In 1873 the South Carolina General Assembly, recognizing a need for trained teachers to educate African American citizens following the Civil War, passed “an act to provide for the establishment and support of a State Normal School.” The legislators appropriated $25,000 for the school’s support and directed the governor to appoint its board of regents. Although the turmoil of Reconstruction politics and the poverty of the state treasury combined to leave the State Normal School underfunded and short-lived, the institution managed to offer a significant example of public teacher training for African Americans and to educate dozens of students who later influenced several generations of schoolchildren.

The school’s board of regents leased a building on the campus of the University of South Carolina and hired as principal Mortimer Warren, a well-regarded educator and former principal of the Avery Institute in Charleston. The State Normal School opened with seventeen students on September 1, 1874. Warren quickly realized that only a small portion of the appropriated funding would ever become available. He used encyclopedias donated by Shaw School in Charleston and maps borrowed from the University of South Carolina to establish a full curriculum of teaching theory and practice, history, geography, mathematics, geometry, English, and the constitution of South Carolina. While principal of the State Normal School, Warren also founded and edited the first journal for South Carolina teachers, the Carolina Teacher, which was printed on a press operated by students at the school.

The demand for teachers of African American youths prompted most students at the growing State Normal School to begin teaching in South Carolina schools before graduating. By 1877, however, the return of the Democratic Party to state leadership signaled the end of public education for future African American teachers, and the legislature refused to provide any funding for the State Normal School. One of the eight women who graduated in Rutledge Chapel on the closing day of the school on May 31, 1877, was Celia Emma Dial (1857–1935). As Celia Dial Saxon, she pursued a noteworthy fifty-five-year career in teaching and civic leadership in and around Columbia and was inducted into the South Carolina Black Hall of Fame in 1995.

Thomason, John Furman. The Foundations of the Public Schools of South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: State Company, 1925.

United States. Bureau of Education. Report of the Commissioner of Education Made to the Secretary of the Interior for the Year 1874 with Accompanying Papers. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1875.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title State Normal School
  • Author Katherine Reynolds Chaddock
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date March 31, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date August 1, 2016
  • Date of Last Update November 18, 2016