May 2010

Laurensville Female College

Laurens County is well known for two Presbyterian schools, Thornwell Home and Presbyterian College. There was another Presbyterian institution in the county, however, which predated both of these. This was the Laurensville Female College, located not in Clinton, but in Laurens.

Laurensville Female College

Laurensville Female College

Apparently there had been a female seminary, or academy, in Laurens as early as the 1840s. Reports indicate that John McClintock gave land for such an academy in 1831, but it did not open until 1843. The school was located on Main and Church streets, and was variously referred to as the Laurensville Female Seminary and the Laurensville Female Academy. Most of its supporters were members of the Presbyterian Church.

In 1856, control of the school was turned over to the Presbytery of South Carolina, and it was renamed the Laurensville Female College. The Presbytery appointed a board of 24 members to govern the school, sixteen of whom were to be Presbyterian. Money was soon raised for a new building, which was begun in 1857. Rev. E.T. Buist, who was later to serve as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, was named president of the school. By April of 1858, there were 90 students enrolled. Since the new building was not yet completed, college classes were held in the Presbyterian Church, and high school classes in the former Female Academy. The new brick three-story building was soon completed, however, and its fifteen rooms provided space for primary, high school, and college classes. It also included a museum and a large library.

Before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the school was thriving. Reports to Presbytery indicate that it had already “reached celebrity known to but few of the much older institutions.” While many of its students came from South Carolina, there were also pupils from other states. By September 1860, there were 128 students in attendance, and the school was in a healthy financial condition. The report to presbytery that month praised “the wisdom of your body in spreading abroad the banner of female education within your bounds.”

In 1861, however, progress ground to a halt. Rev. Buist resigned as president, and the school was closed for part of the war. It was open again, however, by 1863 when Ferdinand Jacobs, father of PC’s founder, William Plumer Jacobs, took over the presidency. He was to remain until 1865.

Ferdinand Jacobs

Ferdinand Jacobs

After a year without a president, Rev. Samuel J. Price took his place, and remained until 1869.

In 1869, the trustees reported to the Presbytery that the school’s patronage “has not been so large the last session as in former years, which may be largely accounted for from the depressed condition of our country…The resignations of the entire faculty have made it necessary to organize a new corps of teachers. This has been effected by the unanimous election of Maj. J. A. Leland as president….” Leland was succeeded by James Farrow, who served for three years. Farrow was replaced by Ferdinand Jacobs, who served his second tenure as president from 1878-1880.

During the 1870s, the school apparently encountered some legal troubles. Presbytery minutes indicate that the weak economy, the discontinuance of the Laurens Railroad, and the heavy debt incurred in building the college had all affected its finances. Much of the debt was owed to John W. Simpson, contractor for the college and also longtime chairman of its board. Dr. Simpson eventually agreed to be paid less than half of what was due him, but part of the settlement specified that beginning in December of 1873, the school would be put under the control of a group of friends of the college, who would themselves pay off the debt and attempt to keep the college open. As a result, Mr. Jno. A Eigleberger, who was one of the original donors to the college, brought suit, complaining that the presbytery had abandoned the college. He demanded that the college property be sold, and the proceeds used to pay off the debt. As a result, the presbytery appointed a new board, thus again assuming control of the institution.

In 1879, the college opened with only eight pupils, but by the end of the year, enrollment had increased to forty. By October of that year, the school’s indebtedness had been turned over to its trustees to deal with. The following year, Ferdinand Jacobs resigned as president. There was good news, however, in that the heavy debt, which had rested like “an oppressive incubus” on the college, had been almost entirely liquidated by the trustees.

The college had no president during its 1880-1881 session, but Rev. John Dorroh Anderson had been hired, and classes were continuing under the direction of “two most excellent and competent ladies.” The college’s fortunes apparently fluctuated in the ensuing decade. By March of 1882, Anderson was in charge, and the college was being reorganized. There were fifty-five students in attendance, and the buildings were being refurnished and repaired. By 1884, R.W. Milner was serving as president, and there were forty-three students in attendance. By the fall of 1886, there were 110 students, the largest enrollment in some time. Hard times hit again that year, however. Finances were tight, and most of the crops in Laurens County had failed. To aggravate the situation, there was an extensive outbreak of the measles, which further decreased enrollment. Prof. Milner resigned, and W.M. McCaslan replaced him. McCaslan’s tenure started off well. Enrollments increased until there were 160 students in 1889-90, with 65 in the intermediate and college classes.

Strangely enough, after this renewed success, the College disappears completely from the minutes of Enoree Presbytery. It was apparently closed, and the land was transferred to the Presbyterian and Baptist churches in settlement of debts. By 1895, the former college building was being used by the Laurens Graded School. The present-day First Baptist and First Presbyterian churches currently stand on the site.

(Information for this history was taken from the minutes of the Presbytery of South Carolina and the Presbytery of Enoree.)