Pictured above is the first girls basketball team at Itawamba Agricultural High School during the 1921-22 school year. A special thanks to Janie Comer of Fulton for sharing this old photograph with the readers of Itawamba History Review.
The beginnings of the Itawamba Agricultural High School can be traced back to shortly after 1910 when a fund amounting to $1,354.67 was raised by a county tax levy for the purpose of “maintaining an Agricultural High School.” However it was not until more than ten years later that actual construction began on the facility.
During 1919, the trustees of The Itawamba Agricultural High School began acquiring the property for the new school to be located west of the town square of Fulton under the hill. During June of 1919 the trustees received properties from the W.L. Gaither estate, Isaac Lewis Sheffield, J.A. Senter, and W.G. Orr. Later in December of the same year properties were received from Mrs. Annie Gaither and M.C. Benson for a total school acreage of nearly one hundred acres.
The first contractor who signed a contract to build the school backed down, so a new contract was let. By May of 1921, construction was underway and on May 19th of that year a cornerstone ceremony was held at the Administration Building site where thousands of Itawambians attended.
Only two buildings were completed before the school opened during September of 1921 – the Administration Building and Dormitory. The Itawamba Agricultural High school officially opened at 10 a.m. September 19th, 1921 with registration and opening exercises with nearly 150 students.
The Administration Building housed the class rooms and the second floor was used as a dormitory for the male students, as the boy's dormitory wasn't completed until later in the 1921-22 school session. The dining room, kitchen, parlors and female students were housed in the two-story dormitory building. Many of the first male students were housed in private homes in Fulton. The Itawamba County News posted a plea from the county superintendent of education for the people of the town to rent rooms to the young men who wanted to attend the school, as there was not enough room in the Administration Building to house them. It is interesting to note that from the beginning, the school was a boarding school. Since there were no paved roads and very few graveled roads in the county, daily transportation was difficult for those students in outlying areas of the county, in order to attend school in Fulton.
The first school catalog shows the main purpose of the school at the time seemed to fit the students for better farmers and farm home-makers. A note from the catalog reads in part: “Since a large percent of our pupils will come from the farm and will probably return to the farm, it becomes our duty to teach them how to make the most of their farms, how to improve the farm home and how to make country life more enjoyable, more profitable and a better place in which to live. There will be a few of our graduates, and we hope they may be many, who will desire to continue their training in the college and university.”
The Itawamba Agricultural High School was available free to any student in Itawamba County, but those from outside the county were charged $10 per session. Board in the dormitory was on the cooperative plan, with costs being split among the number of pupils and teachers at the end of the month. Each boarding student was required to keep a board deposit of $15, on deposit. Each pupil was also required to do 5 to 10 hours practical labor each week. Additional labor was paid for at the rate of eight cents to twelve cents per hour, depending on the quality of work.
The first school play was presented on October 21, 1921. “The Sweet Family” was presented by the ladies of the faculty and several of the female students. The admission price of 15 cents and 25 cents raised funds “for the benefit of the new piano.”
The November 3, 1921 edition of the Itawamba County News reported that Congressman John E. Rankin had sent the new school fifty young trees to be planted on the campus and he had suggested that a tree be planted in memory of each Itawamba County soldier who lost his life during the recent war (World War I). It was also suggested that others could plant trees in memory of loved ones.
The first board of trustees of the Itawamba Agricultural High School were: James T. Page, Phillip Orr Stovall, Houston L. Gillespie, Willie G. Crouch and Benjamin Chilcoat. Jasper R. Newell was the first school principal who removed from Tate County to take the post. Members of the first faculty were: R.A. Scott (agriculture), Juanita Ray (home science and arts), Minnie Mobberly (English and Latin), Mrs. J.R. Fewell (history and English), T.A. Oliphant (science and athletics), A.B. Johnson (mathematics and commercial work), Irene McMullan (music) and Kate C. Taylor (matron). Professor Lansford joined the faculty in October of 1921.
The first graduation was held on May 10, 1922 with a total of nine students receiving diplomas. It is interesting to note that, contrary to the 1921-22 school catalog philosophy, none of the graduating students immediately returned to the farm, and most of them continued their education in college.