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The School For Eggheads The Origins of Indian Springs School

(Reference material: the Harvey G. Woodward will; A Man’s Will, Harvey G. Woodward & Indian Springs School, Unpublished Manuscript by Clyde E. Buzzard ®1999, and interview with Gerald Vaughn, current Director of Indian Springs School.)

Mr. Harvey G. Woodward was the son of William Henry and Angeline Woodward. William and his brother Joseph Hershey Woodward were the original Woodward Brothers who organized Woodward Iron Company in 1881. Using $400,000 in cash raised from family members and associates back in Wheeling, West Virginia, they bought thousands of acres of mineral lands a few miles southwest of the new town of Birmingham. Building their own short track railroad they brought iron, coal and limestone from their own mines and quarries and made pig iron with their own blast furnaces. The company was a success almost from the beginning.

When William Henry Woodward died in 1910, Harvey G. Woodward inherited his fortune estimated at between three and five million dollars. The basis of the fortune was commercial real estate, mainly the ownership of the Brown-Marx Building, the Woodward Building and the John Hand Bank Building along with thousands of shares of Woodward Iron Company and 18,000 shares of First National Bank stock.

Harvey Woodward was a reclusive man who had been raised in New England, attending, but not graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While living his adult life in Birmingham, he shunned any social involvement in the Birmingham District. Disdaining any religious beliefs, he preferred to stay in his home and work on his stamp collection and, later on, to work on his will. Occasionally he would be aggressively anti-social refusing to let visitors in his door. Other than Woodward family gatherings and shared family business he did not participate socially in any way.

A solitary bachelor until he was in his forties, he married Annie Louise Chase of Ithaca, New York, fourteen years his junior. He earned the reputation of a pinch-penny who gave his wife a minimal allowance for clothes and a small budget for food. He discouraged her from having any social activity. He liked to wear work clothes such as overalls out in public (very shocking at the time for a man of his class and wealth) and could sometimes be seen polishing the brass doors of the Wood-ward Building or riding up and down in the elevators of the Brown-Marx Building making sure they were working to his satisfaction.

Woodward died at age 65 of what now would be called congestive heart failure on November 18, 1930. He had been hospitalized for six weeks in Portland, Maine, near the family’s summer home at Weld, Maine. He and his wife, Annie Louise, were childless. In his will dated May 23, 1930, while he made generous provision for her, he directed that the bulk of his estate be used to build and finance a school.

He endowed this school in his will of 23 May 1930, with three million dollars. Those were 1930 dollars, which were then the same as 150,000 twenty dollar gold United States double eagle coins of one ounce weight each (with a total weight of a little less than 5 tons!). With the price of gold now over $1,000 an ounce, today’s value would be over one hundred-fifty million dollars! Then, as now, a great fortune.

Immense problems immediately cropped up. His widow filed a dissent nine days after the will was submitted to probate. The tax questions relating to the estate were many and very complicated. No wonder his precise, detailed twenty-five page Will was fought over for twenty years. His fortune was not in gold double eagles, it was tied up in various commercial real estate properties such as the Brown Marx Building and the Woodward building and stocks. Since the Wall Street crash of October, 1929, property and stock values dropped and would continue to drop for years. Also both federal and state income taxes had to paid immediately. The values of all the properties were in great flux with no agreement of valuation reached. The Will would be argued in court for twenty-two years before the school would open.

Perhaps Woodward saw what he considered to be an orderly white Anglo-Saxon protestant society crumbling due to the horrible unexpected consequences of Prohibition and then the economic slide into the Great Depression. Woodward may have thought that most colleges and universities were educational frauds and an inefficient waste of a serious student’s time and his family’s money. He certainly knew that the South was twenty to forty years behind the rest of the country in both educational and technological levels. But, for whatever reason, he wanted a school for young men which was to be run in accordance with his ideas.

Woodward had never run or taught at a secondary school. He had read the educational theories of John Dewey (of Dewey Decimal System fame), Charles Elliot, Thomas Huxley and others of the Progressive Education movement. But, he had no real idea of the skills and experience needed to teach, control and lead a large group of boys. He hoped that schools following his ideas would spread all over the South.

At that time, well-to-do Southerners thought that they should send their sons to expensive college preparatory schools like Lawrenceville Academy in Lawrenceville, New Jersey and then on to an ivy league college or university in order to get the best education. Woodward felt that a properly trained boy could recognize his talents and strengths and then intelligently work to increase them in a way that best suited him.

