BENJAMIN RYAN TILLMAN was born near Trenton, South Carolina. He left school in 1864 to join the Confederate Army but was incapacitated by a serious illness that caused the loss of his left eye. He went on to farm on a large estate for nearly twenty years and helped launch the farmers’ movement, which pressed for the opening of an agricultural college. Tillman secured from Thomas Clemson a modification of his will, which resulted in the establishment of Clemson Agricultural College at Ft. Hill, South Carolina. Under Tillman’s gubernatorial administration, the State Railroad Commission was empowered to fix rates, taxes were made more equitable, public education funding was increased, work hours in cotton and woolen factories were limited to sixty-six hours a week or eleven hours a day, and approval was secured for a dispensary system to sell liquor. At the same time, Tillman was instrumental in calling the Constitutional Convention of 1895, during which he chaired the Suffrage Committee that framed an article providing for education and property qualifications for voting that effectively eliminated the black vote. After serving two terms as governor, Tillman was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death in 1918. He founded Winthrop Normal and Industrial College in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 12. New York: James T. White & Company.