Voorhees College Heritage: HBCU Founded by a Black Woman with $5,000 and 280 Acres

Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, born on August 18, 1872 near Talbotton, GA, is the founder of Voorhees College. An HBCU in Denmark, SC, that proudly holds its title of being the only school standing, founded by a direct protege of Booker T. Washington (with the exception of Washington’s institute, Tuskegee College).

Wright began her historic journey in education after her family found it fit to enroll her in school in Talbotton, where she caught the attention of a northern teacher who encouraged her to apply to Tuskegee Institute. George W. Kelley, a Massachusetts judge, funded her schooling and she completed Tuskegee Institute in 1894.

Being highly influenced by the Washington’s, Wright continued to establish the importance of education with her will to give others the same opportunity that she had gotten. First, she ventured to Hampton County, SC to teach, and of course, she tried to establish a school there. The people of the community gave her such a hard time, but instead of giving up, she relocated to Denmark, SC, and succeeded after around 4 close attempts in Hampton County. While in Denmark, she did undergo threats, challenges, and obstacles, but the community and churches had her back. 

In 1897, Denmark Industrial School was founded. It began in a room above a local shop. As the school grew, Ralph Voorhees, a northern philanthropist, donated her around $5,000 for about 280 acres of land. As a result, In 1902, the first building of Voorhees Industrial School was open after completion, named in honor of Ralph Voorhees. Wright continued to honor her influencers by modeling the school after the Tuskegee Institute. 

At a short 34 years old, Wright managed to accomplish the unthinkable, being a Cherokee (maternal) and African (paternal) woman in the South. Sadly, she passed at the age due to gradual health declines.  

However, her legacy lives through each student that has came through her institute, the town of Denmark, SC, and in HBCU history. Her institution started as a primary school, a junior college, and now, a 4-year private institution where community, liberal arts, job skills, leadership, and spirituality are top priority.




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