A look at Tipton County’s historical schools
By Sherri Onorati, Special to The Leader
This summer, The Leader is continuing its summer series on Tipton County’s former community schools. At one time, there were more than 100 community schools located throughout Tipton County. These stories are about those historical schools, the teachers and the students, which helped developed Tipton County’s educational system into one of the best in the state. This week takes a look at Cooper School, one of the county’s separate colored schools.
Cooper School Beginnings
Cooper School was located in the southeaster part of Tipton County around the Kerrville / Stenville area. The first classes to begin at Cooper School started in July 1915, shortly after the one-room, wooden schoolhouse was built on approximately two acres and continued until 1943 when it was closed down. Early descriptions of the school building state the classroom was approximately 30 x 40 feet, with windows on three sides, typical of school houses of the time. It was heated by an ordinary stove and cooled in the summer months by the outside breezes. There were no indoor plumbing; in fact, no water was located on the grounds. There were no desks for the students to use, or for the teachers. They sat side by side on wooden benches as the teacher taught their lessons on the pasteboard which served as the school’s blackboard. During recess time, those first students had a solidarity basketball to play with.
The rural school taught the children of the area’s farmers and sharecroppers, mostly from the families of Cooper, Weaver, Jones, Armstrong, Robinson, Washington, Hayes, Green, Strong, Hill, Stevenson, Morning, Crenshaw Cothrane and Williams. Students’ ages 5 to 18 years of age attended the 1st through 8th grades in the same classroom. The school day began at 8:30 a.m. and continued until 3:30 p.m Monday through Friday. The daily schedule included 35 minutes of spelling, 105 minutes of reading, 70 minutes of writing and 105 minutes of arithmetic for all grades. While the younger children practiced their lessons, 4th grade through 8th grade students had additional instruction in language, physiology, hygiene, geography and history. During the early years, the children were also given three periods of recess for a total of 95 minutes. They also had a period of devotion for 15 minutes a day. Textbooks used included Child’s World for reading, Numberland for arithmetic, New World for Hygiene and Riverside for reading.
The first teacher book available for Cooper records the 1922-23 school term. Not much is included in it, other than the names of the 26 students who attended that year.
The 1924-25 term had a bit more information in it. The school year began on July 28, 1924 and continued until April 10, 1925. Twenty-five year old Mattie Taylor was the teacher and she revealed in her record book that she was a widow. She lived in Memphis on the corner of Highland and Central and would travel to Tipton County each week to teach. She was paid just $40 a month to teach 112 students for the 100-day term but also charged $10 a month in room and board so she did not have to travel to Memphis back and forth each day. Taylor had been a teacher for four years already and had spent the past year at Cooper School. She was issued a 2nd grade certificate on June 30, 1923. She listed seven students as having completed the year with perfect attendance – Georgia Williams, Walter Connoly, Atha Strong, Exils Willis, two students with the last name of Jones and Sarah Lee Willis.
The 1928-29 school year had Ruth Watkins as teacher of the 13-year old school. She was a 22-year old single young lady who had two years of teaching under her belt. She was teaching on a permit and also paid $40 a month. Watkins wrote that she had attended A & I State College in Nashville for six weeks over the summer and received 15 hours of credit. At the end of the school year, she mentioned that 8-year old John Edd Johnson and his 10-year old sister, Fannie C. Johnson, children of Tom Johnson, were the only students to have perfect attendance. Both children were promoted to the 4th grade.
Willie Washington of Covington was the teacher at the end of 1932. She was a former student of the Tipton County Training School and a graduate of Frazier High School. She was 20 years old and had been a teacher already for three years. She earned $40 a month in salary and paid $12 a month in room and board costs. Washington had 77 students that year in grades 1st through 7th. Her account of the year told the school board that the students still had no desks, only benches to use, one bell, one piece of chalk, two erasers, one broom, two buckets and one dipper. She recommended that the school be given a shovel for coal, a new stove, new window sashes, another broom and dipper and a new blackboard and desks.
Two years later, See Ever Pryor, 28, reveals that only a few of Washington’s requests were met. There were still no desks and no new blackboard but the students did now have use of 12 slate boards and six sticks of chalk. She was not very kind to the almost 20-year old building in her description of it.
“The roof is in bad condition and leaks on the north side, no gutter, there is one door and it’s bad. The walls are bad, the steps are bad, there is no paint but the floor is very good. The whole building needs improvement.” She went on to say that there were no furniture, the cardboard blackboard was in very poor condition, the stove and chimney was bad, “The school needs repairs in every way. No books and nothing of value.”
The last teacher who taught at Cooper School was Eddie L. Heaston, who taught at Cooper School for a total of seven years until it closed its doors in 1943. Heaston was born on April 7, 1915 and was just 22 years old when she started at Cooper, although she had been a teacher already for four years. She was married with two dependents and received $63 a month in compensation. Her certificate #54461 was renewed on July 30, 1936. She proudly wrote that the school had 47 books in the school library with a value of $39.50.
In 1941, she promoted two students, Marchess Sneed, 15 and James Williams, 18, to the 9th grade, receiving their 8th grade certificates on May 16 of that year.
During her last year as a teacher at Cooper, Heaston, who added Cothern to her name, wrote, “This has been a very successful years work and the students has nearly completed their books.”
Her last students to be promoted to the 9th grade from Cooper were 15-year old Rosie Lee Williams, daughter of Fannie Drake and Sollie Sneed, Jr., 14, son of Sollie Sneed, Sr. Young Rosie earned an 87 arithmetic, 84 in civics, 87 in English, 85 in TN history, 83 in music, 84 in health and physical ed., 96 in reading, 97 in spelling and a 97 in writing. Sollie earned an 88 in arithmetic, 82 in civics, 84 in English, 89 in TN history, 84 in music, 88 in health and physical ed., 89 in reading, 86 in spelling and an 88 in writing.
The list of verifiable teachers who taught the students at Cooper School included:
1915-17 Magnolia Hicks
1918-19 Carrie Newton
1920 Bertha Scott
1921 Annie B. Thompson, Pearl Chatman
1922 Florence Elrod
1923 Mertus Strong, Mattie Taylor
1924-25 Mattie Taylor
1926 Carrie C. Hall
1927 Nancy Butler, Euphema Hall
1928 Euphema Hall
1929 Ruth Watkins
1930 Ruth Watkins, Cassie Watkins
1931 Cassie W. Smith
1932-33 Willie Washington
1934-36 See Ever Pryor
1937-42 Eddie L. Heaston
1943 Eddie L. Heaston Cothern
Anyone with additional information or pictures on Cooper School or any Tipton County community school is encouraged to contact Sherri Onorati at 237-0422 or [email protected]