History of Emma Sansom High School

Emma Sansom High SchoolWritten by Nell Martin - 1956

Dwight Manufacturing Company Builds and maintains first schools

There is no reward that can adequately compensate Dwight Manufacturing Company for the good it has done in promoting the civic, moral, religious and economic life of the employees of her company. When Dwight Manufacturing Company constructed a factory in Alabama City, Alabama, in 1895, its only object was no to just provide work for the people of that area, and in return reap a harvest of wealth for its owners. Evidently the owners of the mill possessed knowledge gained through experience and imagination, which everyone knows makes possible all progress, all advancement, which changes life from a drab design to a bright-hued pattern and makes it worth living. Somewhere among these stockholders must have been great philanthropists who had a desire to build more than a stone structure. Evidently these men must have been permeated with the spirit of Daniel Webster who said, “If you work upon marble, it will perish; if you work upon brass, time will efface it; if you rear temples, they will crumble into dust; but if you work upon immortal minds, if you imbue them with principles, with the just fear of God and love of your fellowmen, you engrave upon them something that will brighten to all eternity.”

When the mill was established in Alabama City, the stock-holders donated land and constructed a school building, churches for different religious denominations, a library which is reported to be the first public library in the State of Alabama, a community house where groups could meet for wholesome entertainment, a public hall for programs of various types, a Y.W.C.A. where young women could live at a nominal charge (yet be provided with needed protection,) an emergency hospital for the employees, a nurse and several doctors who were paid contributions by both company and employees.

The company always contributed money and services which were toward making a desirable community. It was interested in guiding the intellectual growth and fitting boys and girls of their employees for the duties of their vocations and activities of citizenship. By building churches and schools they handed them the torch of inspiration and expected them to keep it ever alight. The unbounded generosity of Dwight Manufacturing Company enabled the pupils to take a peep into the future and reflect that somewhere out there in the noisy conflict of achievement in gigantic industrial and commercial development, there was a place for each of them-a place where their talents could expand to their fullest growth if each would grasp the afforded opportunities.

Almost all of the employees of Dwight Manufacturing Company were natives of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee who migrated from the farms with the hope of improving their economic status. Their education, to be sure, was limited because of the fact that they had to earn a living and had not the chance of becoming educated; however, this did not lessen their desire for something better for their children, and at Dwight School the pupils probably had longer school terms, better buildings, better teachers with better salaries than most Alabama schools in county districts. Even at the time there were no high schools, other than high schools built by towns or cities and partially supported by the state; and not until later, 1906 to be exact, high schools came into existence, and then only one high school in the county was established and maintained by the state; hence, it would have been almost impossible for Alabama City pupils to attend Etowah County High School. The cost of paying for room and board or paying for transportation and lunches was more than these parents could afford; besides Etowah County High School probably could not have accommodated such a large enrollment.

Crowded Conditions

The changes wrought by World War I and the era of the 1920’s brought a transition. This was a period of unrest. Rural people attracted by the urban prosperity, migrated from farm to town, swelling the population and creating demands upon the educational forces which were hard to cope with. This influx of population brought about crowded conditions at Dwight School.

The Bowling Alley

In 1922 Superintendent E.J. Gilbert, a successful and able school executive, contributed much toward making plans which helped alleviate crowded conditions for a short period that the Bowling Alley was used to house three grades until Dwight Manufacturing Company could construct the Lake Front School, which became elementary and junior high schools combined. Again Dwight Manufacturing Company displayed its willingness to co-operate in providing the school buildings, not only for pupils whose parents worked at Dwight textile mills, but also for the children of workers of other industries and business men of all types throughout the city.

The People Awaken

Perhaps the most significant factor, which awakened the people to the fact that definitely the community had not kept pace with mounting enrollment and the need of giving the boys and girls of Alabama City equal opportunity of an education, was in the years of 1925, 1926 and 1927. The Lake Front Junior High School graduated between twenty and thirty-five pupils each year. There was no auditorium available for graduation exercises; however, the present Alabama City Methodist Church had a tabernacle which was being used until a church could be erected. Permission was given by the church to the school in 1925-1926, to hold commencement exercises there. The 1927 graduation exercise was held in the Elliott School, which was erected that year.

Of the number who received junior high school diplomas a few pupils attended Etowah High School, several preferred to go to Gadsden High School, while a great number did not further their education.

Superintendent E.J. Gilbert, members of the Alabama City Board of Education, the Mayor of the City, Mr. Raymond D. Morgan, the City Council, as well as many parents, felt that their first obligation was to provide a high school within their own city where all of Alabama City youth could complete high school if each so desired. Alabama City could not stand by and see its youth deprived of a high school education because the parents felt they could not pay tuition and fees, board or bear the expense of transportation and lunches. Without inviting disaster, Alabama City could not continue to lose the greater number of these pupils to industries, where they would be employed as unskilled labor.

With such men as Mayor Raymond D. Morgan, Superintendent E.J. Gilbert, members of the Alabama City Board of Education, Dr. M.L. Shaddix, Messers Jack Martin, J.A. Chamblee, E.E. McClendon and D.F. Smith, and former board members and civic leaders, Messers J.D. Loner, Fred Fitts, porter C. Murphree and Dr. R.A. Burns, a campaign was immediately launched; the goal was a senior high school. All felt they would be derelict of their duty if they failed to respond to the call for a better cultural, spiritual, civic and social life that could be had only through an educated citizenry.

