In preparing for updates for the Minimum Foundation Program in the 1950s, nearly all Georgia school systems prepared a survey of school needs. These alerted the systems, citizens and state as to the deficiencies within the schools.
The surveys were a massive undertaking and it took more than a decade for all the associated building projects to be completed.
These were not the first surveys ever to be done. Nearly 40 years earlier, a series of them were done by Mell L. Duggan, Georgia’s Rural School Agent.
Starting with Rabun County in 1914, for the next 10 years, Duggan was essentially a one-man crusade visiting schools and making suggestions as to how rural counties could improve the education of their children.
State Superintendent M.L. Brittain explained the purpose of the surveys in the opening issue.
“Impressed with this need of ours for a trained expert to make an actual diagnosis of conditions in each county and prescribe proper remedies for the educational authorities, I secured the promise of funds for the salary and expenses of such an official from the General Education Board last summer. By reason of his long experience as County Superintendent and State Supervisor and because of his undoubted success in improving rural conditions, Mr. M.L. Duggan is especially suited for this work. He has accordingly been appointed Rural School Agent and as rapidly as possible will make educational “surveys” of the various counties.
Experience has shown that counties and even wealthy cities are sensitive about work of this type. So true is this, that large educational systems have been known to fight such surveys and to prevent the publication of the reports after completion. While this sensitiveness may be natural, it is not right to hide from view conditions which are based upon the expenditure of public funds, even though humiliatingly small.”
Duggan further explained his purposes in the surveys.
“If by any means I can help the people to see their public schools and school conditions as educators see them I shall have rendered valuable service, and this, chiefly, shall be my task.”
Rabun was chosen to lead off because it was slightly more progressive. Perhaps Brittain was worried that Duggan might get rocks thrown at him and the project might be doomed before it ever started. Perhaps, too, he believed that Rabun was a good influence for other counties.
Rabun’s progressiveness was that it was “the first mountain county in Georgia to add to the state fund by local taxation.”
“They are willing to face conditions frankly,” said Brittain. “[H]owever, [they] intend to improve them and such a spirit insures progress and development.”
That spirit might have inspired Duggan, who the United States Census reported in 1920 was living in Rabun County. (Duggan was a Hancock County native and still lived there in 1910.)
The Rabun survey was published in 1914, the only one of that year.
Brittain’s project continued for at least nine more years, even after M.M. Parks became State School Superintendent. Ware, the last known survey, was finished in May 1923 and was the 43rd of the series.
Though Brittain said the focus was on rural counties, it strangely surveyed at least one city system – Decatur’s – in 1918. Duggan said it was requested by the local board of education. It was purely statistical, with no surveys of buildings. Those had previously been covered in the combined DeKalb and Union counties report.
Brittain promised reports as “rapidly as possible.” At least one survey was printed per year between 1914 and 1923. Six came out in 1915, seven in 1916 and five in 1917. Seven more were printed in 1918, then it looks like World War I and possibly the lingering influenza epidemic might have slowed things down. Only a report on Warren County came out in 1919.
The year of 1920 saw two printed, then the pace sped back up. In 1921, there were six reports, with five in 1922. Three are confirmed for 1923. The last known report, the one on Ware, Duggan said was hurried. The February 12, 1924, Macon Telegraph said Duggan was in Emanuel County, traveling with Superintendent R.E. Rountree to all the county schools. If Emanuel was fully surveyed, its report has not surfaced.
The surveys generally began with information about the county, its geography, its roads and the challenges that lay in the way of an ideal school system.
Duggan commented on the buildings, the toilet facilities and available water. He remarked on class size, grades taught, libaries and charts and activities for the children. Cloak rooms were a plus, as was having a school pig. Most of the surveys included pictures of the schoolhouses.
Bald Mountain was the most elevated school in the state. Fourteen children were enrolled in grades 1-8 in a building 4,700 feet above sea level.
Reading about rural education 100 years ago is highlighted by some of Duggan’s more caustic observations.
The water supply at Dillard in Rabun was deemed “reasonably safe,” except for a “family wash place” that flowed down to it.
Laurens County gave its schools little supervision, he said. There were more than 50 of them out in the county. In the case of its Spivey School, Duggan called it “a positive punishment to children to have to sit in this uncomfortable building.”
None of the Union County schools had toilets, either indoor or outdoor.
Duggan was frustrated with Seminole County, then just two years old, for not spending a dime to build new schools.
“Why people will continue to vote bonds in large amounts to build fine courthouses and jails in which to try and imprison criminals rather than provide for better education of their children is a mystery past finding out,” he said.
The worst, however, was arguably his summary of Heard County.
Duggan led with a picture of the Heard County courthouse, with a note that it was built in 1894 for $30,000. Underneath, he said, “Heard County Court House cost the taxpayers more [bolding Duggan’s] than the combined value of all the school houses in the county[,] to say nothing of the county jail.”
To be fair to Heard, the combined value of the buildings listed by Duggan in the report was $33,050, with one property value unknown. Texas School was the most expensive at $5,000. Only three schools of the 40 had libraries and that did not include the all-grades school in Franklin.
Bulloch County’s report was printed in 1915, but appears to have been done in early 1914. Duggan wrote to the Bulloch Times (published January 22, 1914), encouraging citizens to attend a meeting of teachers and trustees. In the case of Bulloch, Duggan said he liked what he saw, but wanted to encourage everyone to do even better.
It is shocking to see what little it took to impress Duggan. Simply having a small library, a globe, a dictionary and a map was considered quality. As was painting the building. It may be equally shocking that very few schools met this standard.
Education was valued little in rural counties, it seems:
“Seventy-seven percent of pupils entering first grade quit before reaching seventh grade,” said Duggan in his report on Walker County in 1921.
Henderson, which was considered a quality school in Houston County, had the following as equipment:
“Double patent desks; medium blackboards; maps; charts; framed pictures; reference dictionary, good stand; library, 130 vols.; illustrative materials, flowers, ferns, etc.; water from neighbor’s well nearby; covered cooler [for the water], individual cups.”
Duggan was evidently also pleased with Emanuel School at Tift County. He observed toothbrushes in the school for the kids and in parentheses he said, “used regularly.”
There were also more colorful names for the schools.
Warwoman is in common use in Rabun County, named for Revolutionary War hero, Nancy Hart. Not surprisingly, it was also the name of a school building in 1914.
The massive Laurens County system had such classics as Nameless, New Tweed and Hurricane. Union had Confidence, which survived as a school well past the 1930s. Spalding had names such as Vineyard, Rising Sun and Rover. One in Jones, Litentie, even included a pronunciation guide: “Light-and-tie.”
Black schools were under-reported by Duggan. Rarely were there pictures of the buildings and even more seldom were they named.
There was the revelation that Union County did have a black school. Simply called Blairsville, 13 children were enrolled. A census from 1913 indicated there were only 19 black children in Union County. How long Union kept the black school is unknown. The Department of Education said there wasn’t one in 1938.
The surveys have nearly all been digitized and are spread out over the internet.
Known surveys (in numerical order):
1. Rabun County (printed in 1914)
2. Clayton County (1915) (combined)
3. Taliaferro County (combined)
4. Bulloch County
5. Morgan County
6. Jackson County
7. Houston County
8. Randolph County (1916)
9. Monroe County
10. Wayne County
11. Tattnall County
12. Screven County
13. DeKalb County (combined)
14. Union County (combined)
15. Brooks County (1917)
16. Hart County
17. Heard County
18. Spalding County
19. Towns County
20. Jones County (1918)
21. Wilkinson County
22. Candler County
23. Tift County
24. Ben Hill County
25. Carroll County
26. Decatur city
27. Warren County (1919)
28. Lee County (1920)
29. Miller County
30. Laurens County (1921)
31. Thomas County
32. Johnson County
33. ?? (has yet to surface)
34. Burke County
35. Walker County
36. Stephens County (1922)
37. Dooly County
38. Bacon County
39. Grady County
40. Wilkes County
41. Seminole County (1923)
42. Gwinnett County
43. Ware County