Public School Education in Livingston

Early Schools of Livingston

The earliest recorded school system in Livingston was free academy financed by the Trinity Lodge No. 14, a.m. and F. M. The school met in two rooms on the first floor of the original two-story Masonic Lodge building.  This structure stood in the southwest corner of what is now the Old City cemetery. The school opened in 1849 and offered free education to the children of Livingston until the late 1880s.

A complete list of teachers during this period is not available, however, from U. S census and fragmentary school records, the following teachers can be associated with the early school 1850-Uriah Blue and A. A. Ayden; 1857-G. S Hart; and 1860-5. T. Newton and James A. Bright.

The school term generally lasted three months, but students often enrolled for two such terms when instructors were available. Among the last teachers to staff the Livingston Academy were Miss Ida Hill and a Mr. Milliken. The city school director in 1873 was Andrew P. Coker. For advanced training, most Livingston graduates attended either the Gillett Academy in Coldspring (which at that time was in Polk County or the Male and Female Academy at Moscow. A few tutors conducted small private schools within the city and, in the 1890s, Miss Jennie Rose had a kindergarten which met in her home on Polk Street.

Public Free Schools of Livingston

On April 25, 1888, the Public Free Schools of Livingston purchased from the Shotwell family a portion of the City Block No. 6 on Jackson Avenue to erect a schoolhouse. The Board of Trustees, A. B. Green, Y. W, McNeil, J. M. Stockton, W H. Matthews, and L. F. Gerlach, received financial assistance in this transaction from the Trinity Lodge No. 14 and the Methodist Church. Additional property was added to this initial purchase in 1889 and 1910.

The first structure built on the new lot in 1888 was a large two-story building with a water well in back. Later, when the well went dry, buckets of water had to be carried to the school. Two boys were selected each day to bring water from a well at Judge James C. Feagin's home. They placed the bucket on a broom handle and carried it between them. A common dipper as provided for drinking.

Although the school had a bell, the dinner bell at the Keys' Hotel, downtown, rang each day at 11:55 and the children used this as a signal to put away their books and get ready for lunch.

The usual starting age for school was nine, but ages varied according to circumstances at home and the need for the children to work on the farms. Some families alternated, allowing one child to attend each year.

Playground / Activities

The playground was divided by a fence to separate the boys from the girls. This type of segregation was also practiced in the classroom. There was no playground equipment and the children amused themselves playing "Pop-the-Whip" and "Red Rover" or softball with a board for a bat. The girls enjoyed dancing to the music of a French harp and telling ghost stories, using the setting of the dimly lighted upstairs of the school to add stark horror to heir tales. An amusement during class was taking baked sweet potatoes from other students' lunches and eating them in the cloakroom while the teacher wasn't looking. The most exciting day of the year was when the Mollie Bailey Circus parade passed the school on its way to set up tents on the vacant lot behind the Feagin home. Classes were disrupted for this annual trek of clowns, performers, animals, and a small, but loud, band.

Classes were held from 8 to 4 and many pupils had to walk long distances to the schoolhouse. Sudden storms occasionally flooded creek bottomlands and when students couldn't get home, parents trusted the teachers to find their children suitable lodging with local families.

Administrators / Teachers

Administrators and teachers in this school who have been remembered by older citizens were:

  • B.D. Holland
  • C.L. McCartney
  • E.A. Davis
  • Ella Davis
  • Eva Rowe
  • Fox Campbell
  • George Davis
  • Hill Davis
  • J.L. Manry
  • Jesse H. Taylor
  • Kate Miller
  • L.D. Washington
  • Marcellus Winston
  • May Andress
  • Mrs. Willie Leggett
  • O.P. Hill
  • S.H. Barrington
  • U.M. Brown
  • W.B. Hargis
  • William Walter Peebles

Early Salaries

Prior to 1901, the average salary for teachers was $35 for four months ($8.75 per month). In 1901, the salary was raised to $50 for a seven month term ($7.14 per month). The community furnished room and board, and the students kept the schoolhouse clean. The boys moved the desks and the girls swept the floors. Discipline was not a major problem. Sound thrashings quickly eliminated most difficulties. One teacher reportedly whipped the same two boys each morning, whether they needed it or not, just to start the day off in the right spirit. School records show there were 190 pupils enrolled in 1903.

Livingston High School

Livingston High School (grades 9 and 10) was initiated in 1906 with J.F. Stevens, principal, and Miss Eva Rowe, assistant teacher. The other teachers in that year were Carroll Ray (grades 7 and 8), Maymie Rhodes (5 and 6), Cleo Murchison (3 and 4), Fannie Andress (2), and Winnie Jones (first grade). The school term was extended to 8 months. The Polk County Enterprise Printery advertised report cards at 2¢ each.

The first high school graduating class in 1908 was composed of the following students:

  • Myra Lewis (Green) who taught school in Livingston and Raymondville.
  • Brown L. Meece who graduated from Texas A. and M. and became vice-president for the Globe Oil Co., Chicago, and later for the Sinclair Oil Co.
  • Ralph Feagin who was a graduate of the University of Texas. After some years as a lawyer in Houston, he became executive vice-president of Electric Bond and Share Co., New York City. He later returned to Houston as a partner in the law firm of Baker, Botts, Andrews, and Wharton.

High School Commencement

The first high school commencement was held at the Livingston Opera House with J. F. Stevens, principal, in charge.

There was only one graduate in 1909, Allie Garvey (Bean). In the fall of 1909, E P. Gaines accepted the position of principal. On March 17, 1910, the first materials arrived for a new school building and the school closed early in April to get the children off the grounds before work was started.

Five graduates received high school diplomas in April 1910:

  • Addelle Green (Peebles)
  • A. E Gerlach
  • J. W Cochran, Jr.
  • Charlie Epperson
  • Vester Kersh

These last graduation ceremonies from the old school were held at the Methodist Church.

School Building Division

During the summer of 1910, the school building was divided. A portion of it was put on logs and pulled by mule teams to the Green Field division here it became the Negro schoolhouse. Another portion of the building was used to form the C. F. Fain home.

A new two-story brick building was erected for the Livingston school system at a cost of $25,000 (to be paid in 40 years). It was a modern building for the day and had the advantage of the first daylight services being offered by the Livingston Light and Power Company. The building was 75 feet by 165 feet and had nine classrooms, a library, an auditorium that would seat 425, and a heating plant in the basement. The design was described as the "old mission style." The building opened on Wednesday, October 26, 1910.