Student Life with an Air of Culture: Palmer Memorial Institute

At PMI good manners, a proper dress code, and social graces were the order of the day. Social gatherings, chaperoned by teachers, and singing were always encouraged at the school.

About the campus there is a certain air of culture which is a reflection of the venerable Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, PMI's founder and president . . . . Etiquette training begins at breakfast with nine school mates who all practice the correct way to eat. The boys pull back the chairs for the girls next to them and sit only after the ladies are seated.

After chapel there are classes until four. Then comes study, socializing, and chores. All students are required to do two hours' work daily at the school. Assignments are changed every six weeks, and include dishwashing for girls, janitor work for boys, [and] students serve as waiters for a two-week period. —Griffith Davis, Ebony magazine, 1947. Davis's sister attended PMI.

Lunch at Kimball Hall - PMI

Lunch at Kimball Hall. The dining hall at PMI was named for Miss Helen Kimball and her family, who had made generous contributions to the school. PMI students were required to be on their best behavior at all times.

The Sedalia Singers at PMI

The Sedalia Singers. A performance in the auditorium of the Alice Freeman Palmer Building, ca. 1930s. The Sedalia Singers became the most famous of Palmer's student organizations. The group enjoyed several high profile performances, including dates at the Symphony Hall in Boston, the Town Hall in New York City, and the White House in Washington, D.C., during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

CHB onstage with PMI students, ca. 1947

Charlotte Hawkins Brown. Onstage with PMI students in the chapel of the Alice Freeman Palmer Building, ca. 1947.

In addition to the Sedalia Singers, a host of activities provided extracurricular fellowship and enjoyment for Palmer students. These included a theater group known as the Sedalia Players, a dance club, and the Grace L. Deering Literary Society (named for one of Dr. Brown's early teachers). Students also produced a school annual called the Palmerite, and a newspaper known as the Sedalia Sentinel. Sports were also encouraged at the school, and included tennis, baseball, and basketball.

Religion was also very important, and Dr. Brown made sure her students learned passages from the Bible. A chapel service was held each morning before classes started, and the Halleluia Chorus was sung by the student body at Christmastime and at Easter. Services included a religious message on Wednesday, and announcemnents and student performances on the other days of the week.

Alas, in our day good manners for both races are almost outmoded. In many instances, we have lost the art of fine living. The Negro, with all his handicaps, has now the opportunity of his life to develop anew the art of fine manners as one of the means by which he may climb the ladder of success.

—Charlotte Hawkins Brown from the CBS Radio program Wings Over Jordan

All images © North Carolina Office of Archives & History


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