Contributed by Travis Souther
The North Carolina Room at the New Hanover County Public Library has some important items in its collection that document the history of education in Wilmington. Education was always an important aspect in the life of Amy Morris Bradley. Born on 12 September 1823, Bradley had become a teacher in the country schools of Maine by the time she was 17. Four years later, she was a principal of a grammar school in Maine. After several more years in education, she was forced to give up her educational duties a following a bout of pneumonia. She spent the winter of 1850-1851 in Charleston, South Carolina, at the home of a brother but was unable to find much relief from her ailments. For two years after returning to Maine she was virtually an invalid.
A physician advised her that she should seek a climate that was free of frost to improve her health. Taking the doctor’s advice, she moved to Costa Rica where she established the first English school in Central America. Quickly mastering the Spanish language, she began to teach her students English. A master teacher, Bradley’s pupils were rapid learners. Bradley returned to the United States only upon the death of her father in 1858.
During the American Civil War, Bradley offered her services as a nurse initially with the Third Maine Infantry, then the Fifth Maine, and was eventually placed in charge of the Seventeenth Brigade Hospital. Heeding a call from the United States Sanitary Commission, she volunteered along with Dorothea Dix at Fort Monroe in Virginia. After laboring through the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, she was assigned to Alexandria, Virginia, and remained there throughout the rest of the war.
After the Civil War, she traveled to Wilmington, North Carolina, under the direction of the American Unitarian Association as educator for poor white children. Being an outsider, and a Northerner to boot, Bradley was initially met with much skepticism. However, the number of students enrolled in her school began to rapidly increase, prompting her to open not just one school but three. In October 1872, the Tileston Normal School opened under Bradley’s administration. Wealthy New York philanthropist Mary Porter Tileston Hemenway, who had been interested in Bradley’s educational work from the start, made an annual contribution of $5,000 (the equivalent of over $100,000 in 2018) to aid in the management of the school, until Bradley’s resignation due to failing health in 1891. Bradley died in 1904 but left a legacy of over 30 years of service to improving education in Wilmington and the surrounding countryside. To this day, the Amy Bradley Award is given to the high school graduate from New Hanover County with the highest academic grade point average.
The stereoscopic image of the Tileston School circa 1885 shows many of the children who attended the school. Further additions were made to the complex in 1910, 1919, and 1937. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The nearby St. Mary Parish acquired the property from the City of Wilmington in 1989 for use as a social, cultural, and educational center. Though alterations to the property have been made over the years, the original 1872 school building still stands, a testament and memorial to Bradley’s enduring vision.
Also in the collection in the North Carolina Room is a Tileston Normal School Diploma for Ms. Alice J. Yarborough, one of the first students to enter Tileston in October 1872. Bradley’s signature can be seen on the lower right hand side.