Clemson Bound 1893

"The first session of the College will commence on the first Thursday in July and close on the third Thursday in December, 1893. Thereafter the Collegiate year will extend from the third Thursday in February to the third Thursday in December of each year." (Prospectus of Clemson Agricultural College, 1893)

The seven life trustees named in Thomas Clemson's will and the six trustees appointed by the Legislature worked tirelessly, after Clemson's bequest was formally accepted in 1890, to create the college that he and others had envisioned. Originally scheduled to open in February 1892, financial issues pushed the opening date back by over a year. Barely ready for students to arrive in July 1893, the first session was only 5 1/2 months.

Opening Day

By the time Clemson College opened it already had its second president. The first, Henry Strode, resigned at the end of December 1892 but remained as a Mathematics professor. The new president, Edwin Craighead, a Classics professor from Wofford College, was hired just two weeks before opening day.

The ceremony on July 6, 1893 began with trustees and faculty members following Governor and Trustee Benjamin Tillman and President Craighead into Memorial Hall. The program included speeches by Tillman, Craighead and Richard W. Simpson, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Approximately three hundred students and several hundred curious visitors attended the opening event.

President Craighead with Clemson's first faculty. Seated left to right: C. W. Welch (Physics), H.A. Strode (former president/ Mathematics), M.B. Hardin (Chemistry), J.S. Newman (Agriculture), E.B. Craighead (President), T.D. Donaldson (Military), C.M. Furman (English), W.S. Morrison (History). Standing left to right: ?, J.W. Hart (Agriculture), F.S. Shiver (Experiment Station), P.H.E. Sloan (Secretary/Treasurer), C.W. Sims (Chemistry), A.M. Redfern (Physician), T.M. Wright (Machine Shop), T.B. Harrison (English), W. Welch (Drawing), W.F. Moncreiff (English), J.F. Calhoun (Bursar), J.G. Clinkscales (Mathematics), R.N. Brackett (Chemistry).

"President Craighead and his corps of able and efficient assistants at once took charge of the institution and the organization of its several departments. These gentlemen are in thorough accord and sympathy with the plans and purposes of the Board, and their management so far gives assurance that the distinctive features in education which created a demand for Clemson College and called it into existence will be maintained.” (Board of Trustees Report, 1893)


Approximately 300 students were on campus when the College officially opened. They arrived by railroad or wagon, alone or with their families. More students continued to arrive over the next month until the Board of Trustees voted to close new enrollment on August 10th. The final total was 446 students enrolled in the first class. Four hundred and twenty-four lasted through the session.

The first students line up outside Main Building and the Barracks (above and below).

There was little diversity among Clemson students in 1893. Thomas Clemson’s will said nothing about the race or gender of the students who would attend the college he founded, but there is no evidence that there was ever any discussion about admitting women or non-white students.

All 446 students in the first class also were from South Carolina, from every county except Beaufort. They ranged in age from 14 to 28, but the average age was 17. College policy stated: “Students are not to be admitted under fifteen years of age, except where two brothers apply, one being over fifteen, the other not under fourteen.

“…[A]ll applicants for admission to Clemson College will be entered if there be room in dormitory when College opens, and that the students will be designated as “pay students’ or ‘free students’. The students who claim free tuition will be required during the session and before returning next [February] to furnish satisfactory proof of their inability to pay the forty dollars required by law, and blank forms will be furnished them upon which to make such proof.” (Board of Trustee Minutes, February 1, 1893)

Students came from a variety of economic backgrounds. Those who were able paid $40 tuition for the session. All students also paid $7 per month for Board, $5 per year for Washing, $5 per year Medical Fee and $23.75 per year Uniform Fee.

Work opportunities proved some financial aid: “All students will be required to work two hours each weekday when practicable, unless excused for sickness or other necessary cause, compensation to be allowed not to exceed eight cents per hour. Students who perform extra labor, not necessarily educational, shall receive compensation according to faithfulness and quality of work, not to exceed nine cents per hour.” (Prospectus of Clemson Agricultural College, 1893)


“Thorough proficiency in Arithmetic, Geography, History of the United States, and a fair knowledge of Grammar, are required for admission into the college classes, but on account of the condition of the public schools, the Faculty are required to establish preparatory classes for pupils not sufficiently advanced but of required age.” (Prospectus of Clemson Agricultural College, 1893)

Some students transferred to Clemson from other colleges. But almost half of the first students were not ready for college work. They were enrolled in the Preparatory Course, taking classes in Arithmetic, English Grammar, U.S. History and Geography.

Students who were prepared for college work could enroll in a 4-year Course in Chemistry and Agriculture, a 4-year Course in Mechanics and Engineering, a 2-year Course in Agriculture or a 2-year Course in Mechanics.

from Prospectus of Clemson Agricultural College, 1893

Classes were held Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm and on Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm. There was a Daily Assembly, or Chapel, at 8:30 am in Memorial Hall.

College Life

"Each student will be required to bring with him four sheets, two blankets or comforts, six towels, one pillow, two pillow cases, and one clothes bag. . . .The government shall be military, and each student shall be required to purchase a prescribed uniform of cadet gray, and a fatigue suit. Students may provide themselves with such work clothes as they desire." (Prospectus of Clemson Agricultural College, 1893)

The first trustees felt that a military system would minimize economic and social differences among the students. Students were called cadets and organized into military squads. They participated in military drill and marched to class.

