Memminger School

1858–1933

Admission depended on entrance tests and was usually free. The curriculum included courses in education theory and practice, teaching advanced studies in the humanities, mathematics, and science.

Founded in 1858, the State Normal School at Charleston owed its existence to a reform movement that simultaneously erected a modern public school system for the white children of the city, the first in South Carolina. The school was begun by Christopher G. Memminger, a state legislator and chairman of the Charleston school board. Patterned after schools in the northern states, the mission of the Memminger School (as it was called after 1876) was to train female teachers for the state at large as a department of a new city high school for girls (the Charleston High School was then reserved for boys only). The first principal was Frederick A. Sawyer, a native of Boston and future U.S. senator for South Carolina.

Memminger got initial support from state funds and drew students from outside the city. However, the school came to rely primarily on local gifts and taxes. Admission depended on entrance tests and was usually free. The curriculum included courses in education theory and practice, teaching advanced studies in the humanities, mathematics, and science. Eventually, Memminger expanded its scope, providing departments of instruction in domestic science and business. After years of declining enrollments variously attributed to the admission of women to the College of Charleston and wider opportunities for women in the private economy, the flagship Normal Department was discontinued in 1932. By then the school had educated thousands of teachers, business and professional women, and housewives. In 1933 Memminger was reorganized as a comprehensive high school for white girls, offering classical, general, and prevocational courses. In subsequent decades, as secondary schools of Charleston were integrated by gender and race, Memminger emerged as the name of an elementary school.

Jordan, Laylon Wayne. “Education for Community: C. G. Memminger and the Origination of Common Schools in Antebellum Charleston.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 83 (April 1982): 99–115.

Memminger Normal School Papers. Archives and Records, Charleston County Schools, North Charleston.

Taylor, Mary. A History of the Memminger Normal School. Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans, and Cogswell, 1941.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Memminger School
  • Coverage 1858–1933
  • Author
  • Keywords Christopher G. Memminger, modern public school system for the white children of the city, the first in South Carolina first principal was Frederick A. Sawyer,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date March 3, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 15, 2022
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