Janice Means and Gwendolyn Prince-Lawrence were the first two Black women to graduate from Wofford College, and they recently returned to campus to celebrate their 50th reunion. 

They were among the members of the Class of 1973 who celebrated their gold reunion during Commencement weekend.

“I never set out to be a history maker,” Means says. “I was focused on one thing – getting my degree to prepare for my goal to have a management and decision-making position in corporate America.” 

Many of those celebrating the reunion with them were people they saw in passing. Life was different for them. As students, both were married, worked full-time jobs and had a young child while majoring in economics.   

“I didn’t have a traditional college experience per se,” Means says. “I attended college to have the life I wanted. I credit my mother for my motivation and determination.” 

Means was from the Boiling Springs community in Spartanburg County and attended Foster’s Grove High School before schools were desegregated. Prince-Lawrence grew up in Spartanburg and graduated from Carver High School, which was the city’s Black high school. 

Both began their college careers at other campuses until Wofford began admitting women as day students in 1971. According to the college’s archives, 18 women were enrolled at the college in the fall of 1971. Nine were transfer students and nine were first-year students. Enrolling at Wofford allowed Means and Prince-Lawrence to continue their education while close to family, which provided a strong support system. 

In recent years, the college has focused more on sharing the stories of the first women to attend Wofford, says Dr. Phillip Stone, the college’s archivist. In 2013, Means and Prince-Lawrence were featured in an exhibit on Wofford’s desegregation decade and were recognized as the first two Black women to graduate. Both also were interviewed by the college’s History, Memory and Place working group through the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiative in 2021. 

Means began her work career as a phone operator for Southern Bell in 1968 while in high school. She continued the work while attending Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. When she transferred to Wofford, AT&T transferred her back to Spartanburg. Means was employed by AT&T for over 28 years and later started her own consulting company and provided contract services to AT&T for over 18 years.  

Means, who currently lives in Columbia, remembers interviewing for a promotion. When the decision became tight, the deciding factor was when one of the decision-makers, who happened to be a Wofford graduate, spoke up on her behalf based on her Wofford degree. She received the position. 

Prince-Lawrence was one of six children in a single-parent household. She had five brothers, and she was the only one to graduate from college. Prince-Lawrence attended Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, before returning to Spartanburg. She got married and had a child before enrolling at Wofford. Prince-Lawrence’s nightshift job while studying at Wofford involved collating papers at Milliken. After college, she spent her career in accounting and marketing at Dana Corp. and enjoyed traveling for the company across the United States and internationally. She lives in Statesville, North Carolina.

Prince-Lawrence says that she and Means only had a couple of classes together at Wofford, but they always looked for each other on campus and would meet to study together. Both were high school valedictorians and did well at their previous campuses, but they found Wofford challenging.  

“When I walked into the business classes, the guys were reading/discussing the Wall Street Journal,” Means says. “We had to play catch up and keep up. We had to learn the current material and the material that came before it.” 

Means was one of 10 children in her family, which included a sister who died as an infant. Her mother had an eighth-grade education, and her parents were sharecroppers until her father’s death when she was 13 years old. Means said her mom stressed education.  

“My mother never said, ‘If you go to college,’” Means says. “It was always, ‘When you go to college.’”  

Each of Means’ five sisters graduated from college and her three brothers served in the military. Means’ sister, Sandra Brewton Burgess, is a member of Wofford’s Class of 1977. Her sister Carolyn Brewton Landrum was the first Black librarian in the Spartanburg County public library system. 

Prince-Lawrence grew up near the college on Cleveland Street before her family moved to Evins Street, which is where she lived while attending Wofford. Both women have nephews who graduated from Wofford. 

Means and Prince-Lawrence received thunderous applause during Commencement weekend when introduced during the Baccalaureate Service and the Commencement ceremony. 

They made contributions that supported generations of women who have attended Wofford. 

“Every time I come to a Commencement, I wonder what it would be like to come back knowing what I know now,” Means says. “I look at all of the opportunities available to the graduates today and I’m a little envious.”