Obtaining Land for Building

The next step toward a high school was to obtain land on which to build. It was suggested that the Emma Sansom home place would be an ideal location for the new high school. A committee investigated the approximate cost of obtaining the site. The price asked was more than the Alabama City Board of education could afford; however, the Board successfully obtained land near Black Creek, a part of the Sansom farm, where a fifteen year old girl, on May 2, 1863, brought about an event that immortalized her name. It was she who piloted General Nathan B. Forrest across the flooded waters of Black Creek and enabled him to overtake and capture the Yankee General Streight and his army, who were headed for Rome Georgia, to destroy one of the ammunition factories of the Confederacy.

To commemorate her brave act, the citizens of Alabama City, Alabama, thought it most fitting, indeed, for the new school which would be built, to bear the name of one of the most famous heroines of the Civil War.

The Board of Education of Alabama City had on hand $60,000 to go toward building the new high school. The site cost $7,500, whereas it is reported that the total cost of constructing the building was something over $80,000.

The building erected in 1929 was designed to house between 350 and 400 pupils.

In 1942 the annex to the building cost approximately $125,000.

Opening Day

In January 1929, Emma Sansom High School was completed, and when Superintendent E.J. Gilbert, who had untiringly worked to fulfill plans for a high school in Alabama City, announced that the pupils would be transferred from the Lake Front School to the new Emma Sansom High School, joy reigned supreme among pupils, teachers and citizens. The pupils left Lake Front School, proud of a senior high school, yet the memory of years spent at Lake Front Junior High School would forever be enshrined in the hearts of those who attended school there.

Sansom’s First Teachers 1929-1930

Among the first teachers who taught at Emma Sansom High School in 1929-1930 were Dr. J.M. Richardson, who served as principal, and who is now teaching as Alabama Polytechnic Institute, Auburn, Alabama; Misses Ruby Jackson, Icie D. Finney, Laura Berkstresser, Elise Hall, Varna Watson, Mr. R.L. Pendergross, and Messers. Paul F. Machen and M.A. Williams.

First Graduating Class

The first graduating class was in 1931. Earl Clayton, a member of this class likes to tell that he was the first person to receive a diploma from Emma Sansom High School. This was because his name appeared first on the alphabetical list of graduates.

The Panic

In 1930-1931 the Panic was at its peak. Schools all over the state of Alabama began to close because of the lack of funds upon which to operate. Banks collapsed; industries closed; money could not be borrowed on which to operate schools. Alabama City Schools could not maintain a superintendent of education and a high school principal; therefore, the Alabama City Board of Education decided to economize by electing Superintendent G.W. Floyd to serve as both superintendent of the city schools and principal of Emma Sansom High School.

Teachers of Alabama City received warrants and city certificates of indebtedness which were not negotiable as pay for their work in 1931-1932. The city was deeply in debt. There was no money to pay policemen, firemen or teachers. City officials found it impossible to operate independently.

Invitation from City Commissioners of Gadsden

The city commissioners of Gadsden, Alabama, extended a written invitation to the people of Alabama City through the Alabama City Council, to become a part of the city of Gadsden. The Alabama City Council called an election giving the people a chance to express their desire on whether to unite with Gadsden or remain as an independent city. The vote was approximately 550 to 150 in favor of annexation to the city of Gadsden. Twice before the depression of 1929, the city of Gadsden had extended written invitations to Alabama City to become annexed to Gadsden, and twice the voters of Alabama City rejected the offer.

After the invitation, the election and the vote in favor of annexation, according to the agreement made by the Gadsden City Commissioners and the officials of Alabama City, it automatically became the obligation of the city government of the city of Gadsden to take over all indebtedness of Alabama City,

As a result of the annexation of Alabama City to Gadsden, the salaries of all teachers in the city had to be reduced for a period of time. Certainly this was somewhat to the disadvantage of those who taught in Gadsden before the annexation and a boon to the Alabama City teachers; however, the Alabama City teachers greatly appreciated the beneficence of those who extended a helping hand during a time of need.

When Sansom High School became a part of the Gadsden School System in 1932, she operated under the state adopted 6-3-3 plan of organization. The other high school in the system used the 7-4 plan; thus, there was no single unified program in the system.

Many curriculum changes have been made, but perhaps the most significant revised core was that of adding the twelfth grade to both high schools. Under this plan the seventh, eighth and ninth grades became a part of the junior high school leaving the three remaining grades as senior high.

Superintendent Donehoo

Mr. C.A. Donehoo, recognized as one of the most outstanding educators of the South, was superintendent of the Gadsden Schools at the time that the Alabama City Schools became a part of the Gadsden system. Superintendent Donehoo was the only person to serve for two consecutive years as President of the Alabama Educational Association. He is to be especially commended for successfully carrying the schools through the trying years of two wars. Through his wise planning and economy several new school buildings were constructed in the city, and new teachers were employed to take care of the increased pupil enrollment.

Superintendent Donehoo served until 1950 when he was made Educational Consultant of the City schools.

Uniting to Provide Advantages

In spite of the many financial worries Professor George W. Floyd worked indefatigably to unite the teaching force toward making Sansom High School a place which would promote the welfare of the children in Alabama City by providing the best advantages in training them mentally, physically, morally and spiritually.

During the administration of Professor Floyd at Emma Sansom High School for 1931 through 1935, the teaching personnel consisted of: Misses Hassie R. Preston, Virginia Montgomery, Lera Jaggers, Sarah High, Mary Burns, Maud Floyd, Nell Martin, Varna Watson, Wynona Rogers, Lerene Spain, Lucile Pruitt, Audrey Rainey, Elizabeth Powell, Mesdames Virginia Haggard, Mary Dale McCord, Messers Ernest G. Neipp, Burt Curley, Edward Jenkins, F.A. Reagan, Fred Putman, Gerald Waits, Ernest Epley and Miss Vera Cosby.

