Schofield Normal and Industrial School
The original bell tower of Schofield Normal and Industrial School,
standing today on the grounds of Schofield Middle School in Aiken.
(photo by Robert Botsch)
Schofield Normal and Industrial School is an excellent example of a number of schools started by Northerners who came south after the Civil War to help the emancipated African-Americans. Martha Schofield, a Quaker from Pennsylvania, had come to St. Helena Island to teach. She was answering President Lincoln's call to help all the former enslaved African-Americans, who had been displaced during the war. She left her family's farm with her life savings of $468 to devote to her effort. At first she taught in one of the schools that had been established on St. Helena for the many former enslaved people who had fled from plantations to the sea island area, which had been occupied early in the war by the Union Army. After she became ill with the diseases that were more frequently found on the coast, most probably including malaria, she decided to relocate to a healthier climate, the small town of Aiken. In 1868 she bought the equivalent of two city blocks on the east side of town and began her school. It began as a day school, teaching basic academic skills and basic industrial skills to the boys, such as blacksmithing, masonry, and carpentry, and home skills to the girls, such as cooking and sewing. One of its more famous graduates was Dr. Matilda Evans, who completed her basic education at Schofield, and went on to become South Carolina's first native-born African-American woman doctor.
Although Martha Schofield started the school, it would not have survived without self-help efforts of local African-Americans. The local Aiken AME Church gave her a great deal of moral and financial support in keeping the school going. Shortly after the school opened, it ran out of operating funds, and the local church raised $42, a small sum by today's standards, but enough then to keep the school open.
Later the school became a boarding school that charged a modest tuition. In 1938 it became a "semi-public" high school that received some public funding and was free to those who went there. In 1950 as the state was attempting to upgrade schools for African-Americans it became an official public high school. After integration in the 1960s, it was designated as a middle school, as was typically the case in towns all over the South. The white high schools would retain high school status and the traditionally black high schools were often "demoted" to a lower level school, sometimes totally losing their identity. At least in this case the school retained its name and identity. Today all Schofield students know the proud history of their school, and often one can visit the school on history day competition and find displays created by both black and white students about the founding of the school.
The African-American community in Aiken has its own special annual celebration for the school. On a Sunday in early February in 1997, former pupils of the school gathered for the seventh annual Martha Schofield Founder's Day at Friendship Baptist Church in Aiken. Included were a retired principal of the local high school, a member of the Schofield Class of 1938, and the current principal of Schofield Middle. All acknowledged the importance of what Miss Schofield had started and its lasting contrubutions to the education of both races. Schofield stands as a living monument to cooperation and learning.
Robert E. Botsch, Professor of Political Science, USC Aiken, [email protected]
Botsch, Carol Sears, Robert E. Botsch, James O. Farmer, and W. Calvin Smith. African-Americans and the Palmetto State. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina Department of Education, 1994.
Burris, Roddie. "Educator's Vision Lasts for 129 Years." The Aiken Standard (February 3, 1997), 1A, 6A.
last updated 2/10/97
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