Woodward wrote in his Will these objectives, ideas and goals for his school’s students:

“The general objects of this school are: to furnish the average boy with a basic knowledge and appreciation of the environment in which he lives and especially of himself and his fellow man; to help him to realize the daily life the average person must live; to control his emotional and sentimental impulses and to face the facts; to supply some basic knowledge of all the basic sciences, taught in a coordinated correlated way; to enable the boy to earn a living; to make his life more worth living, by deriving the maximum of happiness from it.”
“The basic idea of the school is to make for the boy of sound mind and body, the best foundation for real manhood and citizenship. It is self evident that the best superstructure on a weak foundation must eventually show the poor foundation. It is intended to give the boy as many experiences, in the use of all his senses as possible, so that he may be able to attain maximum use of hands and mind in daily life.”
“One of the objects of this school is, so training the mind and body of the pupil that he may apply his own faculties to facts which come to his knowledge throughout life and arrive at sound and proper conclusions”.
“...so that on their entrance into manhood they, in the practice of the principles of truth, morality and justice and by right living, may assist in elevating American citizenship...”

The school was to have a maximum of 200 students and be ideally built on a site of about six hundred and forty acres with three hundred and twenty acres considered minimum. It was to be at least fifteen miles from any town of ten thousand in population. This meant that the school would have to be sited far away from any urban area. The small size of the student body meant that each teacher and the headmaster would be able to have acquaintance with all the students. The school was also to have a functioning farm on the property to raise needed vegetables and fruit for the school and to give the boys familiarity with growing things.

The headmaster was to be over the age of thirty-five and under the age of fifty. It would take an active energetic man to look after the school:

“...who is interested in and likes boys, and knows their psychology, who has had much experience with them, who is not wedded to any “system,” who sees and approves of this scheme as a whole, who has a minimum of prejudices, intolerance and of “cocksureness”.

The instructors were to be vigorous men of good character at least thirty years old. They were to be from “the North” – north of Cincinnati, Ohio. He wanted the students to see and benefit from the industry and drive which were more often found in northern men. The school was to have not less than one instructor for each ten pupils.

Woodward may also have wanted the boys’ deep southern accents modified or lessened and for them to be quicker in their physical actions. Even today when all other stereotypes are shunned, a person with a deep southern accent and slow drawl is stereotyped as slower mentally than others from regions like the northeast who speak much more quickly.

Mr. Woodward also considered the library to be a sacred place and books to be treated with utmost respect. It was to be a large fireproof structure (which meant brick in those days, usually) with open book shelves and plenty of tables and chairs with an open fireplace that is to be used. It was to be open and accessible to the boys and to be used as a quiet meeting place for the boys. He wished the boys to be taught how to properly use books and to be careful in their handling by the male librarian who also supposed to be one of the teaching staff and to interest the boys in books.

The other school buildings were to be plain, but of good and lasting construction allowing for a minimum cost of upkeep. No architectural display or other costly embellishments were to be on the buildings. He believed that a school really consists of its teachers and pupils with the plant merely incidental.

A one story shop of not less than thirty by fifty feet was to be equipped with hand tools for the working of wood, metal, leather and other common materials. The work benches and other furniture were to be made by the boys. The boys were to be allowed to do as they chose in their own time. Teachers were to advise on the work done, if asked to do so. Woodward felt that all skills helped a man become independent and perhaps learn and appreciate a talent and interest that would stand him in good stead the rest of his life.

Students were to be required to live in dormitories and required to care for their own rooms and the dormitory building. The faculty was not to encourage student activities which were likely to divide the students into cliques. The occupancy of the dormitories was to be democratic, the types and ages of boys mixed. Fraternities or secret societies were not to be permitted among the students. “Spending money” – money for the boy’s personal pleasure – was required to be left with the head master. It was only given to the boys at such times and such quantity as the faculty decided best and never so as to cause jealousy among the poorer boys.

The summer vacation of not over three months was to be the main vacation. Saturday afternoon, Sunday and not over six legal holidays were allowed to be granted during the rest of the year. Woodward felt during the school months visitors were to be discouraged, since they would distract the boys’ attention. Also to limit “distraction” of the boys, he did not want women to be employed as teachers, but could be employed in other capacities and as “dorm mothers”. These “motherly” women would be not less than forty years of age and one would reside in each dormitory. He probably would have liked the school to run 12 months a year with the students cloistered from “bad outside influences.”

Some of Woodward’s directions were distinctly liberal by today’s standards. He wanted there to be as few rules as possible. He thought discipline would be by trust in the boys’ inherent fairness, and by the boys own relations with each other. Punishments would be by the withdrawal of privileges for the most part. Sundays were to be the boys own day with no required church attendance or services. Grades were to be either “Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory”. There were to be no graduation exercises or commencement, except for members of the school alone, if the headmaster thought desirable. While Intramural athletics were allowed, Woodward wished that aesthetic things such as music bands, glee clubs, sketching, photography, etc. be favored.

