The College Owl

Donna Lambeth of Winston-Salem recently shared with us a story that was written by her late grandmother, Eliza Howard Pearsall Brooks, who was born in Clinton in 1889. Eliza Howard, as she was called, was the daughter of Jeremiah J. Pearsall and Eliza Howard Moseley Pearsall of Clinton. Jeremiah, a Confederate veteran, worked as a salesman at a dry goods store while his wife, Eliza, was a music teacher.

Sometime around 1880, Jeremiah built a Gothic-style house on Johnson Street that still stands today. He and Eliza had several children, four girls, and one boy. The girls attended the Clinton Female Institute, a well-respected private girls school founded in the 1850s by Lucas C. Graves.

The population of Clinton grew from just over 200 people in 1860 to about 1,000 by 1900. That year the Clinton Female Institute became a public school and its name changed to the Clinton School. Prof. D.L. Ellis served as its first principal.

In 1905 Eliza Howard Pearsall was 15 years old and a student at the Clinton School. That year, Prof. Ellis, who also served as an English teacher, required his students to create and write a story of their choosing. Eliza Howard decided to share a brief but well-written history of her school, as told through the eyes of a wise old owl.

About fifty years ago Clinton was not so large as it is now, nor so prosperous. The property holders and influential men of the town saw if something was not done their town instead of growing would be back. Numbers of young girls of the town were being sent off to school as there were not sufficient educational advantages here to fit them for the duties and positions of life, their parents desired for them. So, the citizens all met together and talked over the situation and considered it well and thoughtfully. They finally concluded to raise as much money as was necessary and build a college here for the education of the daughters of Eastern North Carolina. The amount raised was about $5000 (five thousand dollars) and plans were immediately set on [for] to build and equip a number one Female Institute. The Institute was built in 1850 and completed in 1852, the lot being given by Mr. W.B. Mears. The founders of this Institute were as follows; W.C. Draughon, John R. Beaman, William A. Faison, Alfred Johnson, John L. Boykin, Dr. Henry Asher Bizzell, Judge A.A. McKoy and Amma B. Chestnutt. These gentlemen were also the first trustees but are all dead now. But now the owl wants to speak a word or two

Ladies and Gentlemen; —

The scenes that I witness every day, carry me back to years of 1800 when similar scenes were enacted on these same old grounds. It does my old heart good and cheers me to know that in my last days there is going on a school here in my old home as good and even perhaps better, than the first one.

I must tell you how I came here. I was quite hungry one evening when I was first sent out to make my own living by my honored father and mother. I came out from my home in the woods behind the College earlier than I thought it was, it being a cloudy day. I flew up in one of the beautiful large oaks near the school building to wait till it was darker before going out to search for my supper. This is what I saw and heard.

Girls of all sizes and ages walking about two and two and sitting around in groups; some laughing and talking; some studying and some walking about in the beautiful flower garden in the right-hand corner of grounds in front of Stewart’s Hall, which was the residence that Mr. Stewart is living in now. Over in left side of grounds, I saw groups of the smaller and younger girls playing and walking around the Primary and Art rooms, these two being under one roof, and these rooms being the one large room that Mr. Scot uses for his kitchen now. I could also hear sweet music, both vocal and instrumental issuing from the front music rooms, and the two in the end of each wing.

I was so intently engaged listening and looking that I was startled at the ringing of a supper bell, so much startled that involuntarily I flapped my wings and flew and alighted here on this old belfry. Seeing a little window that could fly in at I immediately flew in and startled a little mouse which I instantly grabbed and began my supper on. As I sat in there, others came out ran about which I also appropriated to my own use, that of my evening meal. It was such a secure comfortable place that I at once moved in and commenced housekeeping and am here right on. I will try and tell you as much about the school as I can remember, but as I’m getting right old and inform now many things have escaped my memory.

One bright sunny morning a certain band of men I have already told you about, came up here and had their large old building begin in 1850 and in 1852 it was completed. In April of that same year, the first scholastic year of Clinton Female Institute was opened in this very building. That incident has and always will be a memorable fact in the history of Clinton. On this particular morning numbers of beautiful young women from all Eastern North Carolina began work in earnest in this College.

