stroller said recently that last week’s panty
raid upon Converse College was the first sign of life shown by Wofford students
in many years.”   (Note this was in the Parents’ Weekend edition of
the OG&B.)

fare in 1959:  To Columbia, 2.80.  To Charlotte, 2.20, to Anderson,
1.90, to Atlanta, 5.45, and to Greenville, 90 cents.   

were pressing for the construction of a music building. And in 2010, we're still working on that.  

Gene Alexander began his second season downplaying expectations for his
team.  He hoped to do a little better than the 11-13 record of the
previous year. 

fact, the team went 25-6, the most successful record until 2010, winning the
district tournament and earning a bid to the NAIA national tournament in Kansas

students were among those at 125 colleges and universities who participated in
the National Intercollegiate Bridge Tournament, which was played by mail in
February.  (Does anybody today know how to play bridge?)

A photo
in the OG&B indicated that the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity bought an old fire
truck.  Apparently they owned it for a number of years. 

In a
straw poll of the student body in the spring of 1960, students preferred John
Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson, Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, and Stuart
Symington in the 1960 Democratic primary.  Kennedy beat Richard Nixon in
the straw poll as well.  However, 134 out of the 217 students polled
preferred complete segregation in the public schools, and only 14 favored
complete integration.  29 favored token integration, and 17 favored
segregation to the point of closing public schools.  

Well, at least we aren't still debating that question.  


My excuse this time

This has been a particularly bad summer for blogging.  I got overwhelmed with a variety of projects, and perhaps more importantly, I was having some trouble with the blog software.  Nonetheless, with the semester underway and my workload (somewhat) under control, I'm committed to resuming the old schedule.  I'll try to post twice a week this fall.  I have a few recent gifts that I'll try to share and we'll see about tracking down some faculty stories.  The Class of 1960 deserves a little semi-centennial recap before they visit at Homecoming as well.  Oh, and I wrote a book, so I'll share some about what's happening with that.  

Current Affairs Weblogs

A Spartanburg history podcast

Last Wednesday, Brad Steinecke, my local history colleague at the Spartanburg County Public Library and I sat down to record a podcast about Spartanburg history for a local blog-website called the Spartanburg Spark.  The Spark's publisher, Steve Shanafelt, moderated the discussion and produced the podcast.  I don't do a lot of personal promotion here on this blog, but I do invite anyone to click over and have a listen to some or all of the podcast – or you can find the Hub City Podcast on iTunes and download it to your iPod if you so desire.

Feel free to leave questions or comments if you like – I'm hoping we do this feature regularly and it'd be nice to hear what people want us to talk about.  

Also, if you are interested in reading more about Spartanburg's history, check out Brad's blog, which is called the Hub City Historian.  

Books Documents

Builders and Connections

The blog software I use has been acting funny lately, which is why I haven’t posted much lately. However, serendipity struck today, prompting me to find a workaround to share something from the 1934 Southern Christian Advocate.

You see, my student assistant, John Bumgardner, finished scanning a book yesterday – a 1932 pictorial directory of Methodist ministers in South Carolina. I’ll be working to put the scans online over the next few weeks – first the pictures, then later, the full biographies. The pictures will complement three earlier volumes we’ve posted online, and will help local churches locate pictures of some of their former ministers.

But here’s where it gets interesting. This morning, John was looking up an obituary for a researcher and stumbled across an article in the Advocate about the publication of Builders. The article was by Herbert Hucks, then a senior at Wofford and later the college and Methodist Conference archivist. I worked for him while I was a student in the early 1990s. An amazing find on the day after completing a scanning project. Here’s some of what Mr. Hucks had to say:

Recently, a book was printed under the name of “Builders” in which the lives of the Methodistministers of our State were sketched. Perhaps there are other builders – students in high school, college, and in life – who desire to build up our state- even though it be merely in dreams. That phase of dreams is entirely worth developing- because some dreams come true, if continually thought about and if they provoke constructive thought.

The present college student has the chance thrust – yes actually pushed – on him to build and dream for others and himself. In the summer of 1932, President Frank P. Graham of the University of North Carolina, said “Let us pause awhile, dream dreams that will rebuild this old South of ours – this South that gave to the entire nation principles of rugged honesty, of of courage, culture and honor.” Is that not enough to force every young South Carolinian and especially the college student, to dream of a better state?

An interesting discovery from a long-ago newspaper, but again, one of those examples of how serendipity always plays a role in what one might find in the library or archives.