A Pioneer in Baptist Life, Education, and Ministry
A distinguished educator, beloved minister, and renowned citizen, Dr. David Ramsay was officially connected with Furman University and the Greenville Woman’s College for 34 years. Almost a centenarian at the time of death, his life-long service to his students, his congregations, and the Greenville community stands as testament to his exceptional character and steadfast leadership.
David Marshall Ramsay was born in lower Greenville County, South Carolina (SC), on October 10, 1857, to Martha Gaines and Andrew Ramsay.1 His paternal grandparents, Samuel and Jean Ramsay, immigrated to Charleston, SC from Northern Ireland in 1818. Soon after, they settled in the largely Scottish community of Fairview in Greenville County and began attending Fairview Presbyterian Church. Following tradition, Ramsay and his siblings were raised in the Presbyterian faith.2 His father, Andrew, was a successful cotton planter and, as a young boy, Ramsay was often charged with making the 24 mile journey into Greenville in order to sell his father’s crop.3
At age 17, after attending several local primary schools, he enrolled at the Carswell Institute in Anderson County. There, the Baptist principal, E.R. Carswell, Jr., “challenged him to scripturally examine his beliefs,”4 while also fostering his interest in education. By 18, he was teaching students ranging in age from 10 to 20 at a school in Laurens County. After years of internal debate and intensive study, Ramsay decided that he could no longer agree with the Presbyterian view on Baptism. As a result, he decided to convert to the Baptist faith.5 In October 1880, at age 23, Ramsay asked Pastor J.K. Mendenhall, a well-known Baptist preacher, to perform his baptism by immersion at Columbia Baptist Church in Greenville County.6
From 1880 to 1884, he attended Richmond College (now the University of Richmond). Called to the ministry, Ramsay then matriculated into the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY from 1884 to 1887, where he earned a Masters of Theology. There, he met several Baptist greats, including James P. Boyce, Basil Manly, Jr., and John A. Broadus, among others.7 On Easter Sunday 1887, he was ordained by Glen’s Creek Baptist Church in Woodford, KY, his first pastorate.8 While there, he met and married Mary Woolfork in the spring of 1888. Together for life, they had three children: Eudora, David, Jr., and Allan.9 Ramsay then served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, AL from 1888-1891, and then as pastor of Citadel Square Baptist Church in Charleston, SC for the next fifteen years. While in Charleston, his prominence as a Baptist educator grew, and thus Ramsay was elected to serve on the joint Board of Trustees of Furman University and the Greenville Female College in 1892. He served as president of the board from 1898 until 1907, when he accepted the pastorate at Grace Street Baptist Church in Richmond, VA. In 1893, he was also awarded a Doctor of Divinity from Howard College (now Samford University).10
In 1911, after the resignation of President E.C. James, Ramsay was asked to serve as president at the Greenville Female College. After a month of deliberation, he accepted, declining offers from five other schools. Ramsay then embarked on “the longest and most effective presidency in the college’s history.”11 In December of 1911, he declared that his central goal as president was to raise money for the college. He also authorized the first sale of bonds on college property. Ramsay recommended that the board immediately “map out a program… in which the building program, reorganization of curriculum, strengthening the faculty, widening the scope of patronage, and improvement of teaching equipment would be provided for.”12 In 1914, he also supported changing the college’s name from the “Greenville Female College” to the “Greenville Woman’s College.” Later that same year, enrollment dropped and the college faced severe financial hardship as World War I began. However, Ramsay’s continuous improvements ensured the college’s stability, and revenue soon increased. In addition to increasing entrance requirements, he altered the class schedule, added a Domestic Science course, and instituted a Religious Emphasis Week. His wife, Mary, even raised enough money to construct a swimming pool in 1916.13
By 1920, enrollment had peaked at 701 students. In 1921, Ramsay’s first ten years as president had been so successful that trustees held a banquet in his honor. In 1922, Ramsay also saw the newly constructed David Ramsay Fine Arts Center, complete with a 1,200-seat auditorium and studios, named in his honor. He had been the premier advocate for its construction.14 With renovations completed and housing significantly enlarged, Ramsay hoped to earn accreditation for the Greenville Woman’s College. Unfortunately, falling enrollment and mounting debts made this goal impossible. As endowment dropped, Ramsay “urged trustees to begin a [fundraising] campaign”15 in May 1929. On June 17, 1930, the Board voted not to move forward with the campaign. At odds with the trustees, Ramsay resigned the following day. By the time he resigned from the Greenville Woman’s College, Ramsay’s had been responsible for the addition of four buildings, more than doubling enrollment, and increasing the college’s budget from $27,000 to $125,000.16
After his resignation, Ramsay and his wife retired to Kentucky. However, he returned to South Carolina only one year later to serve as pastor at First Baptist Church in Pelzer for six years.17 In 1936, Furman University awarded him a Doctor of Law degree. He then served as pastor of Shady Grove Baptist Church in Anderson County. Ramsay finally retired at the age of 91. In 1950, he was again honored by Furman with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan medal, for service to the university. Always an avid equestrian, he rode his 11th horse, Chestnut, until he was 97. Along with horse riding, he attributed his longevity to a 30-minute nap each day and his love and enthusiasm for young people. David M. Ramsay died on August 5, 1957 at the age of 99, only two months shy of becoming a centenarian.18
Written by Wes Floyd
2Terry Wolever, Biological preface to “Why Become a Baptist?” by David M. Ramsay, 1900. Reprint, (Springfield, MO: Regular Baptist Publishing, 2001).
3“Dr. David Ramsay Is Dead At 99”.
4David M Ramsay, “Why Become a Baptist?” in Baptist Why and Why Not, ed. by James M. Frost, (Springfield, MO: Regular Baptist Publishing, 1900).
7Herbert Johnson, “Dr. Ramsay Gave Baptists Long Career of Influence,” The Greenville News, January 31, 1954.
8 Certificate of Ordination to David M. Ramsay. Glen’s Creek Baptist Church, Woodford County, KY, 1887. Folder 4: Dr. David M. Ramsay, Special Collections, Furman University, Greenville, SC.
9“Dr. David Ramsay Is Dead At 99”.
10Coggins, “As Educator,” The Furman University Magazine, September-October 1952, 4.
11Judith T. Bainbridge, Academy and College: The History of the Woman’s College of Furman University (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2001), 136.
12Elizabeth Alford, The Story of Our Mother: Told by a Daughter (Greenville, SC: Bulletin, Greenville Woman’s College, 23, no. 2, Feb. 1925), 68.
14Bainbridge, Academy and College, 168.
16“Dr. David Ramsay Is Dead At 99”.
17Johnson, “Dr. David Ramsay Gave Baptists Long Career of Influence”.
18“Dr. David Ramsay Is Dead At 99.”