Friday, July 8, 2011

8 July 1899: Opera House Hosts Night School Exhibition

On this day in 1899, the East Athens Night School hosted its second annual exhibition at the Athens Opera House. The
Athens Daily Banner announced the event and location on their front page the day before, along with the Honor Roll for the term:

The East Athens Night School began in 1897 and was put under the direction of Miss Louie A. Lane, the daughter of the longtime pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Athens. She was a graduate of the Lucy Cobb Institute, and became a school teacher. Known to all as "Miss Louie," she never married and became, in the words of Susan Frances Barrow Tate, "a one-woman welfare society."  

Miss Louie lived in East Athens, where many of the mill workers also lived. As a teacher, it bothered her that so many children in Athens had to work while the public schools were open, and therefore would never get an education or have a chance at improving their lives. Whenever a family needed clothes for their children, blankets, even food, Miss Louie would consult her list of good hearted women of Athens to find the items she needed. Many of these same women were responsible for setting up the East Athens Night School in the first place, publicizing the cause in the newspaper and holding socials at the Y.W.C.A. to raise money and get donations of school books, notebooks, paper, pencils, and even desks and chairs. They were always in need of more school books, as well as books of all types for the school's small lending library, which received heavy use by the students. Even after the Night School was incorporated into the Athens school system, donations were still required to meet demand.

The first night of school in early December, 1987, 10 students enrolled. Less than a week later, there were 18 students enrolled, including "two girls, 12 and 13 years of age, who are just now receiving their first opportunity to learn their alphabet." Twenty days after the school opened, there were 27 students enrolled, and they had, as a group, decided not to take any holiday for Christmas. After a month of operation, 40 students had enrolled and 15 more wanted to, but the room, an empty store front on Oconee Street, could not hold more students. A new room was added, and by the end of the term, a total of 68 students had enrolled. 

According to the 1900 U.S. Census, most of the students on the Honor Roll listed in the story above were between 12 and 21 years old in 1899, and most worked at the cotton or knitting mills, though the Patterson brothers were listed as "Harness Makers." 

Classes lasted from 6:30pm to 9pm "every night in the week except Saturday." Miss Louie told the Banner that the students "are anxious to learn and that her work is thus rendered exceedingly pleasant." The following term, Miss May Smoak was added as a teacher's assistant, but the school continued to grow, and by 1901 had over 150 students enrolled, including many adults who had never been taught to read and write. Business classes in bookkeeping were added, and over the years, the school allowed children who worked in the mills during the day to have the skills to eventually work as clerks in downtown offices as well as start their own businesses. All of them remembered and would often visit with Miss Louie, who never left her little home in their old neighborhood.

When Miss Louie died in October, 1939, the Athens Banner-Herald called her "the Jane Addams of Athens, who devoted her life to a career of unselfish service to humankind."  She was called "unassuming, understanding, generous, intelligent, and loving" and the paper noted that "she could hardly help being held up by others as a shining example of the things she strived so hard to inculcate in all with him she was associated."  Among her pall bearers were some of her students from the East Athens Night School's first few years. She is buried in an unmarked grave with her family at Oconee Hill Cemetery.

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