North Greenville Junior College came into being through careful planning, long hours or arduous work, and prevailing prayer.
In the Fall of 1933, while America was still in a deep depression, Mr. M. C. Donnan, Principal of North Greenville Baptist Academy, offered room and board for me, my wife, and our two small children, Mary Elizabeth and Frank. This was to be in exchange for my making a survey to help determine the advisability of starting a junior college at North Greenville. There was, at that time, much skepticism as to the possibility of such an educational venture.
During the school year 1933-1934, Mrs. Lawton and I made a thorough study of all the Junior colleges in both North and South Carolina and in Georgia. We drove to the campuses of most of these colleges and conferred at length with the presidents and the deans who in every case were most helpful and encouraging.
Upon the completion of the survey, I presented to the Principal and the Trustees a fifty-page type-written report and met with them to answer questions and make definite recommendations based on the facts contained in the report.
I am convinced that it is a matter of great importance that this significant meeting was held in the room of the Boys’ Dormitory known as the Prayer Room. Rev. Buford Crain, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, presided. After the meeting was opened with prayer, I was asked to present my report. Many items in the report were very encouraging and added confidence to their hope. The one point which seemed to be most astounding to the trustees was the fact that North Greenville Academy already had a better trained faculty than several of the Junior colleges studied. All along throughout the struggling days of the institution, the very dedication of the faculty as missionaries, gladly working on meager salaries, made it difficult for many to recognize their true scholastic statue.
After a period of discussion, the trustees decided to take steps toward beginning a junior college. They raised Mr. Donnan’s title to that of “President” and stated that his “duties would be to have general oversight of the academy and junior college, to manage the financial affairs of the school, and to direct the school farm.”
The trustees then selected me as Dean of Instruction. They told me that my immediate responsibility was “to direct the scholastic growth of the institution from an academy to that of a recognized junior college.” Within three weeks, the academy department was admitted to membership in the Southern Association of Secondary Schools, the highest scholastic recognition for a high school in the South.
In setting up a college curriculum, it seemed that the task was two-fold; we must have not only a worthy college offering, but also one that would incorporate Bible and Religious Education which would be commensurate with the purpose upon which the school was established. My second emphasis was in helping select faculty members, each of whom should hold at least a master’s degree, be a dedicated Christian, evince a missionary spirit of willingness to sacrifice.
With these two goals accomplished to a marked degree, we then set about to secure recognition of the junior college by the South Carolina State Department of Education and by any and all of the four year colleges, as individual students made their own choices known.
Great care was exerted to permit a student to make his own choice of his life’s work and of the institution where he would go for further training.
In those early days of stress and strain, one of the most encouraging joys that came to Mrs. Lawton and me was the happy experience of personally securing eleven of the twenty-two charter members of the first College Class of North Greenville.
Mrs. Lawton devised, developed, and kept a Permanent Record System for North Greenville Junior College during the five formative years of the college.
In the summer of 1934, we secured Miss Azie Lee Wofford, Southern Baptist Foreign Missionary on furlough, who was a Peabody College graduate in Library Science, to come for a few weeks to make shelf lists so the few books on hand could be easily accessible and thus form a basis for the beginning of a college library. Thereafter, M.A. graduates in Library Science were employed to promote the rapid growth of the library.
As Dean of Instruction, my responsibility included two other challenging problems. In my studies at Peabody College for Teachers and in my Survey of the Junior Colleges of Georgia and the Carolinas, I had found that the accepted practice was for a college to operate successfully for at least three years before it was recognized by other colleges and by the State Department of Education. This attitude of discredit toward the worth and work of our college and the hesitancy toward admitting its achievements until some time had passed, both seemed to be unnecessary. We were not asking for favors of anyone, but we were definitely holding out for recognition of reality.
When the time cams, President Carlisle Campbell of Coker College was the first to give a written statement that his college would admit North Greenville graduates to the third year college class without further explanation or any other stigma on credit earned at North Greenville and that the progress of such students would depend upon the work they did at Coker.
When Tom Neely, a member of the first North Greenville “College Class” expressed his desire to attend Wofford College, we took him to talk with the dean and registrar at Wofford, whereupon he was admitted without any question of work done at North Greenville.
At first Furman was hesitant, saying that our students could be admitted only upon submitting to and passing Furman’s examinations on the same subjects on which credit had been earned already at North Greenville. This I said I could not go along with because it reflected on our faculty. Then we were told by Furman that our teachers could just send the examination papers and let Furman teachers of that subject grade them. This I said was more unacceptable than the first suggestion, because, as I pointed out, some Furman first and second year classes were being taught by Furman seniors who had not finished college, while every first and second year college class (our entire junior college0 was being taught by qualified teachers holding master’s degrees.
Furman then decided that they, along with other colleges, would admit North Greenville graduates into the third year college class without question. Rapidly, many colleges gave their recognition and sought our graduates.
To get the South Carolina State Department of Education to recognize North Greenville as a college, seemed insurmountable. That trip to Columbia, also, was no made without careful planning and a great deal of earnest prayer. So much was involved in getting a favorable answer from Superintendent J. H. Hope. When Mrs. Lawton and I entered his office at the hour he had set, we went straight to the matter of recognition of North Greenville. He was pleased to hear about the new college and said that he felt certain that within two or three years, we could expect to be receiving recognition from the State Department of Education.
I said, “Here is our situation. We have a fine group of courageous students, young men and young women, who have been working to help start a good junior college. Now, to tell them that they will not be able to graduate from a college that is recognized, but that other students a few years later would have that privilege without being the pioneers that they are, seems a tragedy. I would like to be able to say that every student who graduates from North Greenville has finished a school that is fully recognized.” “But,” he said, “That would be unusual to recognize a school before its first graduating class. What proportion of your faculty hold the master’s degree?” “One hundred percent,” I said. “That is certainly unusual.” Then I said, “That matches my unusual request.”
Superintendent Hope stood to his feet and said, “I am going to grant your unusual request and see to it that your first class finishes a recognized junior college. I will get my secretary to take down this letter and you can take it back with you.”
Before we left the office, Superintendent Hope had written and signed the recognition. Further, upon our invitation, he agreed to be the Commencement speaker for the first graduation class of North Greenville Junior College.
Written by Sam M. Lawton, Ph.D., Teacher, College of General Studies at the University of South Carolina, for the Winter 1967 North Greenville Alumni Magazine.