The College of Charleston has come a long way since graduating its first six students in 1794. Today, there are more than 10,000 students from across the U.S. and around the world studying at the College each year. For the 17th straight year, The Princeton Review has recognized the College as one of the top universities in the country for “its beautiful and historic campus, combined with contemporary facilities, cutting-edge programs and accessible faculty.”
Many have been responsible for the growth and increased prestige during the College’s 250 years of existence, but here are a few (listed alphabetically) who deserve special recognition for the impact they had on the College’s development and evolution. From visionary presidents and groundbreaking professors to passionate alumni and status quo–busting students, they helped make the College of Charleston what it is today.
Marlene Addlestone ’64 is one of the College’s most valued alumnae, friends and supporters. Among her greatest contributions is the critical role she and her late husband, Nathan, played in the creation of their namesake library. The couple later served on the steering committee for the new library and helped lead the College’s first capital campaign. They also endowed a chair in the Lowcountry Arts, Culture and History Program, a forerunner to the School of the Arts’ Historic Preservation and Community Planning Program. Marlene is a founding member of the College’s Friends of the Library Board of Directors, on which she still serves. She and her husband, Larry Bursten, continue to be generous supporters of the College.
Pierrine St. Claire Smith Byrd ’22, the first female graduate, proved to everyone that women could not only excel at the College, but play an integral role on campus. She graduated first in her class and received the prestigious Alumni Medal. While at the College, Byrd served as the president of the Co-Ed Club, captain of the women’s basketball team and editor-in-chief of the College’s yearbook, The Comet, just to name a few of her accomplishments.
Joan Cronan served as the women’s coach for tennis, volleyball and basketball, as well as the women’s athletics director from 1974 to 1983. During her tenure, the athletics program was struggling to reestablish itself in a new field of competition and increase the variety of its sports programs. During this time, the women’s sports programs began to flourish and receive national attention. Under Cronan, the College was selected as the No. 1 women’s athletics program in the country in 1980 by the American Women’s Sports Foundation. She was inducted to the CofC Athletics Hall of Fame in 1990.
John Henry Dick, renowned ornithologist and painter of birds, donated his considerable art collection and John James Audubon’s Birds of America, of which only 120 complete sets are known to exist. He also bestowed Stono Preserve, a majestic 881-acre property along the Stono River and Intracoastal Waterway. The myriad ecosystems include longleaf pine forests, wetlands, savannahs and tidal marshes, as well as brackish, saltwater and freshwater ponds. Stono Preserve serves as a classroom for undergraduate and graduate students for classes, ranging from astronomy and vertebrate zoology to art and archaeology. It also is home to many research studies by faculty and students, such as measuring raindrops and the effects of environmental changes on amphibians.
Eddie Ganaway ‘71 began his journey at the College in 1968 and became the first Black student to cross the Cistern. After earning a degree in history, he went on to earn a master’s of history from Duke University and teach at Illinois State University and South Carolina State University. He is remembered for his leadership, commitment to enhancing diversity and efforts to strengthen the Charleston community. In 2007, the College awarded Ganaway with an honorary doctorate. Both the Eddie Ganaway Diversity Education and Resource Center and the Eddie Ganaway Distinguished Alumni Award are named in his honor.
Carrie Nesbitt Gibbs ’72 and Angela Brown Gilchrist ’72 (M.Ed. ’93) were the first Black students to attend the College, paving the way for the thousands of people of color who followed. The integration went surprisingly smoothly, according to Gibbs, an English major who still lives in Charleston. Gilchrist was a biology major who later obtained a master’s degree in elementary education at the College.
Owilender K. Grant joined the Department of Mathematics as the first full-time, tenure-track Black faculty member and worked at the College until the early 1980s. Grant went on to complete a doctorate of philosophy in mathematics education from the University of South Carolina in 1978. A year prior, she was promoted to project director for the College’s Upward Bound program, a college preparatory program aimed at supporting minority high school students.
John Kresse, head men’s basketball coach from 1979 to 2002, led the team to the 1983 NAIA basketball title. In 1990, the College moved from NAIA to NCAA Division I and soon became known as a “Giant Killer.” During his 23–year coaching career at the College, Kresse accrued the fifth-highest winning percentage (.797) of all time among NCAA Division I basketball coaches, behind Claire Bee, Adolph Rupp, Mark Few and John Wooden. His many honors include induction into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005, the South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001, the College of Charleston Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015 and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.
Harry Lightsey, president from 1985 to 1992, put the College back on sound financial footing during his tenure, drastically increasing the endowment and annual giving. He also presided over an 80–percent increase in the student body, positioned the College to university status and moved the athletics program from the NAIA to NCAA Division I status. Continuing as an adjunct professor after his time as president, he also endowed a chair in philosophy and a music scholarship. In 1992, in recognition of his many contributions, Lightsey received an honorary doctorate from the College.
Maggie Pennington, the first woman to be appointed as a full-time faculty member at the College, taught biology and botany from 1962 to 1997. She played a crucial role in designing and building the campus’ greenhouses for botanical experiments. Pennington served as president of the South Carolina Academy of Science in 1971–72 and is only the third faculty member to hold that position. Her many honors include the highest award given at the College – the Founders’ Medal.
Marty Perlmutter joined the College as a philosophy professor in 1979 and rose to serve as chair of the department in 1984. The Jewish community force went on to become director of the Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program in 1991. He helped create the Jewish Studies Program and is especially proud of its unique administrative structure, which oversees Jewish student life, community outreach and an academic program with both a major and a minor, travel opportunities and a designated Jewish studies faculty, including two endowed chairs. The College’s kosher vegetarian/vegan dining facility, Marty’s Place, opened in 2016 and was named in Perlmutter’s honor. Perlumutter currently serves as director emeritus of the program.