1890s Clemson cadet uniform

“…the Board forbid[s] the organization of Greek letter or other secret socieiteis among the students of Clemson Agricultural College, and that any student violating this resolution shall be expelled from this institution.” (Board of Trustee Minutes June 21, 1893)

The main extracurricular activity the first year was the two Literary Societies -- the Calhoun and the Palmetto. Each had its own meeting hall in the Main Building.

Students petitioned the Board of Trustees to create a German Club (dancing) and a Gymnastics Club for the next session.

Members of the Palmetto Literary Society, 1893

Members of the Calhoun Literary Society, 1893

The Campus

“The College is situated in the most healthful portion of the State, at the old home of John C. Calhoun, which, together with 814 acres of land, was donated to the State of South Carolina by the Hon. Thos. G. Clemson, son-in-law of Mr. Calhoun. The property lies in the south-eastern part of Oconee County, in the piedmont section, which, during the last century has been a summer resort for the citizens of the southern and eastern portions of the State. The property is admirably adapted to the purposes to which it is devoted, possessing great variety of soil and exposure and an abundant supply of pure water.” (Prospectus of Clemson Agricultural College, 1893)

Members of the first Board of Trustees were anxious to transform Thomas Clemson's plantation into the college they envisioned as quickly as possible during a time of political and economic uncertainty. Acts passed by the State Legislature starting in 1889 ordered the State Penitentiary to furnish convicts to build the new college.

Much of the work clearing the land, making bricks, creating infrastructure and constructing the first buildings was done by these convict laborers. The leased-convict system was popular in the South after the Civil War as a means of providing a supply of workers to individuals, businesses and institutions for only the cost of basic lodging, food and medical care.

Due to the inequalities of convicting and sentencing by white judges, as well as the state’s population ratios, most of the nearly 600 convicts who were assigned to work off their sentences at Clemson College between 1890 and 1899 were African Americans. They ranged in age from 12 years old to 53 years old, with most in their late teens and twenties. They mainly were farmers and laborers, although a few were skilled carpenters and brick masons.

The first page of the register of names of the men and boys assigned to work on building Clemson College in 1890. From: Farm and Contract Register. 1889-1892. Department of Corrections. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, SC.

For more information on this topic see: Convict Labor by Jemma Everyhope-Roserin in Glimpse, Spring 2016.

There were only a few buildings on campus in 1893.

The Main Building, designed by Bruce and Morgan Architects of Atlanta, contained nineteen class rooms, a museum, offices for the president and secretary-treasurer, literary society meeting rooms and the College Chapel in Memorial Hall.

Although pictured in the architect's drawing, the tower clock would not be added for another decade.

The Main Building also housed the library: "The one thousand dollars set aside by your Board . . . had enabled us to purchase several hundred books, which have been placed in the commodious Library of the College, now open daily to students. I trust that the Board may continue to make liberal appropriation for the purchase of new books so much needed by our students. A number of valuable works have been presented to the Library by generous friends of the institution. Without a good Library no college is complete." (Board of Trustees Report, 1893)

Inscribed as the first book donated to Clemson's Library

The Dormitory or Barracks had 153 bedrooms, bathrooms on each floor and a guard room. Each room had three iron cots with cotton mattresses, three chairs, a table, a washstand and a three-compartment wardrobe with rifle rack. The ground floor was the Mess Hall with dining room, kitchen and baking room.

The Main Building and Dormitory were lighted by electricity, heated by steam and supplied with water under pressure. The water was collected through drain tile from springs and pumped from a reservoir to all the public buildings. These were novelties to many of the students who came from rural areas of the state without electricity or running water in their homes.

Mechanical Hall housed rooms for Carpentry, Machine Shop and Forge and Foundry.

From the outset, Mechanical Hall was too small: "It was impossible for the board in planning the buildings for the several departments to so construct them as to exactly meet the demand upon their capacity. This is particularly true of the mechanical hall, one of the first buildings erected, which was planned when the attendance was not expected to exceed 300." (Board of Trustees Report, 1893)

The Chemical Building had thirteen classrooms and a large laboratory room. The building also housed the chemical work of the State Experiment Station.

The 1887 Hatch Act provided for the establishment of experiment stations at the land-grant colleges and universities for conducting agricultural research. In 1889, money from the Hatch Act was assigned to Clemson College. The Experiment Station raised most of the College's funding through fees charged for analyzing commercial fertilizers.

Campus buildings also included a Laundry and an Infirmary that had eleven rooms, offices and a hospital ward. A Dairy Building also was under construction.

In addition, the campus had approximately thirty houses for faculty and administrators. Many of the houses included separate servant’s houses.

The campus also included farms, orchards, and barns to fulfill the college's mission of providing practical "hands on" work for the students.

Only the Beginning

As the 1893 session progressed, changes and adjustments were made as students, faculty and administrators learned what worked and what didn't for the new college. At the end of the 1893 term, nearly four hundred of the first students were planning to return and there were over five hundred new applications for admission.

Clemson's future had begun.

Created by Susan Hiott, Curator of Exhibits, Clemson University Libraries Special Collections and Archives

Information and materials are drawn from the holdings of Special Collections and Archives including The J.C. Littlejohn Collection (Mss 68), The Williston Wightman Klugh Papers (Mss 64), The Richard Wright Simpson Papers (Mss 96) and Board of Trustees Records (CU Archives Series 306).

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.