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Office of Institutional Research, Assessment, and Analytics

History of the University of South Carolina

Chartered in 1801 as South Carolina College, the University of South Carolina was the first state university to be supported continuously by annual state appropriations. In the years before the Civil War, it rapidly achieved a reputation for academic excellence in the classical tradition and was known as one of the best endowed and most distinguished colleges in the United States. Its faculty included Francis Lieber, editor of the Encyclopedia Americana and author of On Civil Liberty and Self Government, the nationally known scientists John and Joseph LeConte, and chemist William Ellet, who produced some of the first daguerreotype in the United States. By the 1830s, distinguished alumni virtually filled the state's General Assembly. James H. Hammond and Wade Hampton were the most prominent of a parade of future governors, senators, judges, and generals who graduated during the antebellum period.

The pre-Civil War campus included Longstreet Theatre and all the buildings in the area known today as the Horseshoe (with the exception of McKissick Museum). When the voluntary enlistment of all students into the Army of the Confederacy forced the college to close in June of 1862, the buildings were used by the Confederate government as a hospital. By the time Sherman's army reached Columbia in February of 1865, the hospital contained wounded Union soldiers as well. A fire soon started that destroyed most of the city, but federal troops helped save the campus buildings from the flames.

After re-opening in 1865, the institution went through six reorganizations and name changes during the last decades of the 19th century, while legislators, administrators, and faculties reassessed the institution's goals and struggled to define its mission. Finally in 1906, at the beginning of its second century, it was rechartered for the third, and last, time as the University of South Carolina, with a graduate school.

In sharp contrast to the South Carolina College's antebellum, elitist philosophy, President William Davis Melton in 1925 expressed a far-reaching principle that had emerged in the first quarter of the century: "Education is not a special privilege to be enjoyed by a special few." Thus, in its final reorganization, the University of South Carolina developed this institutional objective: to furnish both liberal and professional education to the people of South Carolina.

Efforts to achieve that objective were almost immediately hampered by the early arrival of the Great Depression in South Carolina. Enrollment declined, some courses were eliminated, and buildings went without repairs. The situation improved greatly in the late 1930s because of grants from federal New Deal agencies. Then America entered World War II, and the campus was virtually transformed into a naval training base with payments from the Navy helping the school continue to function during the war years.

Fulfillment of the promise of the early years of the 20th century began in earnest in the 1950s. Since then, dynamic academic expansion and the development of a state-wide network of campuses have produced highly diverse and innovative education programs. A commitment to graduate education along with involvement in major research programs has attracted an outstanding faculty.

In keeping with both its 19th-century and its 20th-century heritage, the University continues to promote academic excellence while responding progressively to its educational responsibilities and the citizens of South Carolina. Pursuing this goal, the University aspires to build upon its commitment to enhancing not only our students' knowledge, understanding, and economic viability, but also their sense of character, empathy, and mutual respect. Such ambitions and ideals were cornerstones of the original college and remain fundamental to the University's purpose in South Carolina and society.