Moments of Suffolk’s education history now on display

Published 6:48 pm Friday, April 8, 2022

Suffolk’s rich education history is on display for a limited time.

The Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society has a new free exhibit, “The History of Education,” on display through July at the Phillips-Dawson House, 137 Bank St.

This exhibit has numerous cases and displays showing what school was like for Suffolk children from the 1800s until 1965. Pictures and other memorabilia help visitors through a timeline that follows the first schoolhouses through the end of racially segregated schools.

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Many schoolhouses popped up in various communities to teach children. They were in neighborhoods like Whaleyville and Holland, where teachers, who were usually single women,  would live and teach.

“There were so many schoolhouses that existed in Suffolk it’s actually overwhelming how many there were,” said Kimberly Blair Greene, executive director of The Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society.

Guests can view pictures of old school buildings, class pictures and sports team pictures of students who attended school in Suffolk and learn more about the educators who taught them. Other items on display include a slate board that students used for classroom assignments, a bookbag from the 1800s, a report card from 1892 and Suffolk High School band and cheerleading equipment.

One of the displays showcases Black history in Suffolk schools. There are artifacts from Nansemond Collegiate Institute, an all-Black private school that focused on the fine arts. Many students from this school went on to study at prestigious universities like Harvard and Yale. Unfortunately, the school burned around the time of integration, and a marker on East Washington Street identifies its location.

“It was educational for me as I went through these items for display,” said Blair Greene. “I didn’t grow up here, so I was unaware of the rich history of education in Suffolk and Nansemond County.”

The Phillips-Dawson House is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, with appointments available on Fridays.