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Francis Marion University was founded in response to an overwhelming need for a public higher education institution in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. The university was founded in 1970 and named in honor of Revolutionary War hero, General Francis Marion, who was nicknamed the Swamp Fox for using the South Carolina terrain to out-fox the British.

However, the university can trace its history to 1957 when the University of South Carolina established a freshman center at the Florence County Library. In 1961, a permanent campus for USC-Florence was established seven miles east of Florence on land donated by the Wallace family, the current location of FMU. By 1966, enrollment at USC-F had reached 350, and community leaders began a movement to establish a four-year institution to better meet the educational needs of the area.

Following a Commission on Higher Education recommendation, Gov. Robert E. McNair signed into law an act creating Francis Marion College, effective July 1, 1970. The institution gained university status in 1992.

The institution has had four presidents: Dr. Walter Douglas Smith (1969 to 1983), Dr. Thomas C. Stanton (1983 to 1994), Dr. Lee A. Vickers (1994 to 1999), and Dr. Luther F. Carter (present).

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