April 22, 2014

Summer class to focus on Winthrop history, partnership with Rock Hill

Students who enroll in a new class being offered this summer at Winthrop University will wade through 128 years of the school’s history and learn more about the city of Rock Hill’s partnership with the college.

Students who enroll in a new class being offered this summer at Winthrop University will wade through more than 100 years of the school’s history and learn more about the city of Rock Hill’s partnership with the school.

Eddie Lee, Winthrop history professor and York mayor, is teaching the course, called “Winthrop: From College to University.” Many of Winthrop’s traditional undergraduate students will sign up for the course, Lee said, but he hopes some community members from Rock Hill also will participate.

Nearly 9,000 Winthrop alumni live in the area, meaning many people may be interested in a summer class focused exclusively on their alma mater’s history, Lee said.

The history class will include an oral history assignment which Lee says would benefit from older Winthrop alumni enrolling this summer. Students could interview fellow classmates for the oral history project.

Lee, the author of several books including one on York’s history and South Carolina during the Civil War, has been fascinated with Winthrop’s early days and what he calls an “enduring partnership” with Rock Hill. Lee’s mother and grandmother attended the school.

He often quotes, and says he agrees with, past Winthrop president Henry Sims who said locating the college in Rock Hill “was certainly the best investment that Rock Hill ever made.”

The university began in 1886 as the Winthrop Training School, founded in Columbia. Classes were held in a building which was designed in 1823 as a carriage house. It was later used by the Columbia Theological Seminary.

After changing the school’s name to the Winthrop Normal and Industrial College of South Carolina, state lawmakers approved moving the campus to Rock Hill. The campus held its first classes in Rock Hill in 1895.

Details of Winthrop’s years in Columbia and its eventual move to Rock Hill will be the focus of the beginning of this summer’s history class when it begins in July, Lee said.

The monthlong class will then study the college’s first nine presidents, starting with founding president David Bancroft Johnson who served until 1928 –– the longest tenure of any Winthrop president.

Students will use primary-source documents, Lee said, contained in “boxes and boxes and boxes.” The research will include Johnson and others’ presidential papers, including letters to former South Carolina governor and U.S. Rep. Benjamin R. Tillman in the school’s early days.

Materials held in the university’s Louis Pettus archives will be instrumental to student researchers who will take “a fresh look” at Winthrop’s history, Lee said.

The class also will prominently feature many of the university’s “defining moments,” he said, which includes the admission of Winthrop’s first black student in 1964 and the school becoming co-ed in 1974. The school was founded and operated as college for women until 1974.

Lee will also teach students about the school attaining its university status in 1992 under then president Anthony DiGiorgio, who is now president emeritus.

Central to the course, he said, is Winthrop’s partnership with Rock Hill government. The ties have always been strong and continue to be as city and university leaders plan for “Knowledge Park,” Lee said.

Knowledge Park includes old textile buildings and land located between downtown Rock Hill and Winthrop. Redevelopment plans call for transforming the area – specifically the old Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. land, commonly called the Bleachery –into a thriving business district with entertainment, office, retail and restaurant uses.

From 1895 to now, Lee says the partnership and campus “continues to evolve.” His summer history course, the first of its kind at Winthrop, will explore anecdotes of university history and the partnership with Rock Hill.

Registration for the course is open until the class begins on July 14. Up to 20 students may sign up. As a three-hour credit class, the cost is $1,260. Some financial aid may be available.

State law provides for colleges to admit students ages 60 or older on a tuition-free basis when space is available in a class.

Also this summer, Winthrop will offer more than 60 online courses for students. Class options include 31 topic areas such as accounting, biology, marketing, music and religion.

For information on the Winthrop history class, call 803-323-2173. For general information on Winthrop’s summer classes, call 803-323-2211.

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