A charismatic individual who never removed himself from the textile community, Hollis inspired countless anecdotes depicting self-effacing humor, his inspirational traits as educator, and his fundamental “faith in the common man.”
Educator, social worker. Hollis was born on a cotton farm in Chester County on November 29, 1883, the son of Peter Hollis, a farmer, and Juliet Gaston. He graduated from South Carolina College in 1905, and on June 5, 1907, he married Emma Clyde. The couple had four children. From 1923 to 1951 Hollis served as superintendent of the Parker School, considered one of the more innovative progressive schools in the United States.
In 1911, while employed with the Young Men’s Christian Association, Hollis became director of welfare activities for the Monaghan Mill and Parker Cotton Mills in Greenville County. In this role he organized mill communities to create a school district of elementary and secondary schools. “Dr. Pete,” as he was affectionately called, merged his belief in progressive education with the vocational needs of the community. The Parker School, called a “Mill-Town Miracle” in a 1941 issue of Reader’s Digest, served as a model for progressive, community schools, while the Parker District established basic health, aesthetic, vocational, general education, leisure, and environmental programs for both students and adults. Hollis is widely recognized for bringing the sport of basketball to South Carolina, organizing the first troop of Boy Scouts in the state, developing an adult education “People’s College” for mill community residents, and creating an annual “Singing Christmas Tree” holiday event.
A charismatic individual who never removed himself from the textile community, Hollis inspired countless anecdotes depicting self-effacing humor, his inspirational traits as educator, and his fundamental “faith in the common man.” Mary Ariail and Nancy Smith in Weaver of Dreams recorded his educational beliefs as merging family and school: “The school should be the center of a community, and from its doors should flow ideas, love of learning, improvement of home life, readiness for jobs, friendship and love.” Hollis represented a family-like presence as he offered advice to Parker students and parents on topics ranging from vocational opportunities to home furnishings. He worked to balance the wishes of employers, who sought a stable, educated, satisfied labor force, with the hopes of an illiterate, poverty-stricken, itinerant community that saw education as an opportunity for advancement. In doing so, Hollis may be questioned for his paternalism and “malefic generosity,” a common criticism of progressive education, where the motives of the educator may be seen as self-serving. Under Hollis’s direction, the Parker School embraced the objectives of welfare capitalism as they produced a loyal and productive workforce.
With school consolidation in 1951 in an effort to “equalize” education and justify “separate but equal” school systems, Hollis retired as the Parker District merged with over eighty other districts to form the Greenville County School District. His retirement prompted many accolades, including Greenville’s Man of the Year, the Retired Educator of South Carolina award, and inclusion in Look magazine’s one hundred outstanding educators. Hollis died in Greenville on December 13, 1978, and was buried in Springwood Cemetery.
Ariail, Mary G., and Nancy J. Smith. Weaver of Dreams: “A History of the Parker District.” Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1977.
Tippett, James S. Schools for a Growing Democracy. Boston: Ginn, 1936.