Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mrs. Clark's School, East Nashville.

Mrs. M. E. Clark's Select School For Young Ladies

written by Debie Oeser Cox

Mary Eliza Wilson was born in Paris (Henry Co., TN) May 25, 1848.  Mary married Achilles Venable Clark of Paris, a Confederate veteran, on December 4, 1866.  Achilles Clark died on July 29, 1874, leaving his widow with a young daughter, Caroline.  Mrs. M. E. Clark decided to pursue a career in teaching.  She lived and taught school in Franklin, TN, for about ten years.  In 1880, Mrs. Clark leased the Tennessee Female College, in Franklin, from Methodist Bishop R. K. Hargrove.  She oversaw the operation of the school for five years.  At the expiration of Mrs. Clark's lease, in 1885, Bishop Hargrove decided to sell the school property.  

In January of 1885, Mary E. Clark came to Nashville and purchased lots 6, 7, 8, and 9, in the plan of Brownsville, in East Nashville, a total of about fourteen acres of land.  She payed $3400 in cash for the property at the corner of Scott and Greenwood Avenues.  Mrs. Clarks property was bound by, and just east of, the site of Hobson's Chapel Methodist Church.  

Plan of Brownsville

Mary soon had a substantial house constructed to serve as a school for girls.  Mary's school was a three and one half story building of red brick, designed as a suburban home. The Victorian, Queen Anne style house had turrets and towers, with bay windows, and a multi gabled roof.  A large wrap around porch at the front of the house, and a smaller porch toward the back, were adorned with fancy lattice work.  The house, with the appearance of a grand mansion, was as fine as any, of that era, built in Nashville.  Soon after the school was built, Mary received a bill from the tax assessor, the amount of which she felt was too high.   Mary wrote, in an appeal for lower taxes, to the county assessor's office, that she was owner of property "on which was erected a building for school purposes exclusively."  She stated that on June 8, 1886 this school was incorporated by the name of "The Mrs. M. E. Clark Select School for Young Ladies." 

The Board of Advisers, for Mrs. Clark's School, was headed by Charles Forster Smith, noted author and professor at Vanderbilt University.  Other members were the Honorable J. M. Dickinson attorney and president of the Tennessee Bar Association, Mr. Edgar Jones a banker and grandson of Rev. William Hume, Maj. J. S. Bransford, a land developer who lived at Edgefield near Mrs. Clark's School, Rev. G. W. Wilson, a well known Evangelist of the Methodist faith., and Maj. T. P. Weakley. Major Weakley's brother was a prominent Methodist minister.  Although not affiliated with the Methodist Church, the influence of that denomination was certain. Mary Clark worshipped, next door, at Hobson's Chapel as did some of her staff.  Mary's students also attended services at Hobson's Chapel. 

The girls were welcome residents in the attractively furnished home which featured the most modern conveniences.  School was in session from the first Tuesday in September until the first Wednesday of June. Classes were offered in English, Mathematics, and Art, with special emphasis given to French, German, Public Speaking, and Music.  

Mrs. Clark's School, ca 1890

In 1891, it was reported that the school had 6 teachers and 45 students. Tuition was $170 per year, with an additional fee for the study of piano or vocal music. The large campus provided plenty of room to explore outdoors.  There were tennis courts on the grounds and outdoor sports of every kind were encouraged.  Walking was a healthful means of entertainment and transportation. The Nashville public square and business district was near, only a couple of miles to the west.  Yet the area around the school was rural, a forest like setting, with huge trees on the grounds.

1891 Nashville City Directory

 Mrs. Clark's School was highly regarded as an educational facility.  Young women from prominent families, all across the country, attended the school.  The Principal, Miss Bessie Johnson, and faculty members were among the best educators in the south.  In the 1890's, Mrs. Clark's School continued to thrive.  She traveled to Europe, to study the latest methods in educating young women.  She, and her staff, worked to ensure that the curriculum was broad, balanced, and up to date.

In 1896 Mrs. Clark was involved in a terrible carriage accident. She died from her injuries on July 1, 1896.  Her remains were carried to Paris, Tennessee where she was buried next to her husband, Achillies Clark.  The school was closed soon after.  Over the next few years, Mrs. Clark's daughter Carrie Clark Crockett, wife of Sidney Scales Crockett, divided and sold the property.  Today, the site of Mrs. Clark's School is home to Cora Howe School, on Greenwood Avenue, in East Nashville.

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Mrs. Clark's School, East Nashville by Debie Oeser Cox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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