Elizabeth Evelyn Wright Menafee, a 1894 alumna of Tuskegee University who would go on to found Voorhees College, was inducted posthumously into the South Carolina Hall of Fame in February 2020. She is credited as the first African-American woman to establish an institution of higher learning – and one that remains in operation today.

Manafee was the seventh of 21 children – the daughter of John Wesley Wright and his wife Virginia Rolfe. She enrolled in then-Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute at 16. After receiving her degree in 1894, Menafee took the teaching of Booker T. Washington’s industrial and agricultural model and applied it to helping educate African-American men and women in the area of Hampton County, South Carolina.

After several attempts to establish a school in the area due to arson attacks, Menafee concentrated her efforts in the Denmark, South Carolina, community. With significant funding from churches and community members, Menafee successfully established the Denmark Industrial School in 1897. Now known as Voorhees College, the school’s name was changed in 1902 to honor philanthropists Ralph and Elizabeth Voorhees of New Jersey, who played a major role in the school’s 280-acre expansion.

Menafee received a successful nomination into the South Carolina Hall of Fame because of her efforts to establish the institution and her willingness to provide opportunities for self-advancement through education. The college’s current president, Dr. W. Franklin Evans, was present to accept the award, along with two of Wright’s descendants: Jewel Barrett and her daughter Jewel Delegall.

Today, Voorhees College operates as a four-year, co-educational, career-oriented liberal arts college affiliated with the Episcopal Church and UNCF. The private, historically black college touts an enrollment of around 600 students and is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award bachelor’s degrees.

The South Carolina Hall of Fame recognizes and honors both contemporary and past citizens who have made outstanding contributions to South Carolina’s heritage and progress. Each year, the Hall of Fame honors two contemporary and one deceased inductees.

For more information about the South Carolina Hall of Fame, visit www.theofficialschalloffame.com.

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DENMARK, SCVoorhees College continually holds the distinct honor of being the last institution standing that was founded by one of Booker T. Washington’s students.

Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, who was at the age of 23, began her studies at Booker T. Washington’s famed Tuskegee Institute. She said time at Tuskegee gave her a mission in life: being “the same type of woman as Mr. Washington was of a man.” Knowing the importance of education, she moved to Denmark and started the first of several schools in the rural area. She survived threats, attacks, and arson.

Wright went back to Tuskegee to finish her degree before returning to South Carolina to try again. Undeterred and envisioning a better future for blacks through education, she founded Denmark Industrial School in 1897, modeling it after Tuskegee. New Jersey philanthropist Ralph Voorhees and his wife donated $5,000 to buy the land and build the first building, allowing the school to open in 1902 with Wright as principal. It was the only high school for blacks in the area.

In 1947, the school became Voorhees School and Junior College. And in 1962, it was accredited as four-year Voorhees College.

Today, Voorhees College survives as a small institution that takes pride in its rich history and is dedicated to catering to student’s academic, professional, social, and spiritual needs in order to assist them in fulfilling their higher education goals. Dating back to Wright’s era, there has been a debate between those who follow the philosophy of Dr. Booker T. Washington and advocated education aimed at teaching job skills and those who believe, as Dr. W.E.B. Dubois did, that a liberal education would help young adults develop as leaders. The Voorhees curriculum today is a mix of the two views.

The institution offers each student a comprehensive general education experience coupled with a values-centered liberal arts environment that supports opportunities designed to help prepare students to function in a diverse and increasingly technology society.

 

Source: www.voorhees.edu/blog/voorhees-the-last-school-standing