The first Principal of this school was Mr. Luke C. Graves who taught a number of years from 1852 to 1869 when he died of blood poison resulting from a splinter stuck in his arm. He was succeeded by his brother Rev / N.G. Graves a Presbyterian Minister. Some of the first faculty under Mr. L.C. Graves (Principal) were Miss Handy, Miss Mary and Mattie Holton, Miss Goodman, Miss Gleason, Miss Anna and Mattie Ray, Miss Horton and Mr. and Mrs. Stradella. Most of the ladies were from the North. Mr. Stradella was a German and was the music teacher, Mrs. Stradella was a foreigner and was the art teacher. I often think of their only little child, a beautiful blue-eyed curly-headed boy, and wonder where little Willie is now whom we all petted and loved so much. Miss Norton, I think was the finest primary teacher I ever knew of and a lovely Christian character. In fact, all were estimable perfect ladies. We were made very sad at one time by the death of the mother of our Principal’s wife, Mrs. Handy, which occurred over at Stewart’s Hall. We all loved her much and mourned her loss. The School has always been nonsectarian, teachers being of all denominations. About one hundred & fifty women from Eastern N.C. were there educated and fitted for life’s duties. The School continued during the Civil War and was distinguished for its musical department from the first.

The Course of study was Reading, Writing, Spelling, Geography, Grammar, Mathematics, Philosophy, Chemistry, Astronomy, Botany, Mythology, Evidences of Christianity, Physiology, Logic, Latin, French and German, Music both Vocal and Instrumental. The College had also a well-equipped Laboratory with all suitable and necessary apparatus for illustrating and teaching the Sciences. Right outside the Laboratory back door was a well and as blind as I am in daylight I was compelled to come out on the roof one day to see what the cause of the unusual commotion was. One of the pupils, Willie Micks, had fallen in the well, they soon got him out without his being at all hurt, but pretty wet and frightened.

Why as I look out now sometimes on the grounds I can see numbers of children and grandchildren of these students first educated here under Mr. Luke C. Graves.

After the death of Mr. Graves, his brother Rev. Nelson Z. Graves took the School and ran it a term and part of another, assisted by his nephew, Mr. Thomas L. Graves, a son of Mr. Luke C. Graves. Some of their teachers were Miss Ann Hobbs, Prof. Joseph Bamford (music teacher), Miss Youngie Ewett and Miss Emily Bamford (Prof. Bamford’s daughter) and others. After this Rev. Nelson Z. Graves left Clinton and went to Goldsboro.

Mrs. Edward L. Faison then ran the School for a year or so very successfully. The Grave’s estate being in debt, the two sons, Mr. Thomas L. Graves and Mr. Nelson Z. Graves, sold their property to divide and settle up the estate. Rev. Jonathan L. Stewart and several other gentlemen bought the property on the condition that it was to be kept and used for school purposes. Rev. Mr. Jonathan Stewart (Baptist Minister) taught a few years but being a lawyer also and liking that profession better, hired Mr. Benjamin F. Grady to teach for him.

Rev. J.N. Stallings (a Baptist Minister) next taught, assisted by T.R. Cooper Esq. Mr. Jim Murphy next taught a mixed school up here. Then Miss Mary Anderson (now Lady Principal of Presbyterian Female School of Red Springs) had quite an efficient and flourishing mixed boarding school for a number of years.

Then Mrs. Skinner and Durham and Mr. Hooper held schools of short duration here.

Next Mr. Earnest Hobbs rented the building and taught a while. For a year or two then there was no school at all in the College.

Then came the first Graded School of Clinton. Prof E.P. Mangum as Superintendent, and it was indeed a fine school for four years. He left for a more lucrative position and was succeeded by Prof Edwards, and Prof Edwards by Prof Creekmore. Next was a private school of two years duration taught by Mr. Benjamin F. Grady.

Then came Mr. Bruce Craven who taught one year. The following year Miss Mary Stewart, a daughter of Jonathan L. Stewart, sold the College to the town of Clinton for a Graded School which brings up to the year of 1906 with Prof. D.L. Ellis as Supt. Much beloved and esteemed by all patrons and pupils.

One thing I notice now, very plainly, the ways and methods of teaching are very different from what they were in my young days.

In 1911 Eliza Howard married Archie D. Brooks, a railroad engineer from Hamlet, NC. They spent their first years raising a family there and later in Raleigh. Eliza Howard passed away in 1986.

At the age of 94, the wise old owl had indeed seen quite a lot.