In 1811, the South Carolina General Assembly passed legislation authorizing public schools in every district (county) of the state. There were to be as many schools per district as there were members in the legislature. Appropriations would also be based upon legislative apportionment. Thus, the wealthy lowcountry parishes were authorized more schools and state funding relative to the white population to be educated than the more populous midlands and upcountry districts.
Even so, in 1860 only about half the state's white children were in school - probably because the free schools were stigmatized as schools for the poor and were treated as such by the men who operated them. In the Richland District, school commissioner John Bryce said that except in Columbia, the funds expended on public schools were wasted.
Another Richland District school commissioner, Robert W. Gibbes, believed in the 1840s that the problem was not wasting money but underfunding. He estimated that as many as 850 poor children in the district needed education, yet only about 175 were actually in school. He considered the district's annual expenditure of $1.41 per child to be grossly inadequate. In 1857, the annual expenditure within the Newberry District per child was $4.09 for about ten weeks in the classroom per year.
Children of parents with means attended private schools or were tutored at home. For example, the Palmers of South Santee sent their daughters to Miss Murden's Seminary for Young Ladies in Charleston, Josiah O'Bear's in Winnsboro, and Barhamville in Columbia, and their sons to Moses Waddell's Willington Academy in the Abbeville District and Mount Zion Academy in Winnsboro.
There were private schools in every district, and the education they provided varied with the schoolmaster. In 1830, the Richland School, a male academy, briefly attracted students as far away as Louisiana and Pennsylvania, however, by 1835 it had closed its doors. Throughout the antebellum period, St. David's Academy in Society Hill and Mount Zion Academy in Winnsboro, educated primarily the elite of their respective districts. In 1860, there were 227 private academies and other schools within the state of South Carolina.
There had been schools for the black population, however, in the aftermath of the Nullification Crisis, these were abruptly shut down. One of them was Daniel Payne's, a free person of color who operated his school for six years with the support of white clergy. In 1835, he closed his school and left for the North.
In the last decade before secession, a true public school system did develop in Charleston. In the 1850s, Christopher Memminger became aware of the growing white working class in Charleston and persuaded his peers to support a public school system modeled after the best ones in the North. In 1856, the Charleston city school system began operation with eleven schools and 600 students; three years later there were 2,786 students. It was a classless system in which children of the elite went to school with those from the city's poorest working families.
Only about half of the state's white children received any elementary education at all in 1860. Of these, only those in the Charleston city schools, about ten percent of the total, obtained anything like a real education. In 1860, there were 1,395 teachers operating 1,270 schools for 18,915 students.
Higher education was much stronger in the state of South Carolina. There were many "colleges" in the South and most were little more than grammar schools. However, the college in Columbia was one of the regions few real institutions of higher education. It attracted an internationally-renowned faculty that included such notables as political economists Thomas Cooper and Frencis Lieber, and natural scientists John and Joseph LeConte. Stephen Elliott and James H. Thornwell were professors of sacred literature.
For most of the nineteenth century, the South Carolina College had a virtual monopoly on higher education in the state. The College of Charleston (chartered in 1785), which had never been much more than an elementary school, closed in 1836. It reopened in 1838 as a municipal college, supported by the taxpayers of Charleston. Beaufort College (chartered 1795), with a generous financial backing from local supporters, had an auspicious beginning, however, it quickly became just a preparatory school, albeit an excellent one.
Founded in 1801, the South Carolina College in Columbia reflected the secular spirit of Jeffersonian America. Thomas Cooper, a friend of President Thomas Jefferson, member of the college faculty and later its president, was an outspoken deist. Although not alone in his views, he was the most visible and vocal. As such, he became a lightning rod for outraged churchmen. By the 1830s, he and the college came under increasing criticism from many religious denominations, including the Baptists, Methodists, and especially the Presbyterians.
One option for them was to establish their own denominational colleges. In 1839, the state's Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church founded Erskine College - however, the General Assembly refused to charter it after pressure came from the alumni of the South Carolina College in Columbia. The absence of state recognition did little to stop the little school in Due West from becoming the first four-year denominational college in South Carolina. Erskine College finally received its charter in 1850.
Also in 1850, the South Carolina Baptists obtained a charter for Furman College. In 1851, the Methodists received a charter for Wofford College, and in 1856 the Lutherans received a charter for Newberry College. All of these schools were for males only.
The denominations also established later separate colleges for women. Greenville Female Baptist College opened in 1855. Columbia Female Academy was opened by the Methodists in 1859. Due West Female College was opened by the Associate Reformed Presbyterians in 1860. Some of these had earlier incarnations as secondary schools before being chartered as colleges.
The Medical University of South Carolina was incorporated in 1823 as the Medical College of South Carolina, a private institution of the Medical Society of South Carolina, giving the faculty complete responsibility. Seven Charleston physicians formed the initial faculty with thirty students enrolled in 1824. The first graduation was on April 4, 1825. With the exception of the AmericanCivil War, the college has served continuously to the present, even when there was a total enrollment of two students. To achieve the financial backing for growth in the twentieth century, the college was transferred to state ownership and incorporated into the state's higher education system in 1913.
On December 20, 1842, the South Carolina Legislature passed an Act establishing the South Carolina Military Academy, with the original mission to educate young men whose duty was to protect the city of Charleston from the threat of a slave rebellion. Concern about slave revolts was not unusual in the antebellum South, but Charleston had been gripped with panic in the aftermath of the foiled plot of the 1822 uprising planned by Denmark Vesey.
The first twenty cadets reported to The Academy, then located at Marion Square in downtown Charleston, on March 20, 1843. The name of the college was officially changed in 1910 to "The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina." The word "Academy" had become synonymous with secondary schools, and the public had the misconception that the South Carolina Military Academy was a preparatory school.
When South Carolina seceded from the Union in December of 1860, Major Robert Anderson moved his garrison of U.S. troops to Fort Sumter and requested reinforcements from the federal government. On January 9, 1861, South Carolina Academy cadets George Edward Haynsworth and Samuel Bonneau Pickens were present when their unit fired two large cannons from their Morris Island station at the U.S. steamer, the Star of the West, preventing it from reaching Fort Sumter with troops and supplies. This action is considered by Citadel supporters to be the "first shot fired" in the American Civil War.