The College's Co-Founders: Anna Todd Wofford and Maria Barron Wofford
Though it was Benjamin Wofford’s will that provided for the founding of Wofford College, without the two women who were his wives, there would have been no funds for a bequest.
The only child of Thomas and Ann Todd, Anna Todd was born on July 23, 1784. Thomas Todd was one of the largest landowners in southern Spartanburg County and thus one of the wealthiest men in the backcountry. Anna met Benjamin Wofford, probably at the church on her father’s property, in the early 1800s, and they were married on July 30, 1807. Thomas Todd built the young couple a house near his home, which became known in the family as the “red house.”
When Thomas Todd died in July 1809, Ben and Anna moved to the Todd house to be closer to Anna’s mother. Benjamin Wofford was the executor of the Todd estate. Beginning in 1816, Ben served as the minister first of the Enoree Circuit, then of the Reedy River Circuit. When Mrs. Todd died in 1818, Anna and Ben continued to live in the home, and Anna inherited all of Thomas Todd’s estate. The laws of the day gave Benjamin Wofford the ownership of all his wife’s personal property, and management (but not ownership) of her real estate. This inheritance allowed Ben and Anna Todd Wofford to live comfortably but not lavishly, and the additional income allowed Ben to become an investor, mostly in bank stocks. Perhaps these responsibilities, along with the uncertainties of serving as an itinerant Methodist minister in the early 1800s, led Ben to leave the active ministry in 1820.
By all accounts, Anna Todd Wofford was a generous woman, known for many kind deeds. Wofford family tradition credits Anna with planting in his mind the idea of supporting education. President James H. Carlisle wrote that in the winters that Ben and Anna lived in Columbia, they were associated with Rev. William Wightman, then the agent for Randolph-Macon College, the only Methodist college in the south at the time, and through him with its president, Dr. Stephen Olin. Carlisle wrote that “These influences, no doubt, helped to enlarge the plans of benevolence which Mr. Wofford and his wife had begun very early to devise.”
As they had no children, Ben invited his niece, Nancy Tucker, to come to live with him and Anna. Around 1830, when Nancy married, Ben sold the property to her husband and moved to a new home a few miles south of the Todd plantation. The only stipulation made in the property transaction was that Ben reserved a small area of land around the graves of Thomas and Ann Todd for his and Anna’s burial. When Anna Todd Wofford died in October 1835, her funeral overflowed the nearby Grace Chapel that Ben Wofford had built.
After Anna’s death, Ben traveled, and while in either Virginia or East Tennessee he met Maria Scott Barron. She was the daughter of Dr. Hendley Barron, a native of Maryland who, with his wife Margery Cox Barron, moved to an area south of Alexandria, VA after their marriage. Maria Barron was one of ten children, all of whom were educated beyond what would have been average for the day. One of her sisters married a distant cousin of George Washington, and a brother married a granddaughter of George Mason. Maria and Ben were married in September 1836 in Greene County, Tennessee, where Maria’s sister Ann Barron Wells lived. He was 56, she was 33. D. D. Wallace wrote in the History of Wofford College that “In both his marriages Wofford illustrated that common occurrence of a man of ability out-marrying himself socially.”
Benjamin and Maria Barron Wofford returned to his home in southern Spartanburg County, but after a few years, Maria grew tired of rural life. They moved into the village of Spartanburg in 1840, living in a home on the courthouse square. As the couple had no children, they busied themselves with visiting friends and family, attending church events, and occasional travel. Maria must have known of Ben’s interest in education, for he nearly bought a plot of land near Limestone Springs in 1844 to give to the Methodist Annual Conference for a school or college. She also had learned a few things about Ben’s gifts for making money. Maria wrote her sister in 1847 that she would rather have money than slaves from her mother’s estate, for “I could loan it out and it would do me more good.”
After the death of her husband on December 2, 1850, Maria Wofford was not particularly happy to see so much of Wofford’s estate given to other people. However, Ben had provided for his wife, leaving her their home and furnishings, carriage and livestock, $10,000, and 50 acres of land. However, she did not contest the will. Gradually, Maria came to see herself as a co-founder of the college. She was present at the laying of the cornerstone of Main Building in 1851, and a lock of her hair went into the cornerstone. Dr. Carlisle writes that the college treated her as a co-founder by giving her an honored place at ceremonies and commencements. Perhaps relieved that she did not challenge the will, the trustees granted her a scholarship permitting her to send a student to the college tuition free.
While Barron family tradition says that all seven of Maria’s favorite sister’s sons were to have a free education at Wofford, only two of her nephews, Benjamin Wofford Wells and Gustavus Barron Wells, ever enrolled in the college or the fitting school. The founder’s namesake enrolled in 1858 and attended through his junior year in 1861. He died in Confederate service at Richmond on October 29, 1862. A third nephew became a Methodist minister in South Carolina. At the same time, Maria’s niece Maria Wells came to live with her in Spartanburg. When young Maria Wells married, Maria Wofford moved to New York with her. Eventually, Maria Wells Agnew and her family found their way to North Hudson, Wisconsin. Maria Wofford maintained contact with the college, and it was her wish that the portraits of her and her husband be presented to the college after her death on January 13, 1883. Those portraits hang on the campus, side by side, to this day.
In 1920, on Founder’s Day, the graves of Benjamin and Anna Todd Wofford were moved to the campus. Today, they lie side by side, 70 yards in front of a building neither lived to see constructed, under a monument bearing the words, translated, “if his monument you seek, look around.”
Above, left: The Todd family farm, home of Benjamin and Anna Todd Wofford from approximately 1809 to 1835. The house later became the property of Benjamin Wofford's nephew, Emnanuel Allen. Above right: an ambrotype photograph of Maria Barron Wofford, taken late in her life.
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