Winthrop University – Rock Hill, South Carolina

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Located in Rock Hill, Winthrop University was founded in 1886 as the Winthrop Training School for Teachers. It was named for Robert Charles Winthrop, a noted philanthropist and head of the Peabody Education Board.

Winthrop University

Gary Killough of Summerville, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

In 1891, the school was renamed the South Carolina Industrial and Winthrop Normal College and became the first state-supported college for women in South Carolina. The name was changed to Winthrop College, the South Carolina College for Women in 1920. Winthrop remained a female college until the early 1970s when it became coeducational.

The above picture shows Tillman Hall, the first building constructed on the campus. Originally called Main Building, Tillman Hall was completed in 1894 and is one of the few remaining examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in South Carolina. The building was renamed in 1962 to honor former South Carolina governor and early advocate of the school Benjamin R. Tillman.

Tillman’s legacy in establishing Winthrop and Clemson University, which also has a Tillman Hall, is often overshadowed by his actions as a white supremacist who participated in violent events such as the Hamburg Massacre. Tillman also called for the 1895 South Carolina Constitutional Convention, which disenfranchised blacks and segregated South Carolina schools.

Many buildings on the Winthrop campus are listed in the National Register as Winthrop College Historic District:

The Winthrop College Historic District includes twenty properties of historical and architectural merit that were constructed between 1894 and 1943 and that reflect the growth and development of the college as an innovator in education in South Carolina. These properties include academic classrooms, administrative and dormitory buildings, and an amphitheater. The historic district is significant as the first state-supported college for women in South Carolina, for its dominant role in the education of teachers for the state’s white public schools, and for its innovations in teaching methods from 1895 through the 1930s. The district is architecturally significant as an unusually intact collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century college buildings. Prominent architectural styles exhibited include Gothic Revival, Richardsonian Romanesque, Classical Revival or Neo-Classical, and Neo-Georgian or Colonial Revival. Winthrop was named in honor of the chairman of the Peabody Education Foundation, Robert C. Winthrop, who had done much to help Dr. David B. Johnson, superintendent of the Columbia Graded Schools, to organize the Winthrop Training School in 1886.

Originally located on the grounds of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Columbia, Winthrop was chartered by the state legislature in 1887, with Dr. Johnson as President and Governor Ben Tillman as chairman of the Board of Trustees. In compliance with the Peabody Education Foundation Board, the Winthrop Board of Trustees tendered the college to the state in November 1891, making it the first state-supported college for women in South Carolina. In 1893 the college was renamed the Winthrop Normal and Industrial College of South Carolina. The college opened in Rock Hill in 1895. In 1920 the name was changed to Winthrop College, the South Carolina College for Women. The college became a co-educational institution in 1974 and is now known as Winthrop University.

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