Alison Piepmeier was an English professor and the first full–time director of the College’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program from 2005 to 2016, when she passed away. Her work on Third Wave feminist activism led to a 2003 co-edited anthology, Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century, and a 2009 book, Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. She was a beloved activist, advocate, mentor, mother and friend whose legacy will live on through the Alison Piepmeier Scholarship at the College of Charleston and the Southeastern Women’s Studies Association (SEWSA) Alison Piepmeier Outstanding Student Award.
Carrie Teller Pollitzer dedicated her life to advancing women’s rights in South Carolina. On behalf of Charleston’s City Federation of Women’s Clubs, she led a petition for the College of Charleston’s admission of women in 1918. When told $1,200 was needed to construct a women’s lounge and hire a matron, Pollitzer organized a mass meeting at the Charleston Chamber of Commerce and raised more than $1,500. On July 24, 1918, President Harrison Randolph signed an agreement to admit women to the College “on exact parity with men,” and the first 13 women entered the College on September 30, 1918.
Harrison Randolph served as the 11th president from 1897 to 1945, as well as a professor of math. During his tenure, women were admitted to the College, residence halls were constructed and scholarships were created to expand the student population to all of South Carolina. Through these improvements, the College experienced a spike in enrollment — from 68 students in 1905 to more than 400 in 1935.
Howard F. Rudd Jr. was founding dean of the School of Business who led the school through its first Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation in 1988 and its reaffirmation in 1994. He was the developer or co-developer of numerous academic-business partnerships and programs, including the S.C. Economic Developers School and the School of Business’ Paul T. Nelson Intermodal Transportation Program (now the undergraduate Logistics and Supply Chain Management Program); various majors, minors and interdisciplinary programs and courses; two centers of excellence; and numerous grants. Rudd helped develop four school advisory boards and generated more than $5 million in three years. The College honored him as its first dean emeritus and gives two annual awards in his name: the Howard F. Rudd Jr. Businessperson of the Year Award and the Howard F. Rudd Jr. Distinguished Faculty Award for Service Leadership.
Willard Silcox ‘33 was perhaps the most influential and iconic figure in the College’s athletics history. He stands alone for his lifetime dedication to improving and enriching CofC athletics. Silcox’s many positions, beginning from his unmatched play as a student-athlete on the tennis team to his many years of service in both the athletics and alumni departments, are a testament to his successful tenure. In honor of Silcox’s contributions, the College dedicated the Willard Silcox Physical Education and Health Center in 1995. The longtime coach was nicknamed the “Godfather of George Street.” In 1985, the College awarded Silcox its highest honor — the Founders’ Medal.
Robert Scott Small ’36, the president and CEO of the Dan River Corporation, donated the funds to create the 38,000-square-foot building that bears his name on Cougar Mall. When it opened in 1972, it was the College’s first new library since 1855 (Towell Library in the Cistern Yard). It is now used for classroom and office space following the opening of the Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library in 2005.
Theodore Sanders Stern, the 16th president of the College (from 1968 to 1979), not only transitioned the College from a private school of 481 students to a state institution with more than 5,000 undergraduates, but he created the College’s graduate school and facilitated the admission of students of color. Stern is credited with the school’s biggest growth spurt to date with the purchase of 120 buildings and construction of nine new buildings. The Stern Student Center and one of the highest awards given to graduating students, the Ted Stern Cup, are named in his honor.
Jane Lucas Thornhill ‘46 and Elizabeth Jenkins Young ’39 were preservationists who stopped the demolition of the Wagener House, a c. 1817 house at 6 Green Street on the College of Charleston grounds by standing in front of bulldozers ready to raze the structure. The house was saved and moved to 10 Green Street and now houses the Honors College. Both Thornhill and Young were lifelong volunteers with a passion for Charleston and the College. Among their many efforts is serving as presidents of the Alumni Association of the College. Thornhill was also the sole fundraiser for the College of Charleston Alumni Association and first president of Tri Delta Sorority Alumnae Association. Young received the highest award given at the College — the Founders’ Medal – in 1987.
Eugene Sumter Towles (Class of 1903) was the College’s first Rhodes Scholar – an affirmation of the institution’s growing reputation among global academic circles. Started the year before Towles graduated, the Rhodes Scholarship is an international postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford. In 1905, Towles studied at Oxford’s Magdalen College, where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would later teach, and then served as the modern languages chair at Porter Military Academy (today’s Porter-Gaud School) in Charleston. The College would produce three more Rhodes Scholars over the next decade.
Lucille Whipper graduated from the Avery Normal School in 1944 and, together with her classmates, sought to desegregate the College. Their efforts failed, but in 1972 Whipper became the College’s first Black administrator. She helped establish the nationally recognized Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture in 1990 and was instrumental in it joining the College. Whipper served in the S.C. House of Representatives, becoming the first Black female to serve as an elected state official from the tri-county area. The College awarded Whipper an honorary doctorate in 2008 and the highest award given at the College — the Founders’ Medal – in 2020.
John Ziegler opened and ran the independent bookstore, The Book Basement, from 1946 to 1971. Located in the Ziegler family home, the property was acquired by the College in 1971. There is a plaque on the house that refers to John Zeigler as someone “whose steadfast support of the School of the Arts, its students and its programs in music, continues to ensure that orchestras, symphonies and operas world-wide feature College of Charleston alumni.” Ziegler made more than 170 gifts to the College, from endowed scholarships to financial support for students to travel to competitions. In recognition for his everlasting commitment to generations of CofC writers, musicians and artists, the College conferred the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree on Zeigler in 2011.