Book Signing April 12 for ‘Torchbearers,’ the Story of Claflin University’s First Ladies

Apr 07, 2014

The community is invited to attend a book signing for “Torchbearers: First Ladies of Claflin University,” a publication chronicling the contributions and experiences of Claflin’s eight first ladies, at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 12, in Ministers’ Hall.

The book was commissioned by the University and written by Dr. Vermelle Jamison Johnson, former senior vice president and vice president for academic affairs at Claflin University. It is published and distributed by Claflin University Press.

“Since 1869, the women of Claflin have played a leadership role in the University’s growth and development,” said President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale, who also contributed to the book. “This book illuminates and celebrates the significant contributions women have made to help transform the University from state and regional to national recognition as one of the leading institutions of higher education.

“The women of Claflin deserve our honor and recognition.”

Readers of the handsome, hardbound book will see the stories of the first ladies through newspaper clippings, campus announcements, personal letters, obituaries, candid portraits and other documentation, highlighting not only their achievements in helping grow and sustain Claflin University, but giving insight into their personal lives, as well.

“I covered the country trying to pick up bits and pieces of the first ladies’ stories,” Johnson said. “They really didn’t leave very much about themselves behind.”

The journey to tell their stories took nearly seven years and covered thousands of miles as Johnson traveled to states and towns across the country.

“These women really helped keep the institution going. These were women who were strong,” she said, adding that the book does more than add to the history of Claflin University.

“Claflin’s history is so entwined into the history of South Carolina,” she said. “This is not just a Claflin history, but a history of South Carolina.”

A special feature at the book signing will be the unveiling of official portraits of the first ladies – Laura Ann Peaslee Webster, wife of Dr. Alonzo Webster (1869-1874); Mary Locke Emery Cooke, wife of Dr. Edward Cooke (1874-1884); Mary E. Phelps Dunton, wife of Dr. Lewis Marion Dunton (1884-1922); Gertrude Ramsey Randolph, wife of Dr. Joseph Benjamin Randolph (1922-1945), the University’s first African-American president; Opal McDonald Seabrook, wife of Dr. John Jarvis Seabrook (1945-1955), Claflin’s first alumni president; Dr. Ethel Augusta Braynon Manning, wife of Dr. Hubert Vernon Manning (1956-1984); Ethel Lewis Rogers, wife of Dr. Oscar A. Rogers Jr. (1984-1994); and Alice Carson Tisdale, wife of current president Dr. Henry N. Tisdale, who began serving as the University’s first alumni lay president in 1994.

Individuals wishing to attend the book signing and portrait unveiling are asked to RSVP to Pearl Davis no later than Wednesday, April 9, at 803-535-5404 or

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