1801, then-South Carolina College flourished pre-Civil War, overcame
post-war struggles, was rechartered in 1906 as a university, and transformed itself as a national institution in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The Palmetto State established South Carolina College—the precursor to the University of South Carolina—on Dec. 19, 1801, as part of an effort to unite South Carolinians in the wake of the American Revolution. South Carolina's leaders saw the new college as a way to promote “the good order and harmony” of the state.
The founding of South Carolina College was also a part of the Southern public college movement spurred by Thomas Jefferson. Within 20 years of one another, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia established state-supported colleges.
In the antebellum era, the Palmetto State generously supported South Carolina College. The institution featured a cosmopolitan faculty, including such noted European scholars as Francis Lieber and Thomas Cooper, as well as renowned American scholars John and Joseph LeConte. Offering a traditional classical curriculum, South Carolina College became one of the most influential colleges in the South before 1861, earning a reputation as the training ground for South Carolina's antebellum elite.
The campus grew around the modified quadrangle of the Horseshoe (lithograph, circa 1850s, top). In 1805, four years after the college was chartered, its first building, Rutledge, was completed. Classes began that year with two faculty members and nine students.
As the only academic facility, Rutledge served as classroom, lab, library, chapel, and student and faculty housing until DeSaussure was completed on the north side of the Horseshoe in 1809. Throughout the next 38 years, the Horseshoe took shape with eight more buildings. (The Horseshoe's 11th building, and the only one not built in the 19th century, is McKissick, completed in 1940.)
Robert Mills, the nation's first federal architect and the designer of the Washington Monument, greatly influenced the architecture of South Carolina College. Mills was involved in the design of Rutledge, South Caroliniana Library, and Maxcy Monument in the center of the Horseshoe, named for the first president of the college, Jonathan Maxcy. The South Caroliniana Library was the first freestanding college library building in the nation when it was completed in 1840.
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