Furman University did not start out as a nationally recognized liberal arts college. It had to change and adjust throughout its history to meet the needs of the times. Named after Richard C. Furman and deeply tied to the South Carolina Baptist Convention, “The Furman University” was chartered in December, 1825 (Daniel 15).In 1826, the university opened classes with about ten students in Edgefield, South Carolina. Due to unsuccessful years in Edgefield, the university decided to move. It moved three times before settling in Greenville, South Carolina in 1851, its current home (Reid 7). Not only did the university have a rough beginning trying to find a location where the school could flourish, it also had difficulty deciding its relationship with different affiliations during crucial times of Furman’s history.
In the beginning, the influence of the South Carolina Baptist Convention was evident. The Theological Institute at Furman played a role in determining the university’s standards of education at that time. But, the Theological Institute did not remain part of the university long, and broke from the university in 1861. Furman also tried to institute a Law School in 1921. It actually succeeded but was forced to close in 1932 due to controversy with Furman’s undergraduate studies (Reid 53). Furman had been coordinated with the Greenville Woman’s College (GWC) since 1854 when both colleges had the same Board of Trustees, the same presidential administration, but separate schools. It was not until the 1930s that women were allowed to receive Furman degrees with three years of study at GWC and one at Furman. Finally, in 1938, the legal steps for the merger were taken.
Academics have always been the core of the university. When the university began, there were only five majors, some of which may not be useful today. Yet, Furman’s ability to update its curriculum to meet the needs of students and provide a challenging curriculum has made the university one of the highest-ranked liberal arts colleges in the nation. When the curriculum underwent reconstruction under President Geer in 1933, the basis of today’s curriculum was created. The new curriculum had twelve majors and was designed to prepare students “for a profession through specialization while at the same time developing a broad cultural background,” (Reid 70). That broad cultural background could be translated today into the General Education Requirements that each student must take.While there may have been dislike of the General Education Requirements then and now, there was perhaps more dislike of the class on Saturday and summer school during the 1930s. Yet, something that students today might have liked from the 1930s was the $50 tuition.
Today, we may take our areas of study for granted but it may not have always been part of academic studies at Furman. The following is a chart of when some departments or classes were added.
|1884||Political Science Department|
|1893||Bachelor of Literature|
|1900||Military Feature Instituted|
|1932||Music Department from GWC|
Life on campus during Furman’s first hundred years or so was far different than it is today. One significant reason for this difference is because Furman was all male until the 1930s- with the exception of thirteen female students between 1893 and 1901. But this, of course, all changed with the merger with GWC. Women and men eventually had classes together and lived on the same campus.
Some of what we would consider today as the foundation of social life at Furman was born, or revived, in the 1920s. In 1926, the first orientation for freshman occurred. It has remained a tradition since and is more commonly known as O-Week to current students and staff. Fraternities, or formerly known as social societies, have also played a role in Furman’s history. Fraternities were closed in 1917 perhaps due to lack of interest after World War I. But, they were reopened in 1927 when they were legalized by the state legislature and when students showed an interest in extracurricular activities (Reid 53). Departmental groups also emerged in the 1920s because students were so interested in their majors. In the mid 1920s, a system was having to be looked at to limit students’ involvement in these activities. While physical activities were always encouraged at Furman, in the 1920s a revived interest in intercollegiate sports was on the rise after a ban from 1897 until the end of World War I. The Furman “purple and white hurricane” football team was soon traveling throughout the southeast playing at area colleges (Furman Hornet 4/12/37). Sports have still remained a large part of Furman today.
Furman University overcame many difficulties in its history before the merger with GWC. It moved three times and changed its name twice. Beginning with a tie to the South Carolina Baptist Convention, Furman had many changes in affiliations with associations and schools, including a short-lived theological seminary and law school. But, Furman finally became financially and academically stable after the final steps for the merger with GWC were taken.
Bonhomie. Furman University: 1930, 1932, 1937.
Daniel, Robert Norman. Furman University: A History. Greenville, SC: Hiott Press, 1951.
Furman Hornet. Furman University Archives. 12 April 1937.
Reid, Alfred Sandlin. Furman University: Toward a New Identity 1925-1975. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1976.