Days Gone By - stories from the past

East Lake Atheneum was girl’s school, an orphanage, Catholic offices & now a school again [old pics]


Private School for Young Ladies

East Lake Atheneum in Birmingham, Alabama was a former private seminary of learning for young ladies.

East Lake Atheneum ca. the 1890s (Birmingham Public Library)

East Lake Atheneum - girls school

It was founded by Dr. Solomon Palmer, for years a leading educator of the South, and at one-time state superintendent of education. Located at 4th Avenue South and 82nd Street, the land was donated by the East Lake Land Company.

The school was locally promoted by a number of public-spirited men of Birmingham and the community of East Lake, then a promising suburb, and by the East Lake Land Company. It was chartered by the legislature December 5, 1890.

Number 62 Trolley Car advertising opening of East Lake Atheneum ca. the 1890s (Birmingham Public Library)

Number 62 Trolley Car advertising opening of East Lake Atheneum

Trustees were from Howard College

Many of the school’s trustees served were also trustees of Howard College.

Its first board of trustees included Robert Jemison, Solomon Palmer, A. D. Smith, Dr. J. H. Phillips, W. H. Wood, S. L. Robertson, R. G. Hewitt, M. V. Henry, C. C. Jones, J. H. Finch, James Van Hoose, Henry H. Brown and James Wilson.

The charter declared its objects to be the “establishment, organization and maintenance of an institution of learning of high grade for the education of young women, in the arts, sciences, and practical industries.”

Steam heated building

The first session opened October 7, 1890, with an enrollment of 180 students. The main building, a large brick, and stone Romanesque-style classroom and dormitory building was completed in 1892 and 212 girls entered the school the next Fall. The stone was taken from a local quarry a mile away. The building was heated throughout by steam and had a chapel, recitation, dining and enough bedrooms to accommodate 150 to 200 pupils.

Ten to twelve experienced teachers taught preparatory, classical, scientific, normal, musical, art, elocution, stenography and industrial courses were offered.

In 1893, the school had to cause briefly due to the 1893 financial panic.

Dr. Palmer continued as its head until his death May 15, 1896. He was succeeded by Rev. J. B. Cumming, who served for two years, followed by Dr. W. S. Weissinger.

Became an orphanage in 1900

About 1900 the school closed, and the property passed into the hands of the Sisters of Charity of the Roman Catholic Church and they operated an orphanage there until 1971. The orphanage was called St. Thomas Home=on-Hill. When the orphanage closed the building was used for the offices of the Diocese of Birmingham.

East Lake Atheneum when it was an Orphans home in 1900 (Birmingham Public Library)

East Lake Atheneum when it was an Orphans home in 1900

Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School in 2006

In 2001, the property was purchased by the Birmingham City Schools and a new school was built which opened as Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School in 2006.


  1. Kce Child Welfare activities.
    References.—Catalogues, 1890-1896.
  2. History of Alabama and dictionary of Alabama biography, Volume 1 By Thomas McAdory Owen, Marie Bankhead Owen
  3. Riley, Benjamin Franklin, Alabama as it is: or The Immigrants and Capitalist’s Guide Book to Alabama, Brown Printing Company, State Printers and Binders, 1893



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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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