May Greene School, 1929. (Southeast Missourian archive)
Before I moved to downtown Cape Girardeau and began voting at City Hall, I lived in South Cape and cast my ballots in the lobby of May Greene School. I can’t ever remember walking beyond the lobby to any other part of the building.
So I was delighted to find a description of the school and its modern features as contractors were putting the finishing touches on the building in August 1921. The school was dedicated Nov. 21, 1921. (That was four days after originally scheduled. The event had to be postponed because the street leading from Sprigg Street to the school was too muddy, and automobiles were getting mired in the muck.)
Published Aug. 13, 1921, in the Southeast Missourian:
GREENE SCHOOL MODEL STRUCTURE
IS ONE OF FINEST IN THE STATE
BOASTS MANY FINE FEATURES
The new Mae Greene School, which is nearing completion, is to be Cape Girardeau’s most modern buildings and for its size and cost will be decidedly the best in Missouri, the architects claim. In many respects it shows the skill of the expert who has devoted years to the one thing of designing school buildings.
Kids are just naturally hungry all the time and a lunch box or package left out on the hook with the hats and coats is bound to disappear before the owner has time to work on it.
Then somebody has stolen something and trouble is up. This thing has been going on since the first school house was built. In Central School pupils are provided with lockers where they can safeguard their things. As lockers are expensive and intended for the larger pupils, the expert finds a way of having a closet extending across the front of each (classroom) just back of the blackboards, in which the wraps are hung and the lunches are stored.
If any kid at the Mae Greene School gets away with another kid’s lunch or umbrella or rubbers, he will have to do the business right before all the pupils and the teacher. The blackboards slide up along the wall and when up the wraps and other things are before you. When down n one knows that a closet is behind them. These closets are well ventilated.
Another door in each room opens and there is a nice lavatory. The youngster who gets too much chalk on his hands, or who forgets himself and appears with soiled hands won’t get to put in five or 10 minutes on a trip to the wash room but can have the service right in the room. These most important facilities are provided in space that otherwise would not be used.
Meets peculiar conditions
Mae Greene building was designed to meet a special condition, which is typical of the district it is to serve. Many children in that district have never had the advantage of a modern kitchen, dining room, bathroom and the like. They don’t know the importance of these facilities upon their health and habits, so this school is to demonstrate it to them. A kitchen will be provided, with pantry. The idea is to encourage that community, under the direction of the Parent-Teacher Association, to have social affairs at which refreshments will be served, the halls or auditorium to be used for the dining room. A scheme had been under discussion to provide warm lunches for the children in cold weather, but the Parent-Teachers Association recently suffered a most severe loss and the plan will have to be taken up by new hands.
The building has been provided by a school board that realizes the great need of a community center for that rapidly growing district. One big room facing the south, so it has the sunlight, is to be known as the “Special Opportunity” room. Children that have not had the privilege of going to school as much as other children their age, will be given special instruction by a specially trained teacher and in this way will be brought up for lost time in short order. There will be flowers and pictures in this room to aid in showing the children that a welcome awaits all those who try to succeed no matter if they haven’t had the start of others.
Another room is to be known as the clinic and will be equipped to care for those who need medical and dental attention. This room will be in charge of the school nurse.
The auditorium is a remarkably fine room, with plenty of light and ventilation. It is two-stories high, folding doors on the main floor lead to the room and similar doors on the second floor lead to a balcony. A very large stage is along the east side, which can be used for entertainments and such meetings. This room will also be used for a gymnasium and hand-ball court, for which it is ideal. When athletic entertainments are given, the stage will be used for seating space, and the halls on both floors, as well as the balcony can also be filled with chairs. Special chairs have been bought for the main floor and when the room is to be used for some other purpose these chairs fold up and can be stored under the stage.
There are 10 large classrooms in the building, each accommodating 40 to 45 pupils. The principal has a special office and there are many closets and small rooms. The building is strictly fireproof and the toilet facilities are unusually modern.
The boundary for the school as announced by Supt. (J.N.) Crocker is: Benton Street on the west, Good Hope on the north, the river on the east, and the city limits on the south.
Remedies unfair conditions
Mae Greene School is in the center of a district that for 10 years has had the worst of it so far as public schools were concerned. Some of the children have had to walk across the city to get to school and the average child has had to go more than a mile. The farthest corner from the new school is reported by Supt. Crocker to be 11 blocks, or less than a mile. The average pupil will not have to go half so far. It is said that numerous children living close to this new building have had to walk to Washington School, a distance of more than two miles, while others have had to go to Lorimier, which is more than a mile. The school is seven blocks south of Good Hope Street.
The contract has been let for the paving of Sprigg Street to connect with the new concrete highway and this work will be finished, including the sidewalks, before November. It is possible the school board will have to build sidewalks from Sprigg Street to the building, which sets two blocks east of Sprigg. Walks will be built on the street running directly east from the building to connect with the streets leading to the district near the river.
Seats and other equipment are now being installed in the building and it will be ready in every detail by the opening of the fall term. Miss (Alma) Schrader will be principal of the school.
Here are a few other things you may not know about May Greene School:
* Nov. 25, 1919, Cape Girardeau voters voted 920-97 in favor of $83,000 in bonds to build a 10-room school in South Cape, as well as a large vocational education addition to Central High School. Those funds were divided thusly: $55,000 for May Greene and $28,000 for Central High.
* In March 1920, the Cape Girardeau School board approved plans drawn by the architectural firm of Felt and Company of Kansas City, Missouri.
* J.W. Gerhardt was the contractor for May Greene School.
* In June 1920, excavation for the new elementary school began.
* After delays caused “by congestion of freight and strikes and general upset industrial conditions,” workers began pouring the foundation for the school in August 1920.
* Nov. 30, 1920, voters approved an additional $54,000 in bonds to complete May Greene School and the Central High addition.
* The Cape Girardeau Board of Education announced May Greene School would be dedicated Friday, Nov. 18, 1921, with an elaborate program. However, those plans had to be postponed until Monday, Nov. 21, 1921, because the roads to the school were impassible with mud.
* May Greene School closed at the end of the 1999 school year.