Alumni from the historic Mather School in Beaufort are hopeful their legacy will live on through events like the one Friday at Technical College of the Lowcountry.
After speaking to the Beaufort Middle School eighth graders who attended Mather Day, they’re sure it will.
About 25 former students from the historic school founded on the current-day site of TCL attended the college’s Mather Day, an annual celebration commemorating the school and its role in local history.
For at least the past 15 years, Mather School alumni have gathered each February at the Ribaut Road campus for an annual bell ringing ceremony and Founder’s Day celebration. The bell once belonged to the Mather School and was rededicated at TCL during the 2001 Founders Day celebration. Before the bell ringing, the alumni led the students in a rendition of the school’s alma mater.
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At this year’s celebration, TCL invited the eighth-grade class into “story circles” where the students heard from Mather alumni, TCL graduates and current TCL students about the impact of education on their lives, said Leigh Copeland, TCL’s assistant vice president for marketing and public affairs.
Alvesta Robertson, who serves as the local alumni chapter president and worked as the school’s librarian for its final five years of operation, said she was happy to see the students so interested in the school’s history.
“The students have been absolutely great,” she said. “They were spellbound by the stories Mather alumni told. They were prepared. Many of them wanted to know more about the school. It’s the beginning of a legacy continued.”
TCL can trace its ancestry back to the Mather School, founded by Rachel Crane Mather in 1868. Mather was one of hundreds of northern schoolteachers sent south after the Civil War to educate freed slaves. A widow from Boston, she arrived in Beaufort the year before the school’s founding.
Mather’s school sought to provide education for the daughters of former slaves, opening six years after the Penn Center on St. Helena Island was founded. It operated for a century — at one point including a high school and a junior college — before it was closed and sold to the state in 1968.
The previous year, the school’s board of trustees had voted to offer the campus and buildings to the South Carolina State Board of Education for use as a state area trade school. In 1970, it reopened as the Beaufort Regional Training Center. In 1988, the college was renamed for a fourth time to its current moniker, Technical College of the Lowcountry.
The takeaway for many of the students after hearing about a typical day at Mather?
Mather students faced a much tougher schedule, having to walk to school and attend church each morning, Beaufort Middle student Kaedin Grissom said.
Grissom’s classmate, Trinity Harmon, said she was fascinated to learn how the Mather School factored into the reconstruction of Beaufort after the Civil War.
Some of the middle school students learned Friday they had connections to the historic school.
Jayda Scheper said she learned her great-great-grandmother, a teacher at Robert Smalls High School, had once encouraged students to attend the junior college at Mather.
The TCL celebration kicks off a Founders Day Weekend, celebrated each February by Mather School alumni, Robertson said. On Saturday, the alumni chapter will hold a luncheon with about 125 former students and friends of the school coming back to Beaufort from across the southeast, she said. Each year has a theme; this year’s celebration focused on the relationship between the school and local churches where the students attended services each week.
With the last classes held at Mather almost 50 years ago, the youngest graduates from the historic school would be about 64, Mather alum Vernell Young said. Robertson said the oldest living graduates are two sisters who graduated from Mather in 1938 and 1939.
Young, a regular Founders Day attendee from Virginia Beach, Va., for the last 11 years, said the national alumni group currently numbers about 400 people.
“Today is about our history and our legacy, and we applaud TCL for inviting these kids to learn about Mather and its history,” Young said. “This is a part of Beaufort’s history. We are a part of Beaufort’s history.”
The 2016 event — which TCL vice president for institutional success Mary Lee Carns called the inaugural “Mather History and Education Day” — marks a transition in the Mather Day celebrations that may lead to more middle school classes being invited in the future to learn about the school’s impact, she said.
“Beaufort’s contemporary history of education begins with the Matherites,” Carns said. “Their stories are a wonderful example of how education empowers individuals, and we want their history to be a part of the TCL experience. ...We are making sure the Mather name lives on.”