Sansom’s Library Yesterday-Today

It was during Mr. Floyd’s administration that the first step toward making Sansom’s library adequate to meet the needs of the pupils was taken. Under the strong leadership of the Parent-Teacher Association an appeal to the homes and to friends to make donations was made. As a result the library received twice as many books as it had. Another means of providing library books is through money provided by the City Board of Education.

Today Emma Sansom library can boast of over 5,000 cataloged volumes, a splendid reference collection in each subject field, four vertical files, an excellent collection of sixty-five paid magazine subscriptions and ten complimentary subscriptions, a huge transparent world, land, and water globe of Plexiglas 36 inches in diameter, which cost $150; a planetarium, a fifty-four volume set of The Great Books of the Western World, a shelf of good professional readings for faculty members, one tape recorder, one opaque projector, two Bell-Howell film projectors, two film strip projectors, a collection of around forty excellent film strips, three portable screens, one large attached screen located in the library, one book cart, a stand or carriage for transporting audio-visual equipment and a set of black-cut curtains.

A library course is taught to all ninth grade pupils who attend Emma Sansom High School. There are organized and active Teen-age Book and Library Staff Clubs which are supervised by the librarian.

Vocational Home Economics

While Mr. Floyd was principal of Emma Sansom High School Vocational Home Economics was initiated and the department had to be brought up to standard in order to qualify for Federal funds under the Smith-Hughes Act. To meet the specified requirements the department was installed with a sufficient number of electrical and gas ranges, refrigerators, sewing machines, tables and other necessary equipment.

The department has books relating to homes, interior decoration, child care and development, pictured cookbooks, charts, bulletins and leaflets in color, a series of film strips and sound films. Present day equipment provides instruction that is a great improvement over the method of instruction first used in the early history of the school.

The First Flag

The home economics class provided Sansom’s first United States flag. It was one of the largest and most beautiful ever flown over any other Alabama high school. Since the early 1930’s different organizations have donates several flags of the United States to the school. This school being the only one named for a Civil War heroine proudly displays the flag of the Confederacy along with the school flag and the flag of the United States.

First Sound System

In 1934 Emma Sansom High School enjoyed the distinction of having installed the first sound system in any school in the state of Alabama. In view of making like installations in their own schools, educators from many schools over Alabama visited Sansom high School to see the system in operation.

In the meanwhile the school was confronted with the problems of attendance. The method of having the police bring to school boys and girls who were absent without cause worked well, but as usual, Mr. Floyd knew how to work miracles by presenting the unusual in order to put ideas across. Knowing a teaching device when he saw one, he foresaw a chance to inspire the pupils to attend school regularly. This was done by the observance of “A Perfect Day” at Sansom. Every pupil responded beautifully and showed a keen interest by being present, on time, with prepared lessons, by moving quietly and quickly to classes and assembly, but no loitering in the halls nor on the grounds, and by perfect behavior throughout the day; thus ingenuity won again. Inspired by the novelty of “The Perfect Day” the attendance was far better than prior to this day.

School attendance is a problem which faces Sansom in 1956 just as it did in the early 1930’s. The delinquent children today are probably lured from school-room activities by the many outside attractions of this fast age of living. Just how to keep them in school is a problem yet to be solved. Perhaps enriching the school program will appeal to these pupils; however, it will have to be made interesting enough to compete with movies, television, airplanes and automobiles.


The first football coach of Emma Sansom High School was Mr. Ernest Neipp of New Britain, Connecticut.

The first football game played between Sansom High School and Gadsden High School was September 1932.

Since, Sansom’s coach, Mr. F.A. Reagan, was a former coach at Gadsden high School, he was particularly anxious to promote good feelings between the two schools.

The game was played on Friday afternoon after school. The score was in favor of Gadsden High School.

Tough the Emma Sansom Rebels have not always been the winners, our hats are off to the great teams of the past and present for their fine spirit, true sportsmanship and grit, their modest but fair manner of conduct and their cool-headiness on the gridiron. They are especially to be commended on the way they have always accepted victor or defeat. They never exhibited a gloating spirit if they won, and when they lost, they were good losers. The school is especially proud of all the coaches of Emma Sansom High School who will be remembered as having added a glorious page to the history of Emma Sansom football.

Colonel Frank A. Reagan, Principal

When Professor Floyd left Sansom High School in 1935 to become Postmaster of Alabama City, Colonel Frank A. Regan succeeded him as principal.

The Band

Among the outstanding accomplishments under Colonel Reagan was that of organizing Sansom’s first Band.

In order to raise money to purchase band instruments and uniforms permission was given by the city commissioners to let Sansom have a street carnival on the school campus.

The pupils were so anxious for a band that each obediently kept the rules and stayed off the campus where the carnival was, until after school hours. When school dismissed at the end of each day, the carnival opened at four o’clock and all who wished attended.

The money raised from the carnival went toward the purchase of Sansom’s first band instruments and uniforms. The Gadsden City Board of Education provided the large musical instruments.

Mr. Mort Glosser, employed as band director of Gadsden High School, became a part-time director at Emma Sansom High School under provisions made by the City Board of Education. He patiently taught and gained the respect of each pupil.

The first full time band director was Mr. Lamar Triplett. It was while Mr. Triplett was director that the Emma Sansom High School band won the state championship. In state band contests today, a band may not be declared the champion. It is now the practice to rate bands as superior, excellent or good. Many of the Emma Sansom High School pupils rank in each separate rating.

When Mr. Triplett was called into the Army, Mrs. Florence Murphy became band director at Sansom. Following Mrs. Murphy, Mr. Russell Larsen was next employed, and later the band was directed by Mr. Boyd McKeown.

The band, now under the direction of Mr. Billy “Rip” Reagan, is quite a success; in fact, it is Mr. Reagan who does the unusual and captures the hearts of the audience by excellent programs and performances; it was also Mr. Reagan’s band from Alabama City, Alabama, sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which rated sixth among all bands in the nation, which competed in the contest at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1954.