Taken out of context of his time’s mores or without perspective of his life experiences or what he thought truly important for the boys’ life experience, some of Woodward’s wishes sound not only biased but absolutely racist to us nowadays, if not illegal.

He directed that he preferred students who were of (1) those with English or British ancestry; (2) those best fitted to do well in the school; (3) those born in Alabama, in order named. Each pupil was to be a natural born citizen whose parents were of the Caucasian or white race. No Jew or Hebrew, referring to his race not his religion, shall be eligible, or shall be admitted. He bluntly wrote that this was not intended as a reflection upon the people of that race or nation, but the object for which the school was founded would, in his opinion, be best accomplished by designating the students of English or British ancestry.

Woodward had seen in his lifetime a huge migration from the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe areas. With them came radical ideas of anarchy, trade unionism and Bolshevism. He may have worried that the original English, Welsh and Scots-Irish Protestant Southern blood lines would be overwhelmed by the new immigrants.

Woodward thought Negroes to be a bad influence on young white boys. During the wide open, anything goes prohibition era, “Roaring Twenties”, all its attendant lawless activities were especially open and blatant in the black shanty towns. He stated his orders in a blunt and insensitive manner:

“It is directed that members of the Ethiopian or Negroid races shall not be employed as house or culinary servants or in the buildings of the school, or on the grounds, except as common laborers and then only as necessary. This due to the probability of pupils unconsciously acquiring the Negro’s type of actions, language, lack of real observation, and way of thinking.”

In 1952 the Indian Springs School opened its doors as a college preparatory boarding school starting at ninth grade with ten faculty members and sixty boys. The site for the school is on 238 acres which are listed on the Shelby County tax plat map as still owned by the Harvey Woodward Estate just south of Birmingham in what was then rural Shelby County. The dormitories were simple one story bungalows with the main dining hall and class rooms built using simple, but pleasant brick designs.

The first director of ISS was an inspired choice. Dr. Lewis Armstrong, a progressive educator from Peabody College in Nashville, recognized that different students learned in different ways and encouraged the students to learn in the ways that best suited each individual. A well experienced intelligent educator who truly cared about his students and the school, “Doc” Armstrong set Indian Springs along the path it follows today.

Dr. Armstrong and his faculty thus began facilitating the lifelong process of self-education, self-motivation and talent self-discovery in students. This approach was certainly different from the then standardized “memorize what we tell you to and spit it back” approach that most other schools used. (As someone with Attention Deficit Disorder who never did well in school, I most certainly understand and approve of what Harvey Woodward wanted his school to accomplish. Most of my education really came through books read on my own.)

Opposed to a standard school with a curriculum rigidly set by the state or headmaster in charge, this school would be based on the radical concept that students and faculty would work together towards a model of “shared governance.” A constitution was written that explained clearly the responsibilities of students and faculty in the day-to-day operation of the school. It was planned that the school would be run like a small town. The student government would be given a strong voice in how the school would evolve. The school was a success from the start with the graduates going on to distinguished colleges around the nation.

In order to make this radical concept work, the students needed to be both intelligent and to have the intellectual capacity to understand that they would actively have to work towards their own education; that is kids who liked learning and going to school. The school enviously became known as “the school for eggheads”.

Dr. Armstrong also began the Indian Springs tradition of financial aid to deserving students. If he thought a young man should be at Indian Springs, he found a way to get him into school. Sometimes the school finances were tight enough to make Dr. Armstrong’s wishes risky to his own position. Throughout the years, the school was in the forefront of social change. It quietly broke racial and gender barriers in order to fulfill its goal, to educate those who want to use their intelligence to better themselves and those around them.

Today Indian Springs teaches students from the eighth grade through the twelfth grade. The student to teacher ratio is eight students to each teacher. Twenty-five international students from across the world study there. The scholarship endowments have grown and are at their highest levels. Director Gerald Vaughn thinks that the school will remain small with the students and faculty being able to know and understand one another. That is part of the success of the school.

While the school site is a little smaller than Woodward wished, the beautiful, pastoral campus would please him. He could not have imagined how the ten years of the Great Depression and then the four years of World War Two would change the United States and its citizens. In 1950, twenty years after Woodward’s death, no one could have predicted or imagined the even greater changes to our society which would occur in the next sixty years.

Yet, Indian Springs School endures and thrives. It intelligently changed as the country changed. Woodward wanted his school’s students to be leaders in their communities to the best of their abilities. Considering how well its graduates have turned out over almost six decades, Harvey G. Woodward would be pleased.


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