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Schools in Beaumont trace to pre-Civil War

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise, Sunday August 8, 1999.

NEDERLAND -- Although this writer can document the existence of a schoolhouse in both Orange and Sabine Pass in 1847, he has not found proof of a schoolhouse in Beaumont prior to 1850. Nevertheless A. L. Kavanaugh and John A. Woods were Beaumont teachers, but one or both of them may have been private family tutors.

In Feb. 1854, Beaumont became county school district No. 1, with McGuire Chaison and Dr. George Hawley as trustees. Tuition was $2 monthly, but a new state law soon provided reimbursement to teachers for the children of indigent families.

Between 1854 and 1858, two schools were being taught in Beaumont by Henry G. Willis, James Ingalls, and Henry R. Green. Willis taught at the "Corn (Calder) Street School," which in 1856 had 75 students, whereas Green taught at the "Pine Street School," which also had about 75 students.

In 1858, the County Board of School Examiners was created, and thereafter no one could teach without a county certificate of qualification.

In 1859 A. N. Vaughn founded Beaumont Male and Female Academy, but he quit in Jan. 1860, to publish the Beaumont Banner. Vaughn was replaced by Felix O. Yates, whose school curriculum included "reading, writing, spelling, mathematics, drawing, and painting."

The Civil War and early Reconstruction years virtually obliterated education in Beaumont. The tragedy is well-documented in the 1870 census, which listed only 4 schools, each averaging 1 teacher and 27 students, in all of Jefferson County. With a school age population of 568, ages 8-12, in that year, it appeared that 450 students in the county were not attending school.

Beaumont education received a significant boost in 1872 when Beaumont Academy was founded, and tuition there was free in all departments except music. The teachers were George H. Stovall, "assisted by Rev. Scarborough," Mrs. C. Junker, and Mrs. O. Rigsby. The curriculum included grammar, writing, literature, arithmetic, languages, algebra, geometry, music, and art.

By 1876 Mrs. Rigsby and Mrs. T. A. Lamb began operating private schools. By 1879 there were 6 schools for white children and 2 schools for black children in Beaumont. Rev. Woodson Pipkin, Charles Charlton, and Elisha Adams were the first black schoolteachers in Beaumont.

The Enterprise of June 25, 1881 published a long account of the semester exercises and grades at Beaumont Academy. A visiting editor (Mar. 12, 1881) also observed that:

"...The Beaumont Academy was visited; the building, erected 2 years ago, is 1 story only, but is large, roomy, and well-furnished. And if Beaumont can pride herself on any one thing, it is from all accounts her most excellent school. It draws students from all the surrounding areas..."

Beaumont became a graded school system in 1884. The 8th grade was added in 1889; the 9th grade in 1890; and the 10th grade in 1892. For a portion of the school term of 1896-1897, the schools were closed because state funds were depleted.

Between 1900-1910, the Beaumont schools received accreditation in all disciplines in liberal and fine arts, science, math, and languages. In 1909 a bond issue carried, which permitted the building of 3 more brick schools.

Beaumont school enrollment skyrocketed following the Spindletop oil strike, expanding from 427 scholars in 1880 to 30,511 in 1930. And obviously, 150 years of school history cannot be compacted into a single newspaper column. Today there are about as many schools in Beaumont as there were scholars in 1856.

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