The Alma Mater

The History of Emma Sansom High School would not be complete without acknowledging the debt of gratitude we owe our own dear departed teacher, Mrs. Mary Dale McCord for writing the words to our Alma Mater which are as follows:


Alma Mater

Emma Sansom High, we love thee,

Thus we pledge our vow;

Honor, fame, the long years through

Crown thy head as now.

Purple, gold, our colors fly;

May thy luster glow

Till thy banners reach the sky,

And thee the world doth know.

Sansom High, they name we cherish,

Rich with history’s lore.

May the spirit of our namesake

Guide us as we go.

Ever choosing the paths we seek,

Rebels staunch and fine,

Till we meet with victory,

Dear Alma Mater mine.

As those inspiring words echo and re-echo through the halls of Emma Sansom high School ever will be remembered Mrs. McCord’s untiring efforts, loving guidance and loyal devotion to the school.

The First Yearbook

The next peak of effort, which highlighted Mr. Reagan’s term as Sansom’s principal, in promoting the growth of an institution named for a great Civil War heroine, was made by the class of 1937. The chief pride of this class was that it reflected honor upon the school in editing the first yearbook, “Sansanola.”

This paper-back edition was hand-typed and contained pasted in pictures of teachers, pupils and student activities of the school. It was dedicated to the parents of the school whose labor made their high school days possible.

Staff of First Yearbook

Editor-in-chief Mary Piazza

Assistant Editor Pat Gallagher

Business Managers Peggy Gallagher

Jeanette Burke

Assistant Managers Ernest Dillard

William Ware

Society Editor Marietta Sanders

Literary Editor Avie Fell

Sports Editors Hugh Smith

Ethel Ware

Production Managers Elton Bonner

Bill Burgette

Artists Alfred Mitchell

Horace Bradshaw

Faculty Advisers Mary Dale McCord

Ernest Epley

It is not known just why the class of 1938 did not publish a yearbook; perhaps the lack of money was the main factor; however, the determined class of 1939 with unusual qualities of leadership and enthusiasm for attaining whatever it sought, staged a spectacular comeback edition of “Sansanola.” This book was somewhat like the first edited volume.

Because of the lack of sufficient funds, the publishing of a yearbook was discontinued until 1943 during the administration of Principal E.E. Chamblee.

When the publication was resumed again, it had a new title, “The Talisman,” meaning a keepsake. The name was chosen by Mrs. Maud Floyd Herndon.

It is interesting to note the growth of this book, for it is now one of the largest in the state.

Sansom’s First Paper

During the 1930’s the teachers and pupils of Emma Sansom High School felt the need of giving publicity to school activities, thus, the weekly school news, first under the title of “Emma Sansom High School News” and later “The Voice of the Rebels,” was published for a limited time in the “Etowah Observer” and “The Gadsden Times.”

Even though the freshman class of 1937 was referred to as the savage sector of Sansom’s civilization, it proved to be one of the most alert and intelligent groups ever absorbed by the institution. This class revealed its ability by editing Sansom’s first newspaper, “The Frosh Times,” under the capable direction of Mrs. Audrey Culver.

This first newspaper was a four-page edition printed by a commercial printer on an excellent grade of paper, and contained front page news items of interest as follows: “Sansom to have First Yearbook, ‘Sansonola’;” “Sansom to have Band Next Year;” “Junior and Seniors were Entertained with a Barbecue at the High School;” “Senior Play to be Given Friday Evening;” “Coach Chamblee Looks for Good Team Next Fall;” “Stunt Night a Success;” and “Physical Education Program at Sansom High School Next Year.”

On the list of the first newspaper staff was:

Editor Helen Bradshaw

Assistant Editors Ethel Ware

Mildred Brannon

Society Editor Margaret Sharpton

Library Editor Louise Lee

Sports Editor O.P. Reagan, Jr.

Joke Editor Fred Baggett

Advertising Manager Andrew Kerr

Assistant Advertising Manager Helen Pearl Butler

This fruitful effort of organizing a school newspaper coming from the freshman class was, indeed, an inspiration which seemed to hold promise of continued publication; however, the lack of finances forced the class to discontinue further publications. Later, in 1941, the school was able to finance the second commercially printed newspaper, “The Rebel Review,” which is still the most outstanding news publication of the school in that it is the greatest means of taking the school to the community and the public.

After coming into existence in 1941 the publishing of “The Rebel Review” was never discontinued as was the yearbook. Copies of nearly every year since 1941 have been found in the possession of members of the Alumni of the school


Mrs. Ernest Epley opened the first lunchroom at Emma Sansom High School in 1939 in a very small room at the back of the building. After purchasing lunches, the pupils went into the patio to eat where little wooden benches had been placed to accommodate them.

In 1942 the new addition to Sansom School provided a lunchroom which was adequate at that time, but which is inadequate today.

With aid received from the United States Government the lunchroom supervisor, Mrs. Beard, can serve well-balanced lunches to the pupils at a nominal cost of 30 cents each.

Along with the new lunchroom, the new addition to the building provided a large auditorium serving the purpose of band, athletic and assembly programs. Underneath the auditorium there are rooms for band, for band practice and storage of band instruments; an office for football coaches; an art room; lockers and showers for physical education classes; rooms for storage of supplies; and a workshop for the annual staff.

Prior to the construction of the new part of the building, the school auditorium was located in the center of the main building. This assembly hall was converted into four classrooms and a library, the old library giving place to the glee club.


