Days Gone By - stories from the past

Downing Industrial School for Girls was a school ahead of its time

{The Downing Industrial School was an early school in Alabama for young ladies – and the life-long passion of one man}

Esther home - first dormitory at Downing Industrial School for Girls
Esther home – first dormitory at Downing Industrial School for Girls

 Rev. J. M. Shofner cherished dream

Downing Industrial School for Girls was an educational institution for the industrial training of white girls, maintained under the patronage of the Alabama Conference, M. E. Church South. The school was the final outcome of a hope long cherished by Rev. J. M. Shofner, an itinerant Methodist preacher. In his experience in many communities of the State, he had noted the need for the industrial home training of young women. The realization of this need, determined him in the effort to provide institutional opportunity for them. In May 1904 he set resolutely to work, appealing for donations, and in other ways building up sentiment for support of the projected school. Brewton was determined upon as the location, and in September, 1904, 117 acres of land, one mile east of Brewton, including the site of “Old Fort Crawford.” was secured by purchase.

String quartet at Downing Industrial School for girls ca. 1910
String quartet at Downing Industrial School for girls ca. 1910

Named for E. Downing of Brewton

In July, 1906, the Downing Educational Society was formed, so named for E. Downing of Brewton, a liberal contributor and patron, whose name was subsequently carried into that of the institution itself. The first session opened in the fall of 1906. As the claims of the school were presented throughout the country, both in Alabama and outside of the State, generous friends came to its support, and from year to year the physical plant was increased by the addition of new buildings, the enlargement of equipment, and the development of the grounds.

The school remained independent until December 1912, when it was taken under the patronage of the Alabama Conference of the Methodist Church.

Elementary, high school, business and normal courses, and departments of domestic science and music are maintained. Industrial instruction includes dressmaking, needlework, laundry, canning, cooking, dairying, poultry raising and floriculture.

C. L. Wiggins Hall at Downing Industrial School Brewton, Alabama
C. L. Wiggins Hall at Downing Industrial School Brewton, Alabama


The president was Rev. J. M. Shofner, in 1917, who held that position from the beginning. He was also financial agent. in 1971, the management was in the hands of a board of trustees, elected by the conference, and divided into three groups, the terms of one-third expiring each year.



  1. Catalogues, 1906-1917; Shofner,
  2. Address before the federation of Women’s Clubs (1911), and
  3. Story of the Downing Industrial School (1916).
  4. Alabama State Archives


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By (author):  Causey, Donna R.

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About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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