Clemson University Name Explained

Established in 1889 as part of the land-grant university program enacted by the United States government (through the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890) in the 1800s Clemson University derives its name from an area man by the name of Thomas Clemson.

Born around the turn of the nineteenth century in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Mr. Clemson was educated at a Vermont military academy before continuing his education across the Atlantic in Paris where he went on to receive a degree in a scientific field known as assay – a molecular biology specialty that predominately deals with minerals and ores. During a stint back in the US Clemson co-authored a piece of legislation on agricultural education and married the daughter of a prominent politician before returning to Europe where he served as a Belgium diplomat between the ages of 37 and 44.

The family of the women that Thomas Clemson married has almost as much to do with the eventual name of Clemson University as anything Thomas Clemson personally did. Clemson married Anna Calhoun when he was 31 years old and at that moment (November 13, 1838) cemented his presence amongst America’s elite by marrying the daughter of former South Carolina Senator and two term United States Vice President (under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson) John Calhoun.

The eventual death of the affluent and influential John Calhoun left his inheritance to be divided amongst his surviving wife and three children. The most sizable piece of wealth left behind was a plantation known by the name of Fort Hill which was located near Pendleton, South Carolina. Pendleton is located in Anderson County in the western most corner of South Carolina. Neighboring Pickens County is home to the city of Clemson and Clemson University, both of which are named after Thomas Clemson, the eventual heir to the Calhoun fortune after out surviving the blood heirs that included his wife who passed away thirteen years before he did.

During his career as a public servant Thomas Clemson worked under fifteenth President of the United States James Buchanan as the Superintendent of Agriculture where he urged for the establishment of agricultural colleges and other similar learning institutions. For the most part it was only in death that his wishes for greater agricultural education opportunities were realized.

After outliving his children and wife he left his fortune to the state in a will drafted a few years before his passing. Clemson’s generous donations were originally used to fund a military college known as the Clemson Agricultural College which was later renamed in 1964 to the present day Clemson University. Today a statue bearing the likeness of Thomas Clemson sits on the campus of Clemson University reminding all who pass by of the namesake that began the prosperous history of the school.