During the depression of the early 1930’s the nation had become a neighborhood with common interests. Unemployment was nation wide and became the concern of all. This was a significant social problem that had to be faced. The economic and social changes brought added responsibilities to the schools. The world was not stable and youth was in a state of confusion; hence, Emma Sansom High School, like other progressive schools, initiated a guidance program to bring to the pupils an understanding of changes through instruction, counseling and planning for careers.

Mrs. Virginia Haggard, as guidance teacher, assisted the pupils in choosing careers, in helping them prepare to enter and make progress in their chosen fields.

Various methods were used to obtain information about the life and background of each pupil. Autobiographies were written, conferences were held, testing programs were given, career books were made and personal files were kept for each pupil.

Successful men and women in many different fields of occupations were invited as guest speakers.

It might be interesting to those who remember Dr. Howell Cross to know that he gave a lecture to the pupils who chose medicine as a career. And the, the teachers, classmates, friends and kin of Larry Reynolds, at that time a student of Sansom high School, can recall Larry’s bring Mr. Gray, a flight instructor, to lecture on airplane piloting. Larry chose to become an air pilot and served in this capacity during his service in World War II. After being discharged from the U.S. Air Corps, he later flew over Gadsden, with a friend, and was killed in an airplane crash near Attalla, Alabama.

When visitors lectured, the pupils entered discussions and made inquiries concerning requirements, training, conditions of work and advancement possibilities.

Under Mrs. Sue Pate field trips to the different industries and business concerns were made, and on return to school, lessons in English, mathematics, science, etc. grew out of the experiences of the pupils.

After Mrs. Haggard took over the mathematics department, guidance was left to the individual teachers until 1947, when Mr. Robert Owens came as guidance director. Working with Mr. Owens was Miss Sue Ackerson. Together they built a strong guidance course. Following Mr. Owens and Miss Ackerson was Mr. Allen Cleveland who served as guidance director at Emma Sansom high School until 1954, when he became Supervisor of Purchasing and Maintenance of the City Schools of Gadsden.

In 1954 Mrs. Geneva McKee, a Social Science teacher, took charge of the guidance program.

Under Mrs. McKee the guidance department divides its work under educational guidance, vocational guidance, testing and checking cumulative records. In January College Day is observed to help pupils decide which institutions they wish to attend. College catalogs are studied, and Mrs. McKee, as counselor, assists pupils in making applications for admission and for part-time employment and scholarships.

Pupils list the choice of four fields of occupations out of at least seventy.

During the second semester career classes are conducted by invited guests who are specialists in their field.

The guidance department aids pupils in choosing subjects which will benefit them in their chosen careers.

A strong testing program which includes “Differential Aptitude Tests,” “The Henmon-Nelson Mental Ability Test,” and the “Kuder Vocational Preference Test” is given.

Glee Club

During the first years of Emma Sansom High School there was not a pupil or a teacher who could play a musical instrument or lead a group in singing. When a school program was given, community musical talent was secured. Sansom truly appreciated Mrs. Ella Disque Hughes, Mr. Winter Shropshire and the church choirs who were most helpful in all school programs where music was required.

It was not until Miss Elizabeth Powell was employed in 1936 as part-time glee club director that Sansom made any progress in the field of fine arts. Since then the school has made rapid strides in the field of music. Today the glee club at Sansom High School ranks high among the talented high school pupils of the state of Alabama, as is evidenced by the superior rating given to members of the glee club in 1956.

Those who directed the glee club in years past were as follows: Miss Elizabeth Powell, Miss Martha Murphree, Mrs. Winnie Galloway, Miss Mary Elizabeth McDonald, Mrs. Mary Miller, Mrs. Harriett Thompson. The present director is Mr. Harry Purvis. Mr. Purvis came to Sansom, September 1955, and under his leadership the glee club has brought home to the school many honors. For the first time in the history of the school a large boys’ choral group has been organized.

Diversified Occupations at Emma Sansom High School

The school’s reaction to the changes which occurred in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s made possible a great change in the course of study at Emma Sansom High School. The changes in business, industry and inventions brought changes in the standard of living, and widespread unemployment; hence, the educators were challenged to place courses of study into the schools that would enable the youth to prepare himself for his place in the occupational world.

To meet this situation Diversified Occupations was placed in the course of study with Mr. Knowlton as coordinator.

This course enabled Sansom pupils to secure proper training for their lives’ work.

Mr. Knowlton was succeeded by Mr. Vickery. Later Mr. Vickery was called into the Army, and Mr. Harold James was made coordinator. Following Mr. James was Mr. Lawrence Weeks, who was replaced, in 1947, by Mr. J.K. Weaver.

Through the exceptional qualities of the present coordinator, Mr. J.K. Weaver, much has been done to reflect credit upon the school.

Nothing could speak more forcefully for the excellent job he has done in making ready pupils for work by a combination of preparation secured through the school and on the job. The pupils under Mr. Weaver secure their training in trades by actual production work on the job and by systematic instruction in related subjects.

The pupils earn money while learning a trade, and at the close of the training period, the learner is able to earn as much as a regular worker.

Coordinator Weaver, a leader in civic life in the city, displays unusual leadership in his field of work. His practical experience in the teaching profession has fitted him for the training of youth in the chosen fields of trades in the complexity of modern civilization. He is keenly aware of the need of training not only the youth, but also adults who wish to further their training in plumbing, carpentry, brick masonry, electricity and in any other of the public services.

Mr. Weaver’s classes are increasing in number, and adults are eagerly taking advantage of the opportunities offered. The enrollment has grown from 35 or 40 to between 200 to 300 a year. His services are most valuable in that these courses help men who follow these trades to advance in their line of work, thereby enabling them to profit economically and socially.

Business Education

The modern secondary school must be realistic about the vocational needs of its youth and it is only through a study of the community being served that such needs can be ascertained. The commercial department, as one of the efficiently functioning divisions of the school, has within a short period of eight years done an excellent piece of work in attempting to meet these needs. A well-trained, enthusiastic and visionary staff has been an important factor in working for such a goal.

A great deal of thought and planning has been put into the equipment of the commercial department. The equipment is quite varied and includes the following basic machines: typewriter, electric typewriter, mimeograph, spirit duplicator, calculators, comptometers, adding machines and a bookkeeping machine.

The equipment in our commercial department compares very favorably with the best equipped high school in the state and a number of commercial departments in the colleges of the state. Our commercial department owns the only Remington Ran Bookkeeping Machine found in any commercial department in the state of Alabama. These business machines are taught primarily to the advance business education students.

Each student in our secretarial practice classes receives training in the use of these machines. Also, in the class, students will receive a complete course in filing. The department has adequate equipment for training of individual students. Each student has filing equipment and sufficient supplies to set up files of various types.

The commercial course at Emma Sansom is selected by freshmen and is followed with special courses during the first two years of high school. During these years, emphasis is placed on such subjects as English, business math, business training and business law. At the beginning of the eleventh year extra emphasis is placed on commercial subjects and a student will take English, shorthand, beginners typing and bookkeeping. The twelfth year the course is divided into two areas, the stenographic and general office.

In the stenographic course especial training is given in Business English, typing, shorthand and secretarial practice. A student who is trained in this course is equipped to do any type of office work required of a business education graduate. The general office course is designed to train students as office receptionists and for general office work. This course includes the following subjects: Business English, consumer economics and secretarial practice, with electives in speech and democracy.

The twelfth year commercial students are given all the practical experience possible. Students are assigned to various office and business activities within the school. This practical experience affords training in all office procedures including typing, filing, general office work and dictation. All of our twelfth year students receive the practical training during the year.

A well planned follow-up program of all graduates has been instituted. Complete records of graduates are on file at all times for the use of prospective employers. The department extends this service as a source of impartial information. Inquiries as to the ability and fitness of students are welcomed at all times.

Distributive Education

Just as Diversified Occupations became a planned course to meet the problem of employment and changes brought about in the darkest years of the 1929-1933 depression; so was distributive education instituted at Emma Sansom High School to help pupils plan careers in retail selling which would enable them to contribute their share to the economic maintenance of themselves and their families.

In 1938, under Miss Hazel Gilmer as first coordinator of Emma Sansom High School, the field of retail selling held a fascination for Sansom pupils, especially those who found it impossible to further their education beyond high school. Many were interested in retail selling as careers, probably because it held promise of early employment, which the pupils needed in order to contribute something to the welfare of their families, some of whom were in financial straits brought about by loss of employment during the depression.

There were others who chose retail selling, because this field depended upon human labor and not upon mechanical devices. In retail selling which requires personal services unemployment was not as prevalent as in other fields where mechanical devices are substituted for human labor.

In this field the pupils learn of the opportunities of retail selling, management, finance and publicity, and retail merchandising as buying. Through a diversified occupations course the pupils learn the characteristics which make for success in selling such as, attractive personal appearance, interest in associating with people ability to talk easily, good health and the ability to understand people. They learn of promotion policies, and salaries and something of the problem of distribution.

Those who choose retail merchandising must have the ability to organize, to judge wisely, to grasp detailed instructions and to select suitable styles if they wish to succeed.

The following have served as D.E. Coordinators at Emma Sansom high School: Mrs. Hazel Gilmer, Mrs. Susan Garner, Mrs. Dorothy Moore, Mrs. Gladys Smith, Mrs. Doris Blackmon and Miss Alice Patton.

Parent-Teacher Association

September 1933 was the month and year of the first leaf in the history of P.T.A. life at Emma Sansom High School.

Under the direction of Prof. George W. Floyd, parents and teachers met for the purpose of organizing a Parent-Teacher Association.

The teacher personnel consisted of: Prof. George W. Floyd, Miss Lera Jaggers, Miss Maud Floyd, Miss Hassie R. Preston, Miss Varna Watson, Miss Lucile Pruitt, Miss Nell Martin, Miss Winona Rogers, Miss Mary Burns, Messrs Fred Putman, Ernest Epley, Burt Curley, Frank A. Reagan, Gerald Waits and Miss Vera Cosby.

Mr. Arthur Morton, an outstanding citizen, had the honor of being elected as first president of Emma Sansom P.T.A. It is interesting to note that Mr. Morton was perhaps the first man to serve as president of a P.T.A. organization in the state of Alabama.

Those who had the privilege of working in the P.T.A. organization with Mr. Morand and Prof. Floyd will remember their ability, their vision, and their deep concern for the welfare of Sansom. Friends within and without the organization watched with acute interest the activities brought about by the insight and experience of these able leaders as they advanced the cause of education through this much alive P.T.A. organization.

In 1935-36 Mrs. Fred Fitts served as second president of Sansom’s P.T.A. and was succeeded by Mr. W.T. Cantrell. In 1937 Mrs. F.A. Reagan and faculty members, worked indefatigably for a larger membership of parents. They sounded stirring pleas for parents to attend, but it seemed that mothers having children in high school also had children in grammar school and could not give two afternoons a month to P.T.A. As a result of poor attendance, it was decided to abandon this organization until some further plans could be made to get a larger attendance.

The second organization of Sansom’s P.T.A. came about by the request of the alumni and parents of Alabama City.

In September, 1947, a meeting was called in order to re-organize. Seventy-five guests were present.

The following officers were elected:

President Mrs. J.L. Marona, Jr.

Vice President Mrs. H.A. Stansell

Secretary Mrs. Charles Martin

Treasurer Mrs. Jack Isbell


The following committees were appointed:

Social Committee Mrs. Ray Wiggonton

Football Concessions Mrs. Andy McElroy

Mrs. Jack Isbell

Membership Mrs. Grady Clark

Publicity & Publication Mrs. Ray Wiggonton

Subscriptions Mrs. A.D. Wiggins

Recreation Mrs. Hobson Ratliff

Historian Miss Vera Cosby

Projects Mrs. A.D. Wiggins

Hospitality Mr. George W. Floyd

Constitution and By-laws: Mesdames Marie McDoanld

Ray Kerr, Ernest Epley,

Miss Lera Grady and

Prof. W.O. Briscoe

Today Sansom has a most alert P.T.A. organization which strongly believes that better opportunities should be provided for children and works untiringly to make the organization strong enough to promote the welfare of the school by providing the best advantages in training pupils mentally, morally, socially and spiritually. This organization realizes the imperative need of school facilities and an ardent champion in giving consideration and making plans to help further any worthwhile school and community activity which give impetus to a democratic life.

For their exceptional qualities as parents and teachers, their unusual leadership qualities, their innate nobleness of character and their long service in the educational field, the following parents and teachers have been honored with the Mary England Life Membership Award:

Mr. G.W. Floyd Miss Vera Cosby

Mrs. H.R. Wynn Mr. C. Garry

Mrs. H.A. Stancell Mr. W.O. Briscoe

Peace Time Draft – World War II

Mr. Chamblee as Principal

First came peace time draft followed by World War II on the horizon December 1941. Many pupils and faculty members answered the nation’s call to arms. Among the teachers who went were: Messers. Ralph Boles, Hugh Smith, Lamar Triplett, Gerald Waits, Colonel F.A. Reagan, Dewitt Dunn and Miss Mozell Johnson, the granddaughter of Emma Sansom who came in 1941 to Alabama City to teach English and Spanish in Emma Sansom High School.

During the period of World War II Mr. Claud Chamblee, former science teacher and coach at Emma Sansom High School, succeeded Colonel Frank A. Reagan as principal.

Mr. Chamblee made an excellent principal and was considered among his faculty as one of the most learned principals Sansom ever had. Mr. Chamblee is due recognition for his fine work at Sansom High School. His was a hard road to travel during the period of World War II. The school was crowded and no office help was available except the N.Y.A. girls. He faced the problem of a teacher shortage. The wives of Army men located at Camp Sibert, Gadsden, Alabama, would teach for a short duration of time; and when their husbands were transferred, the problem of securing others would arise again. Some classes had at least five or six different teachers during one year; hence, the intellectual growth of the pupils was retarded and the school suffered.

It must be remembered, as has been mentioned, that it was while Mr. Chamblee was principal of Emma Sansom High School, “The Rebel Review,” the school’s newspaper and “The Talisman,” the yearbook, appeared as school publications.


The Farmer Calls for Help

In 1942 during World War II everyone was called upon to do his part for victory whether in the Army, Navy, Air Corps, factory, on the farm or engaged in any civilian pursuit. Each knew that liberty was at stake and each knew something of the need of manpower.

Etowah County farmers were in dire need of help to harvest their crops. The pupils of Emma Sansom High School were among those of other schools in the city of Gadsden to contribute their services. They obtained picking sacks, prepared their lunches and before sun-up crowded into trucks which were sent to transport them to the cotton fields in the county.

Some of these pupils had never gathered a lock of cotton and thought it would be an easy task to pick two hundred or more pounds of cotton in a day. Almost all of them ended by picking approximately fifty or seventy-five pounds per day. In the beginning it was fun to them, but they soon had aching backs and sore muscles never experienced before.

Even though the inexperienced cotton pickers trampled much cotton into the ground, the farmers expressed their appreciation for their help in the emergency. Each student was willing to help the soldiers by helping the farmers.

Pupils Gather Scrap Iron, Rubber and Waste Paper

During Mr. Chamblee’s administration an appeal was made to Sansom pupils to help gather scrap iron, rubber, paper and anything that could be converted into war materials. The city was divided into sections and the teachers and pupils in the different homerooms were assigned to certain areas to collect tin cans, old tires, old pots, pans, bed springs, pieces of old cook stoves, iron pipes or anything which could be made into strategic war materials. It was truly Sansom’s day to help win the war for the U.S.A.

Harvesting Potatoes

In looking back upon World War II most Alabamians can vividly recall the plight of the potato growers of Baldwin County, Alabama. The drafting of young men into the Army, Navy and Air Corps exhausted the farm labor which was so much needed in harvesting the potato crop. The potatoes were ready and only a few more days delay meant a complete loss in a necessary and much needed food, as well as a tremendous loss of thousands of dollars to the farmers, state and nation.

To secure the needed labor the farmers made an appeal to high school boys who nobly responded to the call. All were willing to perform a service for the farmer, who provided food for those who were fighting to keep America free.

Among those who volunteered to aid the Baldwin County farmers in gathering and getting potatoes ready for the market was a group of Emma Sansom High School boys. At a later date a number of these boys who helped harvest potatoes were called to serve in the army where the common “spud” was a part of their diet.

Memorial Service for Sansom’s Students of World War II

In 1945 parents, teachers, pupils and friends assembled for a most impressive memorial service in the Emma Sansom High School auditorium to honor former pupils of the school who fell in the struggle for freedom during World War II.

They were affectionate sons, patriotic and faithful soldiers, honest and upright citizens whose loyalty to the call of duty will ever linger in the hearts of classmates and all who were associated with them.

Principal Briscoe

Under Mr. W.O. Briscoe, the present principal of Emma Sansom High School who succeeded Prof. Claud Chamblee in 1947, many things of note have taken place. During his term Sansom instituted the Student Council in the springs of 1950, employed the first all time secretary for office work, employed a full time glee club teacher, provided in-service training for teachers, established the first commercial course at Sansom, helped promote Industrial and Career Days, provided courses in family relations, French, art, speech and safety driving; re-activated the Parent-Teacher Association, indorsed Teachers College’s Citizenship Educational Project; provided a special schedule to take care of the school’s many clubs and extra curricular activities, encouraged the organization of Teen Town’ in fact, under Mr. Briscoe the school has made tremendous progress.

One of his first accomplishments was that of helping get Emma Sansom High School accepted as a member of the Southern Association of High Schools.

Experience teaches that student activities are worth much. Student organizations at Emma Sansom High School are: The Student Council, French Club, Audio-Vision Club, Future Teachers of America Club, Future Homemakers, Teen-Age Club, Book, Nurses Club, D.O. and D.E. Clubs, “S” Club, F.B.L.A., Rebel Review and Yearbook staffs, Beta Tri Hi Y, Alpha Tri Hi Y, Bel Canto; National Honor Society, Tau Mu Kappa, Art Club, Library Club, Science Club, Sigma Gamma, Ninth Grade Club and Ushers Club.

Each club has a teacher as sponsor, and each works to promote leadership, scholarship, service, which go toward making a democratic society.

The Second Sound System

By 1947 the first sound system which was installed in 1934 had become inadequate for the needs of the school. Replacing the old sound system was one of the first projects of the school under Prof. W.O. Briscoe. In support of providing Sansom with a new sound system the P.T.A., Ardent champions of progress, contributed a generous sum of money which placed within the school a new sound system that would promote the progress of the school by motivating classroom activities through constructive programs which go toward molding the consensus of public opinion and public thought.

Superintendent I.J. Browder

Coming into the city of Gadsden in the year of 1952 was Mr. I.J. Browder, a man widely known in both state and nation as a noted educator. With him came Deputy Superintendent of Education, Dr. Williams Eddins, who as the present time is Director of Public Relations of the Alabama Educational Association.

One of the first accomplishments of these two leading educators was the completion of the Evaluation Program of Emma Sansom High School in 1952.

For one year previous to 1952, Principal Briscoe and faculty spent many hours each week after school in making plans and preparing for the school evaluation.

A state committee under the supervision of Coordinator Ernest Stone, met at Sansom high School, reviewed the course of study, observed classroom and other school activities, held consultations with teachers and students, inspected all teaching materials, equipment, buildings, etc., and marked the organization and administration.

A month later a favorable report was sent to the school by the coordinator. This report commended the principal and faculty of Emma Sansom High School on the very fine program which was being carried on, and it also made many recommendations for developing a program which would lead pupils to a higher standard of living mentally, morally and physically in a democratic society.

Sansom’s Course of Study

Sansom’s course of study has greatly changed within the past ten years. World War II awakened the educators to the fact that book learning without actual practice was of little value. Learning is alerted by actual experience. To obtain accurate first-hand knowledge the pupils are taken on trips to industries and businesses to see projects in action.

Emma Sansom High School pupils participate in community programs, dedications, etc. to gain experience in learning by doing. An example of learning by actually doing is the installation of voting machines in school buildings for pupils to actually vote for members of the Student Council and cheerleaders. The pupils first nominate candidates, draw up a platform, make campaign speeches and pay poll tax before voting.

Under Mr. Briscoe the First Industrial Day for teachers and pupils was held.

The senior class with their session room teachers as sponsors went to Cone Manufacturing Company, The Goodyear Rubber Plant, Republic Steel Corporation and Allis Chalmers Manufacturing Company to gain first-hand knowledge of working conditions, to see the actual production of products at these plants, to learn something of cost of operation, sales and markets for products, and profit and loss of operating.

On return from the trip, the pupils wrote essays, letters of appreciation to these companies, and made oral reports on the benefits derived from the visit.

The Chamber of Commerce concluded that visits of teachers to the various industries and businesses of the city are of vital importance, since they might be better informed and more able to prepare their pupils for the work that they might undertake in future life.

In order to keep pace with the atomic age, the course of study has been gradually changed. It has been enriched to take care of the growing needs of the changing world, and further the knowledge of the pupils at Emma Sansom High School.

16 Responses to History of Emma Sansom High School

  • Good day, I am the WEB master of the gchs titan band web site. I am unable to locate any video of the emma sansom band to post on the titan band web site. I can convert a vhs format to dvd/mp format. please contact me through the email link provided by the webmaster link on the titan band web site if you are able to provide a video of the rebel band.

  • I graduated from Sansom in 1947 and never did see such a write -up regarding the history of the school I love . I am thankful to receive this information and recognized the names of many of the persons named in the article . We were proud to be called the ” Rebels” .

  • I am a 1988 graduate of Emma Sansom High School. In 2008, I established the Gary O. Lewis Scholarship Fund for Gadsden City High School Graduates attending JSU. To date, my two $1,000 annual scholarships have awarded over $10,000. On October 23, 2014, JSU President, Dr. William A. Meehan, will be at the G.O.L. Activity Center, 603 E. Broad Street, Gadsden, Alabama for “An Evening With The President” to help raise funds to increase the current two scholarships to five. You can register for the Scholarship Banquet and Fundraiser and/or donate to the scholarship fund online @ http://www.jsu.edu/giving. For more information, contact Gary O. Lewis at 334-221-2220 or Earl Warren, JSU Development Director, at 1-256-473-0072.

    • Extremely detailed and informative reading. I was so enthused to SEE that this much needed document existed. I was also extremely proud to see the roles that my ancestors played in the school’s development…Dr. R. A. Burns and Mary Burns.

  • Just found this post on Sansom High and loved readinG it. Brings back memories of fun times. I graduated in 1948.
    Just wondering who is still around from our class.

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