Winthrop's Founding President to Be Inducted into South Carolina Hall of Fame May 5

April 05, 2017

Quick Facts

bullet point Winthrop's founder, David Bancroft Johnson, will be inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame during a ceremony May 5 at 5 p.m.
bullet point Johnson served as Winthrop's first president from 1886 until his death in 1928.

/uploadedImages/news/Articles/DBJ2fb.jpg D.B. Johnson addresses students and faculty
during Convocation in 1925. /uploadedImages/news/Articles/DBJ-MRSJ1900s.jpg D.B. Johnson and Mai Rutledge Smith
Johnson were married in 1902.

ROCK HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA — In May, Winthrop University founder David Bancroft Johnson will take his place in the South Carolina Hall of Fame at a special ceremony held at the university he loved and called home.

Johnson, Winthrop's first president, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Friday, May 5, during a 5 p.m. ceremony in McBryde Hall, followed by a 6 p.m. reception in Tuttle Dining Room. The Little Chapel, the final resting place for Johnson and his wife, Mai Rutledge Smith Johnson, Class of 1900, will be open for tours from 4-7:30 p.m.

President Dan Mahony noted that a Winthrop ceremony is a fitting tribute to the "influential educator and advocate" that spent his career helping the university gain prominence beyond the South Carolina borders.

"David Bancroft Johnson was an influential educator and advocate who tirelessly promoted Winthrop, earning distinction at the state and national levels," said Mahony. "It is a tremendous honor to see him recognized here-more than 130 years after Winthrop's founding-for his leadership and significant contributions to this institution and the field of education."

Born in 1856 in La Grange, Tennessee, Johnson earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at the East Tennessee University (now the University of Tennessee). He moved to South Carolina to work as a school principal in Abbeville before being appointed superintendent of the Columbia City Schools in S.C. There Johnson grappled with a chronic teacher shortage, which gave him the idea to establish an all-female teacher training institution. He lobbied for funding, recruited instructors, obtained a building — and on Nov. 15, 1886, the Winthrop Training School opened its doors. The institution quickly built a strong reputation as a flagship for teacher preparation in South Carolina.

Johnson served as Winthrop's president from 1886 until his death in 1928. During his tenure, he achieved recognition at state and national levels. In 1915, he was elected as president of the National Education Association. As a testament to his influence on education in South Carolina, he was voted "Educator of the Half Century" in the state in 1950 — 22 years after his death.

Johnson and wife Mai, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, shared a deep love for Winthrop. After the couple married in 1902, Mai spent much of her time hosting a number of influential guests at the university, including 27th U.S. President William Howard Taft, aviator Amelia Earhart and comedian Will Rogers, among others. After Johnson's death in 1928, Mai worked as associate librarian at the university's library for 50 years. In 1955, she received the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award, which recognizes a Winthrop alumna for selfless dedication of time, energy and talent in service to others.

Susan McMillan '71 of Conway, South Carolina, who wrote the original Hall of Fame nomination for Johnson in the 1980s, and later Gina Price White '83, director of the Louise Pettus Archives & Special Collections, led the charge to secure Johnson's induction. White explained that the impact of his momentous work in education has spread far beyond South Carolina's borders.

"Dr. Johnson was fond of saying that ˜the sun never sets on Winthrop daughters.' This statement is still true today for both Winthrop daughters and sons. Winthrop graduates have shared the higher education legacy of D.B. Johnson throughout the world," said White.

The South Carolina Hall of Fame recognizes and honors both contemporary and past citizens who have made outstanding contributions to the state's heritage and progress. One contemporary and one deceased citizen are inducted into the Hall of Fame annually.

The May 5 ceremony and reception are open to the public. For more information, contact Meredith Carter, communications coordinator, at 803/323-2236 or

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