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Shelton Joseph Phelps (1884-1948)

Digitized Collection
Inauguration of Shelton Phelps/November 9, 1934

Shelton Joseph Phelps

Winthrop's Third President 1934-1943

     Dr. James Pickney Kinard had accepted the Winthrop presidency in 1929 with the stipulation that the college look for a younger man to fill the position. Five years later, Winthrop found him: 50-year-old Shelton J. Phelps.

      Shelton J. Phelps was born on October 7, 1884 in Nevada, Missouri to Joseph C. Phelps and Mary C. Short Phelps. He and his wife Emma Estella Higgins Phelps were married on August 27, 1907 and the couple had two sons (John and Paul) and two daughters (Mary and Mildred).

      He earned his B.S. in 1915 from Missouri State Teachers College, M.A. in 1916 and Ph.D. in 1919 from George Peabody College. He also did some post doctorate work in Great Britain from 1928-1929 and earned an LL.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1936.

      Before he became Winthrop's third president, Phelps had been a teacher, principal, and superintendent of schools in Missouri; a professor of math at Missouri State Teachers College from 1913-1916; a professor of education at the University of Vermont from 1916-1918; and professor of education administration (1919-1934), Director of Instruction (1927), and Dean of the Graduate School (1931-1934) at the George Peabody College for Teachers.

      In 1934, Phelps was unanimously elected President of Winthrop. Under Phelps’ leadership, Winthrop gradually started to recover from the Depression’s economic woes and once again became a college on the move. He worked hard to strengthen the curriculum and encouraged the faculty to obtain advanced training and degrees. Winthrop’s first classroom, the Little Chapel, was moved brick-by-brick from Columbia, SC to the Rock Hill campus in 1936. It was during Phelps' administration that the school served as host to its most famous visitor of that time, Eleanor Roosevelt, who spoke to Winthrop students on April 27, 1940. Three buildings were erected on campus as the school took advantage of the generous grants provided by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration: Thurmond Hall, the College Auditorium (later Byrnes Auditorium) and the Conservatory of Music, and Senior Hall (dormitory).  In 1943 he retired due to poor health and died in April 1948 at age 64. On November 16, 1956, action was taken on recommendation to the board of trustees by the executive committee of the Winthrop Alumnae Association to rename Senior Hall in honor of Winthrop’s third president, the late Dr. Shelton J. Phelps. In 1957, Senior Hall was officially renamed Phelps Hall to preserve his legacy at Winthrop.


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