The end of the Civil War ushered in a time of restoration in the Southern part of the United States. During this era, many people from the Northern part of the country felt the desire to move down South and lend a helping hand. Martha Schofield was one of these people.
A native Pennsylvanian born into a staunchly abolitionist family, Martha Schofield had spent several years since graduating high school teaching in a Quaker school for African-American students in Philadelphia. Following the war, she decided to move to the South to expand her teaching efforts and provide education to recently emancipated slaves. Relocating to South Carolina in 1865, Schofield spent time in a few schools along the coast working with The Freedman’s Bureau. After suffering from illness, she moved inland to Aiken in 1868; shortly after, Schofield purchased land and opened her own school. Called the Schofield Normal and Industrial School, it quickly became known for its rigorous academic standards and training provided for African-American students.
Like the school’s name suggests, its strict academic program offered the traditional “normal school” training to prepare students to become teachers and “industrial school” training that included teaching students occupational skills. Schofield’s curriculum included basic reading and writing skills for all students; in addition, boys learned agricultural, carpentry, and blacksmith skills, and girls studied home economic skills such as sewing and cooking. As the school grew in both size and status, it expanded to contain dormitories, a chapel, a library, and a farm among other amenities. In March of 1922, the Keowee Courier reported on a disastrous fire in one of the boys’ dormitories which burned it to the ground; luckily no fatalities were suffered.
Schofield’s influence reached far beyond her school and even the borders of Aiken. Schofield took it upon herself to write letters to newspapers around the country in hopes that her school and its efforts would gain attention. A letter to the editor of the New-York Tribune penned by Schofield appears in its February 11, 1894 paper. Schofield eventually began traveling to different parts of the country to speak about the success of her teaching. In 1896, she is mentioned in the “City News in Brief” section of The San Francisco Call for speaking in town the prior day. Her students also made an impact throughout the state and elsewhere. One of the more famous Schofield graduates, Matilda Evans, gained recognition throughout the country for becoming South Carolina’s first female African-American physician.
The Schofield Normal and Industrial School continued to serve black students through the 1950’s even as it joined the Aiken school system in 1953 as a public high school. With integration in the 1960’s, the school became a middle school for Aiken and has served in that capacity under Schofield’s name ever since. The bell tower from the original school building still sits on the school’s property today.
Be sure to search Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers for more articles and references to both Martha Schofield and the Schofield Normal and Industrial School. More can also be learned about the school by researching the Schofield Normal and Industrial School collection housed in the Manuscripts division at the South Caroliniana Library here at the University of South Carolina.
- Schofield Normal and Industrial School, http://www.usca.edu/aasc/schofeld.htm.
- The South Carolina Encyclopedia, 2006.