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Historical Eye of the Tiger: Clemson v. NC State

The social fabric of a football rivalry known as the Textile Bowl

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NCAA Football: Clemson at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The institutional histories of Clemson University and North Carolina State University have been bound together in myriad ways over the past one hundred and twenty-seven years. Both schools began as land-grant institutions, utilizing federal funds made available through the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, the latter of which focused primarily on the former Confederate States in the U.S. South. The North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts was founded in 1887 and formally opened its doors in 1889, the very same year that the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina was founded, to officially open its doors four years later in 1893. In their early years both schools were all-male and all-white, and both mandated military education as part of the curriculum.

Henry Grady (b. 1850, d. 1889)

As educational institutions designed to perpetuate the “New South Creed” promoted most conspicuously by Atlanta’s Henry Grady, both NC State and Clemson made textile manufacturing a prominent focal point of their industrial course of study. This “New South Creed” envisioned a future South where diversified agriculture and industrial manufacturing complemented one another in a prosperous regional economy that consciously diverged from the staple-crop-slave-labor planation economy that had dominated the region prior to the Civil War.

William Gregg (b. 1800, d. 1867)

But the vision had considerable historical blind spots. For one, the southern textile industry weaves its way much further back in time, to the antebellum era. Both Carolinas saw the rise of cotton mills prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, with South Carolina’s William Gregg leading the way when he established his revolutionary mill town at Graniteville, SC in the 1840s. Gregg’s operation was in many ways ahead of its time for the region, but it established an early precedent that would be frequently referenced and replicated in the postwar South.

Graniteville, South Carolina

In general, however, the southern textile industry remained local and at best regional in scope through the Civil War, as southern mills typically produced lower-grade textiles for sale in local and regional markets. The majority of higher-grade textile manufacturing took place in New England and Great Britain, much of it utilizing cotton from southern plantations. The Civil War itself would prompt a shift in the scale of textile production, as mills spun out textiles at unprecedented rates for the Confederate armies, but it wasn’t until the postwar era that the true transformation of southern industry took place.

U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)

Both NC State and Clemson embodied both the promise and pitfalls of this economic vision, as both represented a concerted effort to modernize and improve the southern economy and society while also retaining much of the “Old South” in their embrace of the “New South Creed,” especially with regards to class, gender, and racial hierarchies. Though the Southern textile industry would become a dominant economic force throughout the late nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries, mill workers themselves gained only nominally from this increased regional profitability, and such profits did little to overturn persistent class disparities (low wages and high poverty rates), gender inequities (lower pay scales for women, who made up a growing proportion of textile mill workforces), and racial discriminations (Jim Crow segregation and disfranchisement, widespread mob violence and lynching, discrimination in pay scales and employment opportunities for black laborers).

Jim Crow was an integral part of the New South

The interwoven institutional histories of both schools accounts for the “Textile Bowl” moniker that eventually came to be applied to the football rivalry between the Clemson Tigers and NC State Wolfpack. As the leading industrial and textile education centers in their respective states, both NC State and Clemson laid the foundation for continued economic expansion in both North and South Carolina throughout the textile industry’s most prosperous era from 1880-1980. In homage to this rich historical tapestry, in 1981 the by-then-annual gridiron matchup between ACC foes became known as the “Textile Bowl” and the winning team was awarded the Textile Bowl Trophy.

Textile Bowl Trophy

But the timing of this marketing campaign to promote the textile industry in the Carolinas was an indicator of increasing concern over plummeting profits and a harbinger of continued decline for the industry in the region over next two decades. Trends towards outsourcing and offshoring within the industry combined with decreased tariff protection at home to increase textile imports from abroad exponentially, crippling the textile industry in North and South Carolina in the 1980s and 1990s. By the early 2000s, the textile industry had become threadbare, and economic emphases in both states moved away from textile manufactures toward other industries. Both NC State and Clemson followed suit in their educational programs, as textile education at both schools continued to hang by a thread.

NC State football hasn’t rebounded since its heyday in the 1970s like the NC textile industry has managed to do.

Survive they did, however, as part of resurgent industrial education programs with more diversified curriculum focusing not only on textile manufacturing alone but expanded to include the production of various materials with multifarious applications across a broad range of industries and markets. Both State’s College of Textiles and Clemson’s Materials Science and Engineering Department in the College of Engineering, Computing, & Applied Science have embraced this new mission to once again lead both the Old North State and the Palmetto State toward more promising futures, first in the classroom then in real-world applications.

Sirrine Hall, the original home of Clemson textile education

Thus the rumors that the Textile Bowl had died along with the textile industry in the Carolinas were premature. Both are very much alive and well, on the football field and in the field of industrial science and engineering. However, there is one rumor that does warrant further scrutiny in an effort to expose its fallacies: that NC State and Clemson are both THE “football schools” in their respective states. The Historical Eye has previously denounced this theory as ludicrous, given that the Tigers have routinely run away from the ‘Pack on the field to the tune of a 55-28-1 all-time series advantage, including a dominant 24-11-0 record at home and a 25-10-0 mark since the advent of the “Textile Bowl” proper in 1981.

The original “Textile Bowl” program from the 1981 Clemson-NC State game



Rod Andrew Jr., Long Gray Lines: The Southern Military School Tradition, 1839-1915, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001)

Edward L. Ayers, The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992)

Tom Downey, Planting a Capitalist South: Masters, Merchants, & Manufacturers in the Southern Interior, 1790-1860, (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 2006)

Paul Gaston, The New South Creed: A Study in Southern Mythmaking, (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970)

Roger L. Geiger & Nathan M. Sorber, eds., Land Grant Colleges & the Reshaping of American Higher Education, (Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2013)

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, James L. LeLoudis, Robert R. Korstad, & Mary Murphy, Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987)

Broadus Mitchell, The Rise of Cotton Mills in the South (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1921), digital copy of original available online.

Jerome V. Reel, The High Seminary: A History of the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina, Vol. 1, 1889-1964, (Clemson University Digital Press, 2011)

_____, The High Seminary: A History of Clemson University, Vol 2, 1964-2000, (Clemson University Digital Press, 2013)

C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1951)