Peterson Hall, named for Dr. F. M. Peterson, was dedicated with proper ceromonies on May 18, 1914.  Two young grandsons of Dr. Peterson, Edgar Gilmore Givhan and Francis Peterson, who were also the sons of the school’s first physician, unveiled the dedication plaque.

The infirmary had been built in record time.  The Board authorized its construction on May 19, 1913, designating $13,000 for the building and its furnishing to which they later added $500, and less than a year later, on April 1914, it was ready for patients.  It had beds for thirty-six patients, and an isolation area, offices and apartments for a resident physician and nurse.  It was the first structure placed in accordance with a landscape plan drawn up by Charles W. Leverette, Jr.

Previous to this, sick patients had been housed in rooms on second floor Main, and later in King House (then called Nabors Hall) which had been renovated for that purpose.  Presently, it is being renovated to house the Arts Department.

Dr. Francis Marion Peterson (1854-1908)

Unlike Captain Reynolds who made no pretense at being an educator, Dr. Peterson, his successor in 1899 was a classical scholar, a Methodist minister and a member of the faculty at Southern University in Greensboro.  The fact that  he had been acting president of that institution was probably the deciding factor in choosing him as president of AGIS.

To keep the new president from making some financial errors, the Board gave him specific intructions as to the manner of handling school finances.  He must have done well for Senator Sol Bloch, chairman of the Board’s Finance Committee, was “wholehearted in his endorsement of the president’s scrupulous and careful bookkeeping.” Nevertheless, Bloch often complained about expenditures for specific items, such as buttermilk and turnip greens, that he believed could have been bought at lower prices.

When Dr. Peterson took over the school, the annual legislature appropriation was $15,000, the same as it had been in 1896.  This was simply not enough to pay expenses, especially since the Board had added two departments.  So he decided to demonstrate to the Legislature the need for larger appropriation.  To that end he invited the whole body to spend Thanksgiving Day, 1900, on campus to see for themselves demonstrations of the training the school was giving.  The L&N Railroad ran a special train to take the legislators from Montgomery to Montevallo.  Evidently they approved what they saw for the next day they appropriated $65,000.  This money enabled Dr. Peterson to lengthen the school term to nine months and raise teachers’ salaries from $480 per year to $750.  Heads of departments were paid $1000.

During Dr. Peterson’s years, the physical plant was expanded by adding East Wing to Main Dormitory and installing steam heat, electric lights, and running water.  Wings were added to Reynolds Hall, so that the school had twenty-seven classrooms.  There was now a home on campus (between the present Wills and Palmer Halls) for the president and his family.

Dr. Peterson was a classical scholar with no training in “industrials” but he used every opportunity to acquaint himself with them.  He was in sympathy with the purpose of the school but he wanted to be sure that the students were getting well-rounded educations.  He tried, as reported to the Board, to “magnify the work of the individual departments and to correlate the literary and industrial features of the school.”  In other words, he wanted each graduate to be able to not only to earn her living but to be fitted “to adorn any society.”

Dr. Peterson, a popular father figure to the young students, took his responsibilities seriously.  He stated publicly that he was never too tired or too busy to see anyone.  Evidently, the girls took him literally so that his family complained “his meals, his naps, his attempts to escape from school problems within the circle of family were interrupted constantly.”

Dr. Peterson needed rest.  His health declined so rapidly that the Board of Trustees granted him a year’s leave of absence in 1906-1907.  He never returned to his duties, dying on March 3, 1906.  Half a century later his students still remembered the grief they shared at the death of their beloved president.

(This is an excerpt from White Columns & Red Bricks by Lucille Griffith, Ph. D.)

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