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, Presbyterian College began as a coeducational institution, an uncommon occurrence for that time. With the purpose of educating the sons and daughters in the Clinton community, the first graduates in 1883 were three women, 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. Presbyterian College 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 once again.
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 00 in total cost for the entire ten-month year, while provisions could be made to reside with local residents for a complete cost of 44. (Hammet, Spirit of PC, 1982, 6-7).
Early college catalogs emphasized that the College was to remain a Presbyterian institution, however, students of all denominations were welcomed.
Lee was related by marriage to PC founder, William Plumer Jacobs. Dr. Jacobs’s father, the Rev. Ferdinand Jacobs’s third marriage in 1859 was to Caroline Lockwood Lee, the sister of William States Lee II.
When Professor Lee stepped down as president in 1885, he continued to teach mathematics and philosophy, 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.