William States Lee, 1880-1885
William States Lee, the first president of Presbyterian College, was a native of Edisto Island and a graduate of the College of Charleston. When he was hired in 1872 to be the principal of the newly-formed Clinton High School, he already had 20 years of experience as an educator. When the high school became Clinton College in 1880, he was named its first president.
Because students transitioned from the high school to the college, PC began as a coeducational institution. Ansel B. Godfrey cites the 1882 catalog in A History of the Presbyterian College of South Carolina (c. 1930) which states,
Clinton College differs from all other Colleges in the State in this, that while it is specially adapted in its course of studies to young men, yet young ladies are entered in the same classes and upon the same footing, except that in their case, the Classical studies are optional. Many objections might be raised to this system, but as few villages can point to a finer set of youth of both sexes, than our own village of Clinton, all of whom were trained under this system, we are willing to leave the verdict to an unbiased public opinion. (Godfrey, 8)
Thus, with the purpose of caring for sons and daughters in the Clinton community, the first graduates of the college in 1883 were three young ladies, included among them Dr. William Plumer Jacobs’s only daughter, Florence Lee Jacobs.
Just ten years later in 1893, Chicora College for Young Ladies was established in Greenville on the banks of the Reedy River. PC coeds were encouraged to attend Chicora, thus PC became a men’s school until the early 1930s, when women students were invited to apply for admission. Early college catalogs emphasized that the College was to remain a Presbyterian institution, however, students of all denominations were welcomed.
Prof. Lee was encouraged to organize a College family and to take boarders, which he did. A number of young men were educated in his family, these being principally the sons of personal friends of his own. PC’s first residential students . . . the few young men rooming and boarding as part of Lee’s ‘family’ paid $100 in total cost for the entire ten-month year, while provisions could be made to reside with local residents for a complete cost of $144.
Hammet, Spirit of PC, 1982, 6-7
Many of the early faculty of the college had a personal connection to Dr. Jacobs and his family. William States Lee was related by marriage to Dr. Jacobs. In 1954 Thornwell Jacobs wrote in My People, that Prof. Lee was my step-grandmother’s brother, both the children of Rev. William States Lee, Sr., pastor for many years of the Presbyterian Church on Edisto Island, South Carolina. In more direct terms, William Plumer Jacobs’s father, the Rev. Ferdinand Jacobs married Caroline Lockwood Lee, the sister of Prof. William States Lee II in 1859.
When William States Lee stepped down as president for health reasons in 1885, he continued to teach and to manage the boarding department of the college through the fall of 1889. According to his daughter, Miss Henrietta Lee of Spartanburg, he became ill after attending a Faculty Meeting and died the next day.