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Duke

The Wofford-Duke connection

What do two Methodist-related colleges, both founded in neighboring states in the years before the Civil War, have in common? In the 19th century, each faced lean years, found ways to survive and focused on teaching undergraduates. They both gained fraternities, student literary magazines and football within a year or two of each other. But in the 1890s, one began a turn toward becoming a university, while the other remained an undergraduate liberal arts college. Even after that, Wofford and the college then known as Trinity retained some connections.

Wofford provided leadership for its North Carolina sibling as it went through the college to university transition. In 1894, Wofford alumnus and professor John C. Kilgo left Spartanburg for Durham to serve as the growing college’s new president. He worked assiduously to cultivate the Duke family’s interest during his 16-year presidency. When he was elected a Methodist bishop in 1910, another Wofford alumnus, William Preston Few of the class of 1889, succeeded him as president. The relationship with the Duke family continued, and in December 1924, James B. Duke announced his plans to create the Duke Endowment and to build a research university around Trinity College. In honor of his father and family, the university was to bear the family’s name.

To help ease the pain that Wofford felt at being left out of the Duke Endowment, Benjamin N. Duke offered Wofford a $100,000 challenge gift, which President Henry Nelson Snyder used to leverage other gifts into a $250,000 increase in Wofford’s endowment.

The two institutions took different paths, but still shared some important ties. Many Wofford students since have pursued graduate work at Duke, and a number of Duke graduates later took faculty appointments at Wofford. The eighth president of Wofford, Paul Hardin III, was a Duke graduate and faculty member. Today, approximately 14 current and emeriti faculty at Wofford hold degrees from Duke.

The Wofford Duke connection will stretch in another direction on New Year’s Eve as the Terriers travel to Cameron Indoor Arena to play the Duke Blue Devils in basketball. Gold and black will likely be in short supply because tickets to Duke games are such a hot commodity, but a few Terriers will be there, and those who are there will know that Duke just wouldn’t be Duke without a little Wofford.

by Dr. Phillip Stone ’94, college archivist