What’s in a name? Co-authored by CPN Volunteer Pam Simons, CPN Staff Tracie Miller and Rhett Dukes.
Upon visiting Sanders-Clyde Creative Arts School you will immediately notice a stunning mural painted by Charleston’s beloved Jonathan Green, but what you may not recognize are the portraits of the two women located in the school’s front office.
Ellen Sanders and Bertie Clyde lived in the early 20th century in Charleston. Both of their lives centered around education. In 1960, the school was officially renamed Sanders-Clyde Elementary school in honor of Ms. Sanders and Ms. Clyde who changed the face of teaching excellence and community leadership in Charleston.
Ellen E. Sanders was a born teacher. A local girl, Ellen graduated in 1889 from the Avery Normal Institute, a school established in Charleston to educate African Americans. Ms. Sanders began her career as a kindergarten teacher at Bishop P.F. Stevens’ school (no longer there) on Nassau Street before opening her own one-room schoolhouse at 188 Calhoun Street (see map below). Opening private schools for 40 to 50 students, and usually in the lower grades, was not unusual in the early twentieth century. However, Ellen’s school was the best known and longest standing serving 100 children from 1st through 8th grade.
Ellen operated her own school until approximately 1920 when she became one of the first African American teachers admitted into the city’s public school system. Ellen was exemplary in the amount of personal time she devoted to helping others. During the evening she was an instructor at the adult night school established by the city school board in the 1920’s; she later held night classes in her home to train young people to obtain better jobs. In 1937, she served on the Executive Committee of the local NAACP. In addition, she taught at Centenary Sunday School and gave private music lessons. She retired from Buist (see map below) in 1945.
Florence Alberta Clyde, (1873 – 1967) known as “Bertie,” grew up in Charleston about the same time as Ellen Sanders. The daughter of a post office mailing clerk, Bertie graduated from Avery Normal Institute (see map) in 1891 and joined its faculty in 1902. At Avery, Bertie taught 8th grade before being promoted to supervising students studying to become teachers. Bertie, like Ellen, was a life-long learner and spent summers studying at Columbia University, The University of Pennsylvania, and South Carolina State College to stay on top of her teaching skills. For several years she directed the summer teachers’ training program at South Carolina State College in Orangeburg, South Carolina. In 1943 Avery coaxed her out of a planned retirement to be acting principal.
Even though Ms. Clyde was known to be “tough as nails,” her teaching methods were far ahead of her time and she was truly loved by many. One of Ms. Clyde’s students recalled, “She ran that school like a captain… I was afraid of her…,” said Mrs. Cynthia McCottry-Smith, longtime Charlestonian who is now 91. Beyond Ms. Clyde’s reputation as a stern educator, she produced generations of excellent teachers. As a teacher, “I had to be positive and firm,” explained Mrs. McCottry-Smith, class of 1945.
Miss Clyde also kept a sharp eye out on the youth in her Smith Street neighborhood (see map). “If you were playing with the wrong person in the street,” Leroy Anderson recalled, “she rang your bell” and “told your parents to get you in the house.” Her neighborhood was known for its strong familial and neighborhood support. Families and neighbors’ value system were mirrored in neighborhood schools and churches, and have since lived on through the generations.
Both women began their teaching careers upon graduation from Avery Normal Institute, an institution which provided educational opportunities for leadership roles and careers for African Americans from 1865 to 1954. Avery was later reestablished in 1985 as the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and is now part of the College of Charleston. Read more about Avery.
Edmund L. Drago, author of Charleston’s Avery Center: From Education and Civil Rights to Preserving the African American Experience. Published by The History Press, Charleston, SC 29403 Copyright 2006 by the Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston. First published 1990.
Mrs. Cynthia McCottry-Smith, a former student of Ms. Florence A. Clyde, an Avery graduate, and long-time Charleston educator.
Mrs. Brenda T. Williams, Sanders-Clyde